What actually is... soy?
Will the entire rainforest be cut down from this? Are my hormone levels messed up? And anyway: How can I be sure that my tofu is not genetically modified?
Hardly any other topic in the world of nutrition is as important as soy. Both in the vegan and in the mixed food scene, soy divides minds. No wonder: After all, we have all seen ourselves confronted with countless prejudices... But what exactly is the truth behind these claims? Can we continue to enjoy our tofu, tempeh and co. with a clear conscience?
What is soy?
Although soy has only been the subject of heated debate in recent years, the food has been around for thousands of years. What we always refer to as 'soy' for short is actually the soybean: the legume was already 3050 BC. Cultivated in China and played an important role as a staple food. However, it has only become increasingly important in the last 60 years:
Soybean production increased from 27 million tons to a whopping 360 million tons (!) during this period. 80% of the world's soybeans come from the USA, Brazil and Argentina.
Soy is best known as a meat substitute in the form of tofu in veggie cuisine. It also has an unbelievable number of other areas of application: the soy drinks that are offered as milk alternatives are also made from soybeans. Just like tempeh (fermented soybeans) or edamame (fresh soybeans).
Compared to other legumes, soy contains more proteins and fats - tempeh scores e.g. B. with 14 g protein / 100 g - as well as secondary plant substances. On the other hand, there is probably no other legume that is the subject of as much debate as soy. In order to clear up common prejudices and to explain why we at Löwenshare use the small organic beans in our chickpea curry and chili vegano , let’s take a closer look at the most well-known points of criticism:
“Soy is not good for rainforest conservation…”
This is arguably one of the most common anti-soy arguments. This is not surprising: After all, huge areas of rainforest are actually being cleared in order to grow soy (among other things). In 2004, for example, an area the size of Brandenburg was cleared in the Amazon...
But should we stop eating soy because of this? The clear answer: no. At least we shouldn't stop it - but rather the farm animals that use soy for food. According to the WWF , around 3.5 billion cattle, 55 million pigs and 703 million poultry are bred and eaten in Germany. For most of these animals, soy is a key component of the feed.
Of the soy that is grown around the world, we humans only get 2-3%. Almost 10% is processed into soybean oil and a full 80-85% (depending on the source) is used as animal feed. In plain language: We are not cutting down the rainforest so that we can eat soy. But so that we can feed the animals with it, which we then eat. (Sources include: “Vegan is unhealthy”, Niko Rittenau, p. 366, source 1 ,source 2 )
If you think about it logically, it makes sense: after all, only 1-2% of the world's population is vegan. And we still assume that this 1-2% is actually responsible for the entire destruction of the rainforest? How much soy would the 1-2% have to consume for such huge areas to be cleared? So it's more likely that the 75 billion animals that we need every day for global meat consumption consume these masses of soy...
So if you want to ensure that less rainforest is cut down, you should rather avoid meat than soy. Or you consume meat more consciously by using organic meat - which we also do in all of our dishes at Löwenshare. For example, at least part of the greenhouse gases generated in animal husbandry are offset.
In addition, even if everyone in Germany suddenly became vegan: All producers of soy products based in Germany, Austria or Switzerland guarantee that their soy comes exclusively or at least 90% from Europe ("Vegan is unhealthy", Niko Rittenau, p. 366). The remaining 10% does not come from South America, but from Canada or the country of the respective producer.
In short: Yes, a lot of rainforest is cut down for soybeans. Most of the harvest, however, is for livestock - not us humans. So you don't have to worry about the rainforest with the next piece of tofu!
"Soy messes up our hormone levels!"
The reason for this claim are components of the soybean, namely the phytoestrogens. They belong to the group of isoflavones and are very similar to estrogen, a female hormone. Nevertheless (!) they have no effect on hormone-dependent diseases such as breast cancer or our hormone levels.
There are no human studies to show that this is the case. Just animal studies. So e.g. B. examined the effect of isoflavone-containing feed on sheep. The result: a large proportion of the sheep developed fertility disorders. In addition, the male sheep did not become more female – but the females became more male (Source: Bennetts, Hw, Underwood, EJ & Shier, FL (1946). A specific breeding problem of sheep on subterranean clover pastures in Western Australia. ).
However, one should not make the mistake of equating sheep with humans on the one hand and animal feed with soy on the other.
In plain language: there are no human studies that come to the same conclusion. Rather, test animals were often given high doses of isolated isoflavone. But even these were never studies conducted on humans. The results cannot therefore be transferred. Another reason that speaks against equating with these studies:
It was a high-dose ingredient in soy, which we cannot absorb in these quantities at all. If we were to extract beta-carotene from carrots and consume it in isolated form, we would also have to deal with unfortunate consequences. Is that why we call carrots bad?
Even well-known nutritional organizations such as the Cancer Council Australia or the British Diabetic Association make it clear that soy consumption is not associated with hormone fluctuations: “It is known that animals metabolize isoflavones differently [...] than humans. The results of such studies cannot be compared to human results. Furthermore, using high doses of pure isoflavones cannot be compared to consuming isoflavones from whole soy foods.”
So there is no valid reason to blame soy for hormone fluctuations. The fear of testosterone reduction is therefore unfounded.
“Genetic engineering is used on soy”
... This claim is also false. Genetic engineering is not used in soy if it is organic soy. That's exactly what we use. And for a good reason:
If we are talking about the soy that is used in intensive animal husbandry, things look different. As a rule, we do not come into contact with this. What we come into contact with, however, are the products from animals that have been given genetically modified feed.
This means that even if consumers do not want it, they consume genetically modified soy by eating animal products. Meat, milk and eggs do not have to be labelled.
The only way to avoid it is to rely on organic products. Genetic engineering is forbidden in the entire organic segment. So you can be sure that you will not come into contact with genetically modified substances. Incidentally, this is also one of the reasons why every ingredient – yes, including the soy – in our lion’s share dishes is organic:
With us, you can be sure with every bite that you are not eating food that has been genetically modified or treated with pesticides. In this way, we always put your health first.
Soy is by no means (!) as high a risk as popularly believed. Rather, countless myths are circulating about the soybean, which should not be seen as an empirical basis for well-founded anti-soy arguments.
Everyone, including omnivores, can confidently include soy in their diet. Finally, soy also scores with a number of advantages :
- effective protein supplier that contains all (!) amino acids,
- Can be used in many ways: whether as tofu, tempeh, soy drink or edamame - soy can be used in many dishes
- Legumes that can bind nitrogen → less nitrogen fertilizer is required
Animal studies cannot be equated with human studies. The fact that all the studies equating soy with harmful effects on health used highly concentrated isoflavone in abnormal doses should also make you suspicious.
If, on the other hand, you are still unsure about your soy consumption, when in doubt, reach for organic soy (at the Löwenanteil, nothing easier than that!). This means you can be 100% sure that your soy comes from Europe , has not been genetically modified and is even healthier than conventional soy.
So enjoy your next tofu or tempeh! Or see for yourself how well ground soya goes in our vegan dishes ...