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The Benefits, Risks, and Uncertainties of Soy for Lower Blood Cholesterol

Soy, a type of legume, can be found in many products. On the grocery store shelves, you will see soy milk, tofu, protein bars, veggie burgers, and many other options. If you are interested in adding soy to your diet and wondering if there health benefits, then read on to find out if soy is a good option for you.

Soy and Cholesterol Levels

Some studies have found that substituting soy protein for high-fat meats and other foods may slightly reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Since high cholesterol puts you at an increased risk of developing heart disease, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows a "heart healthy" label on foods that contain 6.25 grams (g) of soy protein. But, researchers do not know the exact components of soy that may lead to these benefits. And some experts are debating if this label is deserved at all.

Soy Safety Issues

While soy is considered safe for most people, there may be some health concerns if you have certain conditions, such as:

If you are concerned about any of these safety issues, talk to your doctor before adding soy to your diet.

Ways to Get More Soy Into Your Diet

Here are some tips on substituting soy protein for meats and other protein sources in your diet:

Major Food Sources

Soy FoodServing sizeSoy content (grams)Isoflavones (milligrams)
Soybeans, cooked½ cup9-1140-50
Soy milk (regular)1 cup710
Soy milk (fortified)1 cup1043
Textured soy protein¼ cup1133
Isolated soy protein½ ounce1127
Tofu½ cup1025
Meat alternatives (soy crumbles)½ cup118.5
RESOURCES:

American Heart Association
http://www.heart.org

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

Health Canada
http://hc-sc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

20 ways to increase soy in your diet. University of California San Francisco Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/20_ways_to_increase_soy_in_your_diet/index.html. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Go Ask Alice: What are the benefits of soy? Columbia University website. Available at: http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/what-are-benefits-soy. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Harland JL, Carr TA. Does a practical daily intake of ~25 g soy protein significantly lower cholesterol?—A meta-analysis of recent studies. J of Nutr. 2004;134(5):1267S (Poster Abstract).

Mackey R, Ekangaki A, Eden JA. The effects of soy protein in women and men with elevated plasma lipids. Biofactors. 2000;12:251-257.

Qin Y, Niu K. Isoflavones for hypercholesterolaemia in adults. Cochrane Database Sys Rev. 2013:6: CD009518.

Rosell MS, Appleby PN, Spencer EA, Key TJ. Soy intake and blood cholesterol concentrations: a cross-sectional study of 1033 pre- and postmenopausal women in the oxford arm of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. American J of Clin Nutr. 2004;80(5):1391-1396.

Sacks FM, Lichtenstein A, Van Horn L, Harris W, Kris-Etherton P, Winston M; American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health: an American Heart Association Science Advisory for professionals from the Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006;113(7):1034-44.

Siegel-Itzkovich J. Health committee warns of potential dangers of soya. BMJ. 2005;331(7511):254.

Soy. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated December 2015. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 6/11/2014