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) 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; and increase vasodilation (relaxation) of the blood vessels.
The research is compelling enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 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.