Categories: Soy

Spilling the Beans on Soy

What could be a more eco-righteous symbol of the hippie vegetarian movement than a block of tofu? As it turns out, the gentle bean has become somewhat of a blood crop in South America. A recent article in The Daily Telegraph uncovered that land-rights activists are risking death, while vast swaths of rainforest are being felled to provide land for the booming soy industry in Brazil (now surpassing the United States as the top soy exporter in the world). With the added issues of widespread genetically modified and pesticide-laden crops, along with the documented dangers of eating too much unfermented soy, just how green is the soy bean?


Amount in square kilometers (an area about the size of Belgium) of Amazon rainforest cleared for monoculture soybean farming between August, 2003, and August, 2004. Three-quarters of this destruction was illegal.

75 to 89

Percentage of soybeans grown in North America that are genetically modified. Even if you are actively avoiding GM foods, GM soy is present in approximately 60 per cent of processed foods – usually as filler or oil. Neither Canada nor the United States requires any safety testing on GM food products, despite findings of toxicity and cancer-promoting properties.


Celsius temperature to which soy beans are heated in the production of commercial soy milk in an attempt to remove trypsin inhibitors (they interfere with protein digestion and have been linked to pancreatic disorders), but the phytate content remains largely intact. (Phytates block the absorption of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract.)


The equivalent number of birth-control pills a day that babies fed exclusively on soy formula would be consuming, according to a British toxicologist’s calculations. (Components of soy called isoflavones produce estrogen-like effects in the body, and as a result are sometimes called phytoestrogens.) Thirty to 40 per cent of babies in the United States are fed soy formula.

Bottom Line

From fast food to pet food, soy is wall-to-wall in our edible products. And while organic fermented soy can be good in moderation, eating a tofu burger and washing it down with a glass of soy milk on a daily basis could prove hazardous to your health. Although the lauded Asian diet has incorporated soy for centuries, it has never included the large amounts of unfermented and heavily processed soy products consumed in North America that have toxicologists worried. When seeking out soy, look for products that are labeled “organic soy”, which means they are genetically unaltered and pesticide-free. Fermented soy products, including miso, tempeh and tamari sauce, are healthy choices (the fermentation process removes the phytates, trypsin inhibitors and hemagglutinins, which can cause clots). If only the hippies had known that soy was going to wind up a Frankenfood blood crop – chances are they would’ve just stuck to the wheatgrass.

Health Canada, U.K. Medical Research Council, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Worldwatch Institute, World Wildlife Fund

Author: Heidi Sopinka