Many people are becoming more aware of the benefits (health, environmental and animal rights) of a plant-based diet through social media.
Others are facing health issues for which doctors suggest making changes to their lifestyles to improve their health and wellness. Inevitably, one of the main changes will be to their diets.
Typically, the advice is to avoid highly refined carbohydrates like white flour, to cut down on meat, dairy, saturated fats and sugar, and to try and eat more veggies.
This is totally sensible advice and it sounds simple. But when a person who is not well-versed in plant-based eating sits down to actually apply this advice, they can wind up stumped as to what to eat.
There is a feeling that they need to replace the meat portion of their meals with a meat alternative.
A quick Google search later and the main options that come up are meat look-a-likes made from either soy, pea protein or seitan (which is pure wheat gluten), or things that sound a little bit more exotic like tofu and tempeh, which are both made from soybeans.
That’s normally when alarm-bells go off. “Wait! Hold the phone! Doesn’t soy cause cancer? Someone told me that once!”.
Often, we’re left feeling confused and worried. Well, here’s the thing – soy is not only safe, it is actually healthful. Unless, of course, you have a soy allergy. However, only 1 in 2000 people are allergic to soy, which is about 40% less people than are allergic to dairy, and 10% less than are allergic to the other common allergens like nuts and shellfish among others. (Greger, 2016).
READ MORE: Soy: It’s Just A Bean, Not A Bomb
Non-GMO versus GMO soy
Another thing people typically worry about when eating soy is its GMO versus non-GMO status. Commercial agriculture and intensive farming practices have advanced significantly since the 1940s.
And much of this progress comes in the form of genetically-modified crops, which utilise chemical-based farming practices.
The short and sweet explanation is that GMO soy has been modified genetically to accept glyphosates, which are found in herbicides like Round Up. This means the weeds will die but the plant won’t.
Now, there is a standard in agricultural practices that determine what is an acceptable level of glyphosate in crop spraying, which is 20 parts per million. This equates to a safe ingestion level of glyphosates at 0,5mg/kg. If you weigh 60kg, that is 30mg per day. This would be a buffered amount too, so according to regulatory bodies, you would be able to ingest 30mg safely (Davis C. P., 2019).
The health debate
In the interest of balanced debate, don’t forget that it is not just soy that is exposed to glyphosates.
Wheat and corn are the two other largest crops in the world and they are mainly GMO crops too. Consider that a regular loaf of bread on the shelf at any grocery store is most likely made from wheat that is a GMO product.
Nowadays, in South Africa and internationally, non-GMO soy is certainly making a comeback as farmers get their hands on heritage seeds. It’s not difficult to choose non-GMO soy-based products if the glyphosate issue concerns you, which is a good thing because we should always pay attention to what goes into our body every day.
READ MORE: 8 Common Myths About Veganism – BUSTED
The flavour factor
One very good reason (from a food snob point of view) to seek out non-GMO soy products is for taste!
The majority of soy grown in the world today is modified and grown to feed cattle.
Its subtleties, magical nuances and careful selective breeding by subsistence farmers to create the tastiest, creamiest, richest soy beans have been lost through commercial agriculture.
So, regardless of potential health impacts of glyphosates, becoming a snobby soy afficionado will make your eating experiences that much better!
The other key concern with soy is that, by virtue of being a legume, it contains phytates and lectins, which can act as ‘anti-nutrients’.
Put it very simply, they can interfere with your gut’s ability to digest and absorb micronutrients.
But (and this is a big but_ one of the other main foods that contains lectins is wheat. So before writing off soybeans, red kidney beans and other foods that contain lectins, remember that your burger buns, wraps, bread, pasta, doughnuts, pizzas and and and are all made from wheat.
If you eat undercooked beans or wheat, then lectins can become a problem. By cooking beans at 100°C for 10 minutes, 99.9% of the lectin content becomes deactivated.
Additionally, fermenting soy deactivates 95% of the lectin content while sprouting deactivates 54% of the lectin content.
And wheat products? Well, almost every wheat product bought from a store will have gone through high temperature cooking to make it into what it is, so the lectin is totally deactivated (Rowles, 2019). Unless you’re eating beans and wheat raw (good luck with that), micronutrient absorption should not be a major concern for you.
Count soy in
Ultimately, if you take the time and do a little reading, you’ll realise that soy is safe, beneficial and pretty darn cool.
Like anything, if you are eating one type of food all day every day, you are going to suffer because our guts need a variety of foods to get the full spectrum of macronutrients, micronutrients and fibre that we require to operate optimally.
About Kath Fourie
Kath Fourie is a plant-based food and health enthusiast who lives in Curry’s Post, just outside of Howick in KwaZulu-Natal. Kath’s interest in whole-food and plant-based food has expanded and developed over the last 8 years, which have been formative for her dealing with cancer and loss in her family. Part of her journey has been the development of FULLsome, which encompasses wholesome and fulfillment into a combo-concept! FULLsome wants to remove barriers to plant-based eating for everyone.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.