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Heart Association recommends eating more soy
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (Reuters) -- It's official -- the American Heart Association wants you to eat soy.
The giant non-profit, which has for years preached the gospel of healthy diet and exercise, says the scientific studies have shown that eating soy can lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
The recommendation adds soy to the growing list of foods, such as orange juice, bananas, leafy green vegetables and oatmeal, that most people should try to eat every day.
Heart disease is the single biggest killer in the United States and many industrialized countries.
John Erdman, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois in Urbana, said people who eat soy cut at least some unhealthy meat from their diets -- but also add some goodies.
He noted many studies have shown that Asians, who have a high intake of soy and a low intake of meat and dairy, have about half the rates of cardiovascular disease as do Europeans and Americans.
Studies have also suggested that substituting soy for animal protein can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol, lower triglycerides, another measure of blood fat, and raise the good "HDL" that carries fat out of the bloodstream.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating 20 grams of soy a day can reduce levels of cholesterol in as little as 9 weeks.
The greatest effects are seen in people with high blood cholesterol, and Erdman said there is little risk that people with lower cholesterol can push it too low by eating soy.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now allows makers of food products that are low in fat and that contain at least 6.25 grams of soy to put a health claim on the label.
"We encourage people to use soy that is natural," Erdman said -- as opposed to taking capsules that claim to contain soy protein. He said complete soy seems to have a variety of ingredients that act together to lower cholesterol.
He urged the food industry to develop more tasty foods that include soy, although he added that many had come on the market in recent years. "Many Americans do not appreciate the bean taste of soy," he said. "Taste rules. People do not buy things twice unless they taste good."
But he noted that Americans are turning to soy in greater numbers, with sales of soy products up 45 percent in recent years in mainstream supermarkets -- not health food stores.
Easy ways to get soy into the diet include using soy milk, which contains about 6 to 8 grams in an 8-ounce serving.
"Soy milk has a bit of a nutty taste," Erdman said. "Soy milk is very, very nice in cereal."
Three ounces of tofu -- which is winning favor in restaurants and on supermarket shelves -- has 8 to 10 grams of soy protein per serving, Erdman said. Soy burgers can contain anywhere between 10 and 18 grams each.
Soy flour, usually de-fatted, is also a good source.
Erdman said the studies show the earlier one starts, the better, so the Heart Association recommends encouraging children to eat soy.
Compounds in soy that may help make it healthy include phytic acid, saponins, which may help the body excrete more bile and cholesterol with it, and the amino acid arginine, Erdman said.
Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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