Are soy foods part of a heart healthy diet?
What are soy foods?
- Soy foods are made from soybeans. The soybean is a legume, named so because it grows in pods containing seeds (or “beans” as we call them).
- Soybeans are an excellent source of high quality protein, which most other legumes lack, making the soybean and its food products a superior protein source for people following a strict vegetarian diet.
- This kind of protein is next only to the protein we get from animal foods, many of which contain high levels of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol.
Position of the American Heart Association
Earlier this year, the American Heart Association revised its position on the role of soy protein and isoflavones on cardiovascular health. In contrast to the organization’s 2000 report that encouraged adding soy protein to a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, the 2006 report highlights newer research findings that indicate neither soy protein nor soy isoflavones have strong cholesterol lowering abilities.
The report analyzed studies that compared the cholesterol-lowering effects of soy protein to milk protein, wheat protein and other animal proteins. The average LDL or “bad” cholesterol-lowering benefit of soy was found to be approximately 3 percent, which was much lower than expected (previous research indicated an 8 percent reduction). Although soy protein appears to have a small impact on LDL cholesterol (a primary risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease), it still has a number of cardiovascular health benefits. The American Heart Association advocates that eating foods containing soy protein to replace foods high in animal fats may prove beneficial to heart health.