Let’s talk about soy, baby. Let’s talk about GMOs. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things soy may be.

Please read that last paragraph to the tune of Let’s Talk About Sex by Salt-N-Pepa. (Oh 90s, I miss your musical stylings.)

Soy and GMOs (or genetically modified organisms, if you want to get all technical and know-it-all) are pretty controversial these days. 

As with anything (whether Rachel and Ross were on a break, whether Hermione and Harry should have lived happily ever after, Team Edward vs. Team Jacob, Team Jen vs. Team Angelina, etc., etc.), you’ve got your cheerleaders and your doom and gloomers, each clamoring for your attention and armed with the latest study, the definitive proof of soy’s health benefits, the undeniable evidence of how soy will wreak havoc on your body.

So, I’m not staunchly in the soy-is-my-savior camp or the soy-is-the-devil camp. 

Sure, I question when soy is listed as an ingredient in a product it really has no business being in.

Like crackers, salad dressing, gum, ice cream, or soup broth. 

I choose not to eat that product.

But do I turn my nose up at all soy?


I do think there are good, bad, and pretty damn ugly things about soy that you, as a conscious consumer (you are, right? you read labels and know what you’re eating, right?), might want to keep tucked away in the back of your mind next time you’re at the grocery store, box of cookies in hand.

But they’re vegan and gluten-free!

Mmhmm, and soy is ingredient number two.

I don’t know about you, but soy isn’t an ingredient when I make vegan, gluten-free cookies at home.

The good

Okay, people like to hear good news first, so let’s start with what’s wonderful about soy.

Soy is a well-meaning legume, offering up a hefty dose of protein. It’s also low in saturated fat (you know, the not-so-good kind). And it’s a good option for vegetarians and vegans looking for a complete protein. 

Our love affair with soy is pretty recent. Soy’s fan girls started to grow in number when we found out the people in Okinawa, Japan, regularly eat about 10 grams of soy per day and the island is one of the five Blue Zones in the world where people tend to live long, happy, healthy lives.  

So soy suddenly was like the fountain of youth.

And some studies have shown that slamming more soy into our stomachs has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer recurrence, reduced risk of breast cancer, and reduced risk of thyroid cancer. 

Other researchers claim that the isoflavones in edamame, tempeh, tofu, and soy milk are great for reducing inflammation and free radicals, and recommend 1 or 2 servings a day. 

Go, soy.

The bad

All right, what those studies might not be entirely clear on is the type of soy that leads to those awesome health bennies.

The Okinawans aren’t gorging on soy protein isolate or drowning their cereal in soy milk.

No, they are eating fermented soy in the form of nato, miso, and tempeh.

I repeat, the Okinawans are not eating veggie sausages stuffed with soy or cheese shreds made with soy.

Let’s call these soys...lesser soys. 

These lesser soys are what many, many, many people are allergic to.

Huh, that’s interesting, considering soy is in EVERYTHING these days.

(Thanks, subsidization.)

And these lesser soys are well-known digestive system disruptors, commonly recommended for avoidance like the plague on elimination diets. 

Not to pile on here, but soy is also one of the most genetically engineered crops. Again, GMOs are hotly debated. Some scientists say there’s no evidence that your friendly neighborhood GMO causes health risks, while others point to some less than desirable effects seen when testing animals.

(Poor animals. Maybe we should test GMOs on the people that think they’re good if they’re so convinced? Why should the animals suffer? Just a thought.)

The ugly

Our friend Bob from Fight Club is a perfect example of the ugly. 

Poor Bob with those man boobs. Maybe he was eating too much soy, when he wasn’t busy participating in Project Mayhem, er, soap making?

As it turns out, unfermented soy contains isoflavones (the same ones mentioned above that some scientists think help reduce inflammation...) that act as phytoestrogens in our bodies.

Phytoestrogrens are essentially fake estrogens that can prevent normal estrogen function in your body. Oh, and they have been linked to PCOS, fibroids, and infertility in women and man boobs, hair loss, and lower sperm count in men. 

Soy is also a goitrogen, which may mess with your thyroid’s mojo by blocking its absorption of iodine. And it can make you feel a little sleepy and kind of constipated.

Wow, how I love curling up in bed feeling like there’s ten rocks in my tummy.

Speaking of digestive distress, soy also has phytates, which are enzyme inhibitors that prevent your body from absorbing the minerals it needs, and trypsin inhibitors, which prevent your body from properly digesting protein.

The result? Cramps, poo fests, and bleeding.

If that doesn’t sound like fun to you, you might want to think twice about sidling up to some soy.

Listen to your body. If you start splatter pooing, maybe you’ve been eating a little too much soy. 

Consider cutting back and see how you feel. Always let your body be your guide. I promise, it knows best.

If you do find you can handle soy like a champ, opt for the organic and fermented variety without chemicals. Not the lesser soys that have been sprayed with tons of pesticides and fertilizers and that are in all likelihood genetically modified.

P.S. Let’s not put too much stock in any of the studies here. It’s interesting information but doesn’t always give you the whole picture. Besides, companies often pay for studies that showcase their products in the best way possible.

Now, I’ll leave you with these final words: Those who think soy’s dirty have a choice. (Thanks, Salt-N-Pepa.)