Soy or Not Soy; That Is The Question

“So what do you eat?” is the number one question for vegans and vegetarians.

What people with a little imagination usually picture are dishes in which meat and fish are replaced by soy products – or worse: where there is only a bit of salad left on the plate. The truth is: soy burgers and textured soy protein are definitely out there and some of us like it, but others live a happy and soy-free life. That is because many believe that the so called faux meat (faux hot dog, faux meatballs, etc.) are not as carefree as we would like think.

Soy products have been critized for causing health problems over the last decade. Interestingly, people usually consume them for health reasons in order to get their protein levels right.  If you look into it, you’ll find that there is an endless number of alternatives of protein sources in the vegan world such as nuts, seeds, grains and even vegetables. That said, we can have a closer look at the reasons not to go soy.

The vegfamily writes the following: “Depending upon whom you choose to believe, soy is either a wonder food or the next asbestos. Even among professionals in the field of nutrition and other sciences, there is much confusion about the conflicting information drawn from the countless research articles published each year on soybeans and their derivatives.” Soy is therefore controversal, but who would want to take the risk?

Importantly, Grist explains us that not all soy products are the same. Whereas soy milk and tofu can be seen as “wholefoods”, soy burgers and meat substitutes are far from that. “Big Food found ways to co-opt and mass-market soy, using a synthetic solvent called hexane to extract soy protein isolates from the bean. These isolates give veggie burgers and energy bars a cheap dose of protein.” That’s exactly when things become unhealthy. Hexane is a petroleum by-product and highly toxic. Just one example given by Grist: “Soy increases estrogen levels, which in turn increases risk of breast cancer and other estrogen-sensitive cancers.” There are many more examples of health risk linked to a high soy consumption.

What is further worth mentioning is that soy production in most cases is not good for the environment. Most of the production in the world is genetically modified and done in monocultures. Also large parts of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down or are being cut down directly or indirectly because of soy production. Besides, most soy products are processed and therefore need further energy imput: “while meat-based diets have about twice the environmental impact of soy-based diets, a non-soy veggie diet beats them both.”, Grist says.

Nevertheless, soy is a convenient alternative to meat and good source of protein. Especially newcomers to the vegan/vegetarian diet might find it useful. However, it might be best to come up with alternatives to a product which possibly harms us and definitely harms the environment.

Picture by Th♥mås Lǔ, thank you!

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