Herbie 101 Series: Soy & GMO

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon Category: 101Series

Before we talk about soy (and before you leave a comment), please read this article on soy, "Finally, The Truth About Soy", and also read this post in its entirety.

As you will read (with ample links to scientific studies), soy is not dangerous, unhealthy, or unsafe for most people, despite myths floating around thanks to the WAPF.

Legitimate soy concerns: Some people are allergic to soy (just as some people are allergic to peanuts) and those individuals should abstain from soy. There is also conflicting and inconclusive evidence about soy's effect on women who already have breast cancer (Some evidence suggests it might be beneficial, but it's not conclusive). If you already have a thyroid disorder, excessive soy consumption could affect thyroid function. (You can find links to studies supporting these statements (and for further reading) in the article I linked to above).
Onto your questions!

Do you have to eat soy/tofu to be plant-based/vegan?
No. While many people choose to include soy products: soy milk, tofu, edamame, soy sauce (etc.) in their plant-based diet, it is not required. You can eat a plant-based diet without soy in it. Our meal plans are always soy-free!

Soy....what is the limit if there is one? I don't want to overdo soy products.
The key to a healthy diet is eating a variety of plant foods. While most people can eat soy a few times a day, you don't want to be on an all-soy diet every day. In other words, don't have tofu scramble for breakfast, followed by soy yogurt or fake meat (made from soy) for lunch, with a tofu stir-fry for dinner and soy ice cream for dessert. Make sure you're not eating soy at the expense of other healthy plant foods. Let soy accent your diet. Make sure you're eating plenty of vegetables, greens, beans, lentils, whole grains, seasonal fruits.  

See also Dr. McDougall's newsletter, "Soy — Food, Wonder Drug, or Poison?"

Is TVP healthy?
TVP (and TSP) are processed foods. I think we can all agree that processed foods are not as healthy as whole foods.

What does GMO stand for?
Genetically Modified Organism. Any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

What are GMO foods?

Although soy is perhaps the most known plant food for being genetically modified, soy is not the only genetically modified (GM or GMO) product in our food system. Corn, papaya, zucchini, yellow squash, and sugar beets can also be genetically modified. (Source)

Most vegetable oil used in the U.S. is produced from GM crops — canola, corn, cotton, and soy beans. (This means cooking oil, shortening, margarine too). I'm not just talking the oils and margarines *you* buy in the store. I'm also talking about the oils and margarines used by restaurants in cooking, baking, and frying, as well as the oil in packaged foods. (Source)


Farm animals (those raised for meat, milk, eggs) are typically fed GMO soy and GMO corn. (Source)

How can I avoid GMO foods?
The best way to avoid GMO is to eat a whole foods plant-based diet (absolutely no animal products) and avoid processed foods — even if they are vegan. By processed foods, I mean foods that come in a box or packaging — like cookies or chips. If nothing else, take care to avoid "foods" (I use quotes intentionally) with corn syrup and HFCS. Avoid oil for your health, but especially if you want to avoid GMO. The most common oils (i.e., vegetable, canola, and corn) tend to be GMO, so avoid fried foods and processed foods with oil.

Additionally, buy organic produce whenever possible. 

How can I find GMO-free soy?
With tofu (and other soy products), usually there is a non-GMO label on the box or package. Although I'm not absolutely certain, it is my understanding that organic soy cannot be GMO. 

I'm allergic to soy, what alternatives are there?
There are many soy alternatives, depending on what you're looking for. There are nut and rice milks, chickpea miso, coconut-based yogurts and ice creams, Daiya cheese, to name a few alternatives to soy. Our meal plans are always soy-free friendly too.

What is tempeh?
Tempeh is fermented soybeans. It's made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. You can find tempeh at any health food store and most supermarkets. Fun fact: tempeh originates from Indonesia.

I have heard that soy has anti-nutrients
Not true. See the article I linked at the beginning of this post, and also Dr. McDougall's article linked above.

I can't always afford all organic, what do I do?

If you can afford organic, great. If you can't, that's okay. A conventionally grown apple is still healthier than an organic potato chip, after all. Do the best you can. When I lived abroad for a year, I had no access to organic foods and I'm still here. No third eyeball!

You've probably heard the phrase "the dirty dozen" and "the clean 15." The "dirty dozen" refers to foods you should always buy organic and the "clean 15" refers to foods you don't have to worry about whether or not they are organic (or so the experts say).

Here are both lists:

The Dirty Dozen Plus:

  • apples
  • celery
  • sweet bell peppers
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • imported nectarines
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • domestic blueberries
  • potatoes
  • green beans
  • kale, collards, and leafy greens

The Clean 15:

  • onions
  • sweet corn
  • pineapples
  • avocado
  • cabbage
  • sweet peas
  • asparagus
  • mango
  • eggplant
  • kiwi
  • domestic cantaloupe
  • sweet potatoes
  • grapefruit
  • watermelon
  • mushrooms


Please note that these lists may change.




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