A recent report of the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association (AHA) has caused some confusion about the heart health benefits of soy protein, and some media stories have misrepresented the report’s findings. This statement is intended to outline the facts concerning soy protein and heart health.
FACT: Experts Agree Soy Protein Lowers Cholesterol
The AHA research review found that soy protein lowers blood cholesterol above and beyond that realized from a low fat, low cholesterol diet. This finding is consistent with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizing that soy protein lowers cholesterol by between 3 and 8 percent.
FACT: Experts Agree Soy Protein Has Additional Heart Health Benefits
The AHA report noted that soy foods are heart healthy because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and low content of saturated fat, making them an ideal substitute for less healthy foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. The FDA and, similarly, the AHA have agreed that soy foods appear to modestly lower triglycerides and raise HDL (“Good”) blood cholesterol levels.
FACT: Seven Governments Recognize the Heart Health Benefits of Soy
Authorities around the world have approved health claims supporting the consumption of soy protein and a lowering of blood cholesterol, including the USA, Korea, Japan, Brazil, Philippines, Indonesia and the United Kingdom. These claims were approved based on an extensive review of scientific literature to determine that the relationship between soy protein and lowered cholesterol was well established. It’s the weight of this scientific evidence that led so many government health authorities to approve soy/heart health claims.
FACT: Soy Protein is a Food, Not a Prescription Drug
Soy foods have the unique ability to both lower LDL (“Bad”) cholesterol and lower triglycerides, but not to the degree expected from cholesterol-lowering medications. That soy products have been found to lower blood cholesterol even a small amount, however, has the potential to dramatically impact public health. One may argue whether a 3 – 8 percent reduction in cholesterol is “clinically significant,” but the bottom line is that heart disease depends on small life changes. Neither pharmaceuticals nor soy foods are by themselves panaceas for a healthy heart.
FACT: Research into Soy Protein and Heart Health Will Continue
Physicians have known for many years that lifestyle change helps prevent heart attack and stroke. Only recently, however, have scientists begun to study how a diet rich in soy protein helps lower cholesterol. In 1999, The Solae Company successfully petitioned the FDA to issue an unqualified health claim for soy protein and coronary heart disease. Our company will continue to invest in nutrition research that helps consumers make more informed decisions about what they eat.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD