How many soy products sit in your pantry right now? Turns out the ubiquitous soybean is a part of more meals than you may realize, if not yours than the meals of the animals you eat. But what do you actually know about soy products and the buzzwords associated with them? Take the pale, gelatinous meat replacement known as tofu. Blocks of this textured soy protein line store shelves in a variety of packages marked “sprouted”, “organic” or “non-GMO”. You almost need a grocery store field guide to understand these strange terms. Then, there are a lot of misconceptions about soy and its chemical compounds. Without further ado, it is time to wade through the wealth of sources and demystify the noble soybean.

What is Soy and Why Do We Use It In So Many Products?

Soybeans are a complete protein, meaning they naturally contain all the amino acids our bodies need to function properly. This is why soy is used to make so many vegetarian meat alternatives. It is also for this reason that soy is used to fortify lots of other products and feed commercial livestock.

GMO vs. Organic Soy — Is There a Difference?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 90% of soybean plants on American farms are genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) engineered to withstand regular dousings with potentially harmful herbicides and pesticides. 9% of soybeans are conventionally grown, but not from GMO seed. Finally, less than 1% of domestic soybean production is devoted to organic, non-GMO soy. In a 2014 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry, scientists not only found GMO beans to be nutritionally inferior but also by studying samples from the three categories of soybeans mentioned above, herbicide residues were found in every sample other than those grown organically and from non-GMO seed.1

Does Eating Non-Organic Soy Cause Cancer?

Another misleading term associated with soy is phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogen is a naturally-occurring plant compound in found soybeans and many other plant foods. Though fundamentally different from the steroidal hormone called estrogen, the similar nomenclature may have something to do with the origin of suspicion surrounding phytoestrogen.

Higher than normal estrogen levels are often associated with tumor growth, but there is no conclusive evidence to suggest phytoestrogens from soy cause cancer.2 To the contrary, researchers published a study in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluding that soy consumption is associated with a reduction in risk for prostate cancer in men.3

Sources:

1Philpott, T. (2014, April 23). Monsanto GM Soy Is Scarier Than You Think. Retrieved February 9, 2017, from Web Site: http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/04/superweeds-arent-only-trouble-gmo-soy

2Klein, S. (2014, July 15). 5 Myths About Soy You Probably Still Have. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from Web Site: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/15/soy-myths_n_5571272.html

3Yan, L., & Spitznagel, E. L. (2009, February 11). Soy Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk in Men: A Revisit of a Meta-analysis . Retrieved February 9, 2017, from Web Site: http://m.ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/4/1155.long