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Have I Been Wrong About You My Whole Life? Soy Edition


Prakasit John Khuansuwan, 2020

Three years ago, I made the big switch, and shifted over to a solely plant-based diet. A decision initially made based on digestive health, I soon began to take into account my effect on the environment and the horrors associated with factory farming. Since then, I've been on a relentless mission to educate myself about sustainability in order to reduce my negative impact and perhaps even contribute in a positive way.


Let me just cover my bases here. This isn’t going to be a meat-shaming, holier-than-thou, preachy-vegetarian type article. I don’t care if you’re a vegan, omnivore, or follow the carnivore diet, I’m not here to judge you based on your dietary preferences. Nor am I here to convert you to my chosen nutritional regimen. What I am here to do though, is take a look at my diet and debunk some of my preconceived notions, specifically about one of my favourite, protein-packed foods, tofu.


Over time, tofu and (its main constituent) soy have earned heaps of publicity. Some good, and some not so good:

  • Meat May Be Murder, But Tofu Is Too [1]

  • Tofu: The Vegan Superfood That Fights Cancer And Helps Weight Loss? [2]

  • Eating Soy May Turn On Genes Linked To Cancer Growth [3]

  • Does Eating Soy Give You Man Boobs? [4]

  • Diet Reality Check: Does Soy Make You Fat, As Blake Lively Suggests? [5]

  • Is Soy A Superfood? Love It Or Leave It, Soy Has Its Benefits [6]


With all these articles rolling around the World Wide Web, what's a gal to think?


Let's start at square one.


Tofu & Soy


Tofu, legend has it, was first created in China over 2000 years ago. There are a myriad of different fables surrounding the origins of tofu. Some say it was created by a Chinese king, others believe a Chinese cook stumbled upon the dish, and yet others assert that the vegan 'superfood' was a product of imitating cheese making methods present in other societies at the time [7, 8]. Regardless of the true origin story, tofu, otherwise known as soybean curd, is a product of coagulating soy milk and pressing the resultant curds into blocks [9].

One of the reasons I enjoy tofu, aside from its unique ability to meld seamlessly with each distinct dish, is its wealth of nutrients. According to Jolinda Hackett, plant-based expert and author:


1/2 cup of raw firm tofu (~4 oz., ~124g) yields


  • 94 calories

  • 10.1g of protein (20% DV)*

  • 5g of fat (7% DV)

  • 227mg of calcium (23% DV)

  • 1.82mg of iron (10% DV) [10]

Therefore, tofu can be considered a 'highly nutrient dense food' [11]. It rivals meat in the protein department - with the added benefit of lower levels of fat and no cholesterol - unheard-of! Soybeans, in various forms (soy flour, tofu, soy sauce, tempeh, etc.), are also a viable source of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and thiamine [12].


Likely the biggest culprit of those shockvertising cancer-commentaries, is the presence of isoflavones. Soy 'contains isoflavones such as phytoestrogens. Isoflavones may have both estrogen-agonist or estrogen-antagonist properties. These may help protect against some cancers, heart disease, and osteoporosis [13]. However, like anything else, if consumed in excess, soy may present some health risks. Everything in moderation - that's the key.


Say it Ain't Soy!


The most substantial concern regarding the consumption of soy pertains to its global production. According to the WWF, 'Since the 1950s, global soybean production has increased 15 times over. The United States, Brazil, and Argentina together produce about 80% of the world’s soy' [14]. Doesn't sound that bad, right? Consider this: 131 million hectares of land, much of it in South America, is dedicated to farming soy [15]. Millions of hectares of the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest, The Gran Chaco, the Northern Great Plains of the U.S. and others have been bulldozed to clear space for soybean production [16]. Why are we farming enough soy to feed an army? Well, about 80% of the world’s soy crop feeds cattle, poultry, swine, and sometimes even farmed fish [17].


However, as The Guardian states, a collective shift from animal protein to soy could result in a 94% decline in deforestation. It's simple math: the production of chicken protein requires 3 times as much land as soybean protein, while beef requires 32 times as much land [18]! Despite this unnerving news, it's clear that 'the footprint of soy used in animal agriculture massively exceeds that of vegan soy foods. Furthermore, using soy for the latter purpose respects our planet’s ecological limits and should be celebrated, not shunned' [17].


With the wealth of books and documentaries available outlining everything from appropriate methods for ensuring oceanic biodiversity to the improvement of our farming processes, it’s undeniable that we have a responsibility to our planet. As some of the most intelligent and skilled primates in the world, we need to recognize our unique relationship with the Earth and strive to keep a happy, healthy planet. No matter which route you choose to go, there will be benefits and drawbacks. Though soy cultivation currently carries a heavy environmental footprint, I stand firm in my resolve to continue consuming the 'curd. If we can collectively reduce meat consumption, the need for additional soy farming would substantially decrease. After all, soy food products for human consumption (such as tofu) make up only 6% of cultivated soybeans [19]. As David Attenborough explains, 'while soy is a common ingredient in [plant-based] products, in choosing to eat them ourselves, we are taking the position of herbivore rather than carnivore and so it is far less damaging to the environment than eating animals fed on soy' [15]. An encouraging concept - maybe, one day, we'll get there.



* Daily value (DV) calculated based on average 2000 calorie diet for persons aged 4+.









 

References


  1. L. Rothman. Meat May Be Murder But Tofu Is Too. Vice, 2015. [Online]. Available from: https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.vice.com/amp/en/article/bmp4av/meat-may-be-murder-but-tofu-is-too. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  2. R. Link. Tofu: the Vegan Superfood that Fights Cancer and Helps Weight Loss? Dr. Axe, 2020. [Online]. Available from: https://draxe.com/nutrition/what-is-tofu/. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  3. Eating Soy May Turn on Genes Linked to Cancer Growth. Breast Cancer Organization, 2014. [Online]. Available from: https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/soy-may-turn-on-genes-linked-to-cancer. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  4. T. Amidor. Does Eating Soy Give You Man Boobs? Muscle and Fitness, 2018. [Online]. Available from: https://www.muscleandfitness.com/nutrition/healthy-eating/does-eating-soy-give-you-man-boobs/. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  5. P. Kozicka. Diet Reality Check: Does Soy Make You Fat As Blake Lively Suggests? Global News, 2016. [Online]. Available from: https://globalnews.ca/news/2889759/diet-reality-check-does-soy-make-you-fat-as-blake-lively-suggests/. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  6. V. McGrady. Is Soy A Superfood? Orange Twist, 2021. [Online]. Available from: https://orangetwist.com/is-soy-is-a-superfood/. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  7. C. Bonilla. The History of Tofu. One Green Planet, 2018. [Online]. Available from: https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/the-history-of-tofu/. [Accessed 14 March, 2021].

  8. M. James. Who Invented Tofu: The Ultimate Meat Subsitute. Tofu Bud, 2020. [Online]. Available from: https://tofubud.com/blogs/tips/who-invented-tofu. [Accessed 14 March, 2021].

  9. J. Hare. Trade Secrets... Curdling Of Soya Milk. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2014. [Online]. Available from: https://edu.rsc.org/feature/trade-secrets--curdling-of-soya-milk/3007421.article. [Accessed on 14 March, 2021].

  10. J. Hackett. Tofu Nutritional Value Information. The Spruce Eats, 2019. [Online]. Available from: https://www.thespruceeats.com/tofu-nutritional-value-information-3376923. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  11. A. Petre. What Is Tofu And Is It Good For You? Healthline, 2018. [Online]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-tofu#nutrition. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  12. Nutritional Comparison. Superior Tofu, 2021. [Online]. Available from: https://www.superiortofu.com/cooking-with-tofu/nutritional-comparison/. [Accessed 10 March, 2021].

  13. M. Ware, N. Olsen. Everything You Need To Know About Tofu. Medical News Today, 2017. [Online]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278340#_noHeaderPrefixedContent. [Accessed 11 March, 2021].

  14. Sustainable Agriculture: Soy. WWF, 2021. [Online]. Available from: https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/soy. [Accessed 11 March, 2021].

  15. D. Attenborough, J. Hughes. A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and Vision for the Future. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2020.

  16. Soy. WWF, 2021. [Online]. Available from: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/food_practice/sustainable_production/soy/? [Accessed 13 March, 2021].

  17. L. Plotczyk. Does Soy Consumption Harm the Planet? Depends Who’s Eating It. Sentient Media, 2020. [Online]. Available from: https://sentientmedia.org/does-soy-consumption-harm-the-planet-depends-whos-eating-it/. [Accessed 13 March, 2021].

  18. G. Monbiot. There’s A Population Crisis All Right. But Probably Not The One You Think. The Guardian, 2015. [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/19/population-crisis-farm-animals-laying-waste-to-planet. [Accessed 12 March, 2020].

  19. Soybeans. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015. [Online]. Available from: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/soybeans?fbclid=IwAR2PlJLw3i5Vs4QnNUnPS6iIhYe8RCOyjbgJnsVPLVnulaEX93dgE0tw4Lw. [Accessed 13 March, 2021].



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