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Organic, non-GMO and Conventional Soy - What’s The Difference?

Updated: May 4, 2022

February is Heart Month and great time for us to highlight soy because of its numerous functional properties and the fact it represents an important alternative source of protein and fat aside from conventional animal products.

There are several benefits associated with soy consumption in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and a beneficial impact on total cholesterol and low‐density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. Additionally, soy has a positive impact on other chronic diseases, including observational evidence pointing to a role in risk reduction for breast and prostate cancers and additional evidence suggesting a role in reduction of menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis risk. But soy also comes in a variety of forms, and I know that both public and scientific interest is very high when it comes to nutritional differences between agricultural practices. There is usually extra interest around soy, particularly GMO soy, and so I wanted to write today’s article to look more specifically at soy and whether there is a nutritional difference between organic, non-GMO and GMO. I also appreciate that it may be confusing to differentiate between the terms organic and non-GMO so let’s look more specifically at these terms. According to experts at NSF international:

Organic “Organic is always non-GMO” is based on the idea that a producer will follow their organic system plan and will not have purposefully used genetic engineering or GMOs.

Non-GMO Non-GMO certified products are being verified to have been grown and processed without genetic modification.

But Wait - What is GMO?

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genome is engineered in the laboratory through a process that takes several years before becoming available to the marketplace. This process favours the expression of desired physiological traits (such as growing more quickly, or in more challenging conditions) or the creation of desired biological products (such as growing larger crops). Globally, glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified soy is the number one GM crop plant. Roundup, a widely used herbicide, contains glyphosate, which is toxic to plants that have not otherwise been genetically engineered to be resistant to it – just in the same way the soy crop discussed above has been.

Is GMO Soy Less Nutritious? This question is one of great interest, but also one that is not the most straight forward to anwser because we also must consider that much GMO soy is grown for animal agriculture (to feed cows, chickens) as well as the fact that non GMO soy is also readily available and affordable. With that being said, however, A 2014 study out of Food Chemistry concluded that Roundup Ready GM-soy may have higher residue levels of glyphosate and AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) - which is a metabolite of microbial degradation of glyphosate. Some of the study highlighs include: -Glyphosate tolerant GM soybeans contain high residues of glyphosate and AMPA. -Soybeans from different agricultural practices differ in nutritional quality. -Organic soybeans showed a more healthy nutritional profile than other soybeans. -Organic soy contained more sugars, protein and zinc, but less fibre and omega-6. -This study rejects that GM soy is “substantially equivalent” to non-GM soybeans. Given that locating non-GMO soy is relatively easy to do, it may be advisable going off of these types of study results even if more research may be required in this area. The genetic modification technology continues to evolve and the products of new GMO techniques like gene editing are entering the supply chain. The best way to keep GMOs out of your grocery basket is by choosing products with the butterfly symbol. You shouldn’t worry too much about short-term exposure to glyphosate. According to experts, it’s less toxic than table salt but it’s long-term risk may be a concern. Scientists are divided on how much risk is involved and most studies were conducted on animals that show conflicting results. This is where it gets interesting.

Research has shown that GMO soybeans may be associated with the Introduction of thousands of metric tonnes of glyphosate in the food chain. This increased use of glyphosate heightens the likelihood of higher concentrations of the chemical running off into nearby ecosystems. At these elevated concentrations, glyphosate may be capable of causing environmental damage. It’s important to understand that most soy is grown to feed animals and so by choosing organic soy you will be helping a little bit. Bottom Line Choosing organic and / or non-GMO soy may offer a nutritional advantage and be environmentally conscious. More studies need to be conducted to further understand these impacts as well as it’s long term health effects on humans and animals. This choice should not impact the amount or frequency of your soy consumption because any type of soy will deliver health benefits.

This article was written with the collaboration of Kaleigraphy, Andy De Santis.

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