Soybeans and products made from soy, including tofu, soy milk, edamame (green soybeans in the pod) and soy crumbles (textured vegetable protein) provide high-quality, plant-based protein that can replace meat products high in saturated fat.
Soy is also the only significant source of two isoflavones, a type of flavonoid (an antioxidant), that act as phyto-estrogens, or plant-based estrogens. This may explain why populations that consume large amounts of soy, such as in Southeast Asia, have lower rates of coronary heart disease.
Phyto-estrogens are structurally similar to estrogen and provide protection against heart disease by binding to estrogen receptors. Soy has been shown to lower cholesterol, decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which helps prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and increase vasodilation (relaxation) of the blood vessels.
The research is compelling enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a health claim for soy in 1999. Foods that contain 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving are allowed to use this statement on the packaging:
"25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of [name of food] supplies __ grams of soy protein."
Try these easy ways to incorporate soy products into your eating plan to lower your risk of heart disease:
- Drink soy milk and use it in place of cow's milk on cereal, in baking, and so on.
- Substitute frozen soy crumbles instead of meat in spaghetti sauce, chili or tacos.
- Stir-fry tofu cut into cubes with a mix of vegetables, ginger and onion; serve with brown rice.
- Steam edamame (green soybeans in the pod) and pop the beans out into your mouth, throwing away the pod.
- Replace about one-fourth to one-half cup of all-purpose flour with soy flour in baked goods.