Is it time to say “soyo-nara” to soy?

Soy has a very long history. But new data shows that soy may soon BE history. Or at least, it should be.

I’ll tell you why the move away from soy is a good thing in just a moment. But first, let’s take a closer look at how this one-time darling of the “health food” world has fallen from grace.

Soymilk sales are down 55%

While it’s typically difficult to find any real role for science in relation to fads and fashions in the natural foods industry, recent statistics on soy are striking.1 There has been a precipitous fall in soy consumption since 2013. And over the last three years, sales of soy drinks have dropped a shocking 55%.

I’ve always considered soy “milks” and beverages to be poor substitutes for real natural foods and beverages. But nevertheless, soy “milk” has been a long-time leader in the category of pseudo-healthy beverage substitutes, which also includes almond, rice, and other plant “milks.”

(Of course, a major problem with almond milk is the thousands of gallons of water needed to produce a single gallon of this product. This is of particular concern in the almond capital of California, which has been suffering for years from a devastating and largely manmade drought.)

So after years of popularity, it’s certainly interesting to hear that the waters are shifting regarding soy beverages. In fact, one report notes that in the first three months of 2016 alone, there was a 400% increase in “soy-free” claims on new beverages.1

How did this happen? Well, the history goes all the way back to ancient China.

Lessons learned from millennia of soybean cultivation

In China, soy has traditionally been considered one of the five sacred “grains,” or plants of agricultural importance (although it is actually a legume).

The Chinese civilization was among the first to practice intensive agriculture thousands of years ago. They learned to cultivate grains like rice, which provided calories to a large, growing population. But the challenge was to also grow plants that could provide adequate protein and other nutrients.

As a legume, soy is a potential source of protein. Legume plants have a type of bacteria on their root nodules that allow them to capture large amounts of nitrogen from the soil. Nitrogen is a basic element for making protein (from “amino,” or nitrogenous, acids), along with the nucleic acids in DNA and RNA.

Chinese scholars who study the original characters of pictograms for representing the five sacred plants note that the character for soy emphasizes the lower, or “root” portion of the pictogram (in contrast to the characters for the other plants, which emphasize the upper, grain portions).

It is also theorized that the Chinese learned to plant soy to replenish the nitrogen in the soils that had been exhausted from intensive agriculture. So, in essence, soy is a natural fertilizer.

Interestingly, the raw soy plant is not edible. Soy is full of antitryptic toxins, which can drastically interfere with digestion if eaten in their natural form (which is why I recommend you only eat edamame, or raw soybeans, sparingly). So to make soy edible, the Chinese developed sophisticated processing methods.

For tofu, they dissolved soybeans in sea water. The calcium and magnesium in the salt causes the soy protein to gather and form into a block. The block is then pressed to remove the fluid containing the antitryptic toxins.

Soy can also be fermented, which allows natural probiotic bacteria to break down the chemical toxins. Fermented soy is used in products like soy sauce.

Just say no to GM soy

Soy has now become a major cash crop worldwide. But the soy grown today (except for organic soy) is almost entirely GM. That concern is causing a serious, critical evaluation of soy’s role in human nutrition.

GM plants are designed to be resistant to herbicides, which are basically pesticides with a more natural-sounding name. But don’t be fooled.

The World Health Organization has declared that glyphosate—the herbicide used in Roundup—is a probable human carcinogen.

And the widespread use of GM soy, corn, and cotton in the U.S. has spawned a new class of “super weeds” that are resistant to herbicides and are overtaking millions of acres of cropland across the South and Midwest.

If that weren’t bad enough, soy is also one of the top eight food allergens, according to the FDA.

And there are concerns about the plant hormones in soy that may mimic the effects of estrogen hormones in humans. Estrogen exposure has been linked to breast and other cancers, as well as disruptions in the normal reproductive cycle.

So with all of these concerns, why bother with soy? After all, there are plenty of sources of natural proteins in a balanced diet that are healthier for you and the environment—including other legumes like beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts.

To stop the takeover of agriculture by GMOs and the toxic herbicides required to grow them, start voting with your pocketbook.

We are not living in ancient China anymore. It may very well be time to say soyo-nara, or simply “soy-long,” to soy—especially GM soy.


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