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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


The New Low-Cholesterol Diet: Soy
Versatile soy protein may lower bad fats floating in your bloodstream.
By R. Morgan Griffin
This is a
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Soy protein can be a meal, a side dish, a snack, or a drink. Made
from the soybean, it's a staple of Asian diets. Yet it's largely been
the butt of jokes about hippies and vegans -- until recently. Today,
the buzz about soy is serious. Can it lower cholesterol naturally?

Some studies say yes. But, unfortunately, research shows mixed
results. We may not know the answer for years.

How Might Soy Protein Help?

A number of studies over the past decade seemed to show soy
protein could lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides without
lowering "good" HDL cholesterol. Researchers aren't exactly sure how
soy protein might help. It could be a combination of the effect of the
protein and natural chemicals in soy called isoflavones. But in January
2006, the American Heart Association announced some surprising
news. A review of 22 clinical studies concluded that eating soy-based
foods has only minimal impact on cholesterol and other heart-disease
risk factors.

Until further research clears up the controversy, should you dump soy
from your diet? Not at all, says Tufts University nutrition researcher
Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, who helped write the AHA statement. "Soy
is a great food. It is low in saturated fat and it is a good-quality
protein," she says -- even if its heart benefits are less than

Conflicting Evidence on Soy

There have been many studies of the effects of soy on cholesterol.
One major article published in TheNew England Journal of Medicine
found that replacing animal protein with soy protein could lower levels
of total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. At the
same time, it didn't significantly lower levels of "good" HDL

Some studies have shown that soy protein, when eaten along with
other cholesterol-lowering foods, can have a big effect. In a study
published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005,
researchers tested cholesterol-lowering drugs against cholesterol-
lowering foods in a group of 34 adults with high cholesterol. People
ate 50 grams of soy protein daily along with other cholesterol-
lowering foods. The results were striking: the diet lowered cholesterol
levels about as well as cholesterol drugs.

However, not all studies agree. An analysis of various studies led by
the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that soy
had a modest effect on cholesterol levels. Researchers found that
eating a high amount of soy -- equal to about a pound of tofu a day
-- only added up to a 3% reduction in "bad" cholesterol levels.
Based on those more recent studies, the AHA Nutrition Committee no
longer recommends eating soy specifically to lower cholesterol.
However, the AHA does consider soy burgers and other soy foods a
healthy replacement for high-fat meats
There are almost endless ways of getting soy into your meal plan.
Here's a rundown of some of your options.
* Tofu is a solid extract of soybeans. "It has a mild, bean-like
flavor," says Ruth Frechman, RD, a spokeswoman for the American
Dietetic Association (ADA.) "It can be added to anything you cook or
It can be eaten right out of the package." Tofu is often used in stir
-fries, curries, or stews. It tends to pick up the flavor of the sauce
it's in.
* Soy nuts are roasted soybeans, which can make a tasty snack.
"Soy nuts are a convenient, crunchy source of protein," Frechman
tells WebMD.
* Soymilk is made from ground soybeans mixed with water. You
can substitute soymilk for milk in your coffee or your cereal. Or you
can just drink it on its own. "A lot of my clients really like smoothies
made with soy milk," says ADA spokeswoman Suzanne Farrell, MS,

RD. "That's a great way to get soy into your diet."
* Soy burgers, soy cheese, and other products now fill the
freezers and refrigerators at your local supermarket. Manufacturers
have come up with soy products that mimic just about every kind of
meat and dairy product. Buy a few different types and give them a

* Edamame are soybeans still in the pod. They're sold either
frozen or fresh. Frechman recommends microwaving frozen edamame
in a little water and chicken bouillon for an easy way to get soy

* Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake. It can be used as a meat
substitute, and works well in spaghetti sauce.

* Miso is a paste made from soybeans that is used for soup
stocks or as a seasoning.

* Soy flour is a powder made from ground, roasted soybeans. It
can be added to baked goods.

Choose the foods that you like. The key is to substitute soy for
high-fat meats, such as hamburger.

Originally published September 2005.
Medically updated January 2006.

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