Soylent takes science seriously. That’s why, before we chose a protein source for our meal replacement shakes and meal replacement powders, we did a lot of, well, science. That meant researching factors like nutrition, bioavailability (i.e., how easily a certain kind of protein is absorbed into your digestive system), sustainability, and environmental friendliness.
What’s soy got to do with it?
All our research and study led us to soy isolate.
Soy isolate scored very high on the bioavailability scale. In fact, soy is the only plant-based protein to score a 1.0 — putting it on par with eggs, milk, and beef. Plus soy is sustainable, vegan, and has a smooth texture for creating optimal flavor profiles.
Research published in scientific journals drives home the many health and environmental benefits associated with eating soy. For example, soy contains adequate amounts of nine essential amino acids. Consuming soy protein has been shown to lower cholesterol. Compared to other protein sources such as beef, soy is more environmentally sustainable — it takes about 7 times as much water to make one ounce of beef as it does to make one ounce of tofu. And it makes for part of a pretty cool name.
You can see why soy was the obvious choice for us. But it’s not so obvious to everyone else.
If you’ve read about soy in the news, you’ve probably run across the term “soy isoflavones” and the flurry of news stories blaming soy isoflavones for everything from the early onset of puberty in girls to the growth of *ahem* “man boobs.” Central to many of those claims is the notion that eating soy can cause negative hormonal changes in the body. Soy contains phytochemicals known as isoflavones, which somewhat resemble human estrogen in molecular structure.
But that’s about it. The science behind these claims and arguments against soy don’t hold up.
These inaccurate notions about soy isoflavones can be attributed to studies in rodents that showed potential estrogenic effects. This study got a lot of media attention, but doesn’t hold up in human studies. Further, a meta-analysis of clinical studies (i.e. a study of studies) published in Fertility and Sterility, analyzed a suite of experiments designed to test whether consuming isoflavones could lower levels of testosterone in men. Guess what? Researchers concluded that “neither soy foods nor isoflavone supplements alter measures of bioavailable T [testosterone].”
As for the onset of puberty in girls, a study published in Nutritional Journal debunks that too. The study examined 339 girls aged 12–18 who attended middle and high schools located near Seventh-Day Adventist universities in California and Michigan. These populations were studied because a high percentage of Seventh-Day Adventists are vegetarian and typically include soy in their diets. The authors of the study concluded that the consumption of soy around when puberty begins doesn’t seem linked to the onset of puberty.
It’s also worth noting that isoflavones are less present in soy protein isolate than in whole soyfoods because of the extraction process. The isoflavones that survive that process don’t function in the human body the way endogenous estrogen does.
While soy consumption has spiked in the West in the last few decades, other cultures have been consuming soy in much greater quantities for a lot longer, without negative effects. One study published in Lymphatic Research and Biology notes that the average daily consumption of soy isoflavones in Japan is significantly higher than the United States, and that they may even have protective health benefits. Americans also eat plenty of non-soy foods that contain isoflavones and phytoestrogens. The molecules are found in other popular plant foods like the hops found in beer and legumes; they have even been found to be safe enough to include in baby formula.
Wow. That’s a lot of science we just threw at you. Here’s some more.
We are pro-GMO! That goes for soybeans, too.
More than 820 million people around are food insecure (read more about that in our blog). To alleviate a hunger crisis, the United Nations has called for a 70 percent increase in food production by 2050, when the world population will reach 9.7 billion.
Genetically modified (GMO) crops must be a part of this picture. According to a 2014 meta-analysis of 147 scholarly studies, the introduction of GM crops increases yields by an average of 22 percent. Basically GM crops have amazing potential for food production. But anti-GMO sentiment is strong, and a lot of it focuses on (can you guess?) soybeans.
At Soylent, we are pro-GMO, because we are pro-sustainability and pro-science. We believe GMOs can be a safe, economic option for sustainable food production, they cut down on food waste, time spent growing food, and resources used. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine have published multiple reports stating that GMOs are safe. Even noted scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson is urging people to calm down about GMOs.
In the soybean’s case, genetic modification actually makes the crop more environmentally friendly. Most GM soybeans grown today have been designed to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, which can then be used on the crops as a weed-killer; compared to other herbicides, glyphosate has a shorter half-life (time to decompose) and binds tightly to soil particles, making it less likely to contaminate nearby waterways with runoff. The small traces of glyphosate, an herbicide that do remain in soil and water pose little to no threat to humans. Decades of peer-reviewed studies have found no link between glyphosate, an herbicide often used with GM soybeans, and cancer or other health problems. Studies that say otherwise make for splashy headlines, but they are the exception to the rule — the scientific consensus remains firmly on glyphosate’s side.
In soymmation (sorry, not sorry).
Soyent’s commitment to science and sustainability means we’ll never stop looking for new and exciting protein sources that can further our mission; however, for as long as we’ve been searching, we haven’t found any option that beats soy protein isolate. With its strong amino acid profile, low carbon footprint, and very low water usage, soy is a strong protein source and one we stand behind for our vegan-friendly meal replacement shakes. Despite fear mongering around isoflavones and GMOs, the health benefits of both soy and soy protein isolate stand up under intense scientific scrutiny. The soybean is vital to the fight against world hunger and environmentally destructive agriculture. And it’s soy good for you.