Soy products: GMO or not?

Many people are hesitant to incorporate soy products into their diet because of several myths that are related to this plant. There is a general belief that soy products are not healthy because they are genetically modified and contain some nutrients that might be harmful to the human body. But what is the composition of soybeans and their nutritional value? Is all soy GMO? Is GMO bad? Or maybe better ask: is glyphosate safe? Where does GMO soy end up? Let’s see some data.

General facts about soybeans and their nutritional value

Soybean is a rich source of protein and it is a suitable and inexpensive substitute for milk, meat, and fish. Besides containing 40% protein of high biological value and essential amino acids, it also includes 23% carbohydrate, 20% fat, a reasonable amount of minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber, a high amount of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other beneficial compounds. (1) Soy is a complete protein of high quality because it contains essential amino acids like those found in meat. But it is important to mention that soy is cholesterol-free, it is low in saturated fat, lactose-free, and high in fiber. A serving of firm tofu contains more protein than chicken breast, beef steak, ground lamb, or even turkey breast.

In other words, soybeans sustain a healthy heart, are suitable for people with diabetes (low glycemic index), can decrease cholesterol level, their high fiber content is good for gut health, can help relieve the symptoms of insomnia due to the high content of magnesium, they are essential for pregnancy (B vitamins and minerals) and relieve menopausal symptoms, have anti-obesity effects and so much more. (2) (3) (4) (5) Scientific research has shown that soy supplementation has no effect on the thyroid function and sexual hormones, regardless of the concerns. (6) (7) (8)

Summary: soybeans provide significant nutrients for a healthy diet and the consumption of soy products has beneficial effects on human well being.

However, this is where the GMO question arises. If soybeans are healthy, are genetically modified soybeans healthy as well? Are all of the soybeans GMO?

The history of soybeans

Soy is a basic food ingredient of traditional Asian cuisine used for thousands of years. Soybeans originate from China and their cultivation as food crop started between 17th and 11th century BC. Between 1st and 15th century BC they were introduced to countries like Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, India and other countries nearby. Soybeans reached the American continent only after 1800 and farmers were encouraged to plant them as animal feed after 1900. In 1904 George Washington Carver discovered that soybeans were rich in protein and oil. The cultivation of soybeans flourished and took great proportions after 1940. Today, Brazil and USA together produce 65% of the global soybean supply.

The GMO story of soybeans

The first GMO soybeans were introduced in 1996 in the USA, by Monsanto and in 2014 82% of the total soy cultivation worldwide was GMO. Brazil is today the leading producer. Amazon dies off and GMO soy plantations flourish.

Is GMO bad?

Even if there is no clear data yet to confirm that GMO itself is harmful to humans, it definitely has a negative impact on the environment and human well being (soil contamination, high use of herbicides and pesticides, die-off of bees, diseases and early death in animals, poor quality of end up products, etc.). Even if there is no scientific proof that genetically modified crops have a negative impact on human health, we should not ignore the fact that GMO products come packed with glyphosate – potentially a highly carcinogenic substance.

Is glyphosate safe?

The most commonly used variety of genetically modified soybeans is the Roundup Ready variety known as RR, produced by Monsanto. This variety is glyphosate-resistant. What does this mean? Roundup is a herbicide and its main ingredient is glyphosate. It was patented in 1974. The GMO soybeans were engineered to be resistant to this weed killer and the GMO crops can be widely sprayed with RR (glyphosate). Originally, The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that glyphosate is most likely not a carcinogenic substance. But, in 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Do you remember how smoking was considered to be healthy in the ’50s? There is a powerful international debate regarding glyphosate carcinogenic properties. (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) Researches link glyphosate with cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the cases increased dramatically since 1970. (18)

What is even more alarming, is the fact that nobody was testing glyphosate in the final food products. The generally accepted level in crops is 20 ppm in EU and USA, while Monsanto itself stated that 5.6 ppm level in soy is extreme while some researches showed that 3 ppm has negative effects. Over the last two years, some tests conducted by EWG (The Environmental Working Group) showed that glyphosate is in most of our foods, not only soy and not only GMO. (19) The farmers spray glyphosate on the crops right before harvesting as well, to kill the plants and make them dry sooner, in order to manage to collect the crop before the rain season starts. WTH?

It looks like we can’t escape it. But we can avoid it as much as possible until further scientific proof comes along by supporting organic non GMO plant farming. And we can still find and choose non GMO organic soy products right now.

Not all soy is GMO 

Approximately 85 to 90% of all GMO soybeans end up as farm animal feed. Do you think they magically disappear in the slaughterhouse? They end up on your plate. Non-GMO and organic products such as tofu, tempeh, and soy milk, etc. are widely available in stores and they are clearly labeled as such. The best way to ensure that you are not eating products sprayed with glyphosate is to buy certified organic only. By supporting the non-GMO and organic soybean farming we support the small local farmers, we protect our environment and we give ourselves the chance for a healthy living.

Soy is a great product for health if non-GMO and organic. Choose wisely!

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