Let’s talk soy and our health. Long recognized as a nutrient-dense food by registered dietitians and medical doctors, soybeans contain all of the essential amino acids as well as an impressive list of vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, B vitamins, and zinc. Soy also contains fiber, omega-3 and six fatty acids, and is an excellent source of protein.
Not too shabby, nutritionally speaking. But don’t take my word for it, I’m not a dietitian, that’s why I turned to an expert on vegan nutrition, Anya Todd MS, RD, LD to get her thoughts on soy.
According to Todd, the nutrition in soy foods can vary among different preparations, so she recommends consuming whole soy foods like tofu to guarantee the highest amount per serving.
“Bottom line, soy is perfectly healthy in moderation. Two to three servings of whole soy foods a day is a safe recommendation.” In fact, research shows that people who eat one to two servings of soy foods like tofu per day gain many health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and specific forms of cancer. (1)
But what about those other scary soy articles about soy isoflavones, cancer, and genetically modified soy? Glad you asked.
Soybeans contain phytoestrogens called isoflavones. Some people claim that these soy isoflavones act like the female sex hormone estrogen in the body and can potentially increase the risk of cancers — especially breast cancer — as well as reduce the testosterone levels in men.
But concerns about adverse effects are not supported by the clinical or epidemiologic literature available at the time of this writing. Soy is one of the most researched foods — nearly 2,000 soy-related papers are published annually — and based on the health benefits in these epidemiologic studies along with the benefits noted in clinical trials soy is not only safe to eat, but it’s also beneficial when eaten in moderation. (1, 2)
Some people will avoid tofu because they are afraid to consume GMOs. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been manipulated in a lab using genetic engineering techniques. Scientists alter genes using DNA from different species of living organisms like bacteria or viruses to get specific traits such as resistance to disease or tolerance of herbicides or pesticides. (3)
Soybeans are the second-largest crop grown in the US after corn, and they’re also one of the top genetically-modified crops. These numbers are significant because even if you’re not eating soy foods directly — if you’re eating animals — you’re most likely still consuming soy. Currently, 85 percent of all GMO soybeans end up in animal feed for farmed animals where it eventually ends up on your plate.
There are criticisms about the practice surrounding the bioengineering and the production of genetically modified organisms. In more than 60 countries around the world, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the manufacture and sale of genetically modified organisms. Here in the US, the government has approved the use of GMOs. (3)
When looking at soy tofu, unless the product has a specific GMO-free label, then there’s a good chance the product is genetically modified. Look for organic tofu or tofu labeled explicitly as using non-GMO ingredients.