Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Does soy help reduce cholesterol levels?

Hi there, Monique! I would really appreciate your help. I am a herbalist (Phytotherapist) and really need some help with a diet to help reduce cholesterol levels of a patient. He isn't responding to oats or artichokes, any other suggestions. In all other respects, his diet is healthy. Takes no dairy, no coffee, is a smoker and moderate drinker... Careful about vegies, fruit and moderate meat eater. Any suggestions, please? Barry

Answer: Yes. Research has shown that soy can help lower total and LDL (the bad) cholesterol while possibly increasing HDL (the good) cholesterol. Numerous independent studies conducted worldwide have shown consuming 1-2 servings of soy foods a day can substantially improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke. In these studies, researchers also found that the more soy was added to the diet, the more the levels of cholesterol went down. They noted that the active components in soy are its protein and isoflavones, which work together to produce health benefits. However, these studies suggest that to get the full heart-healthy impact of soy, it must coincide with a diet low in saturated fat, trans fat (hydrogenated vegetable oils), and cholesterol.

A study reported in the October 2001 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition also indicates that cholesterol can quickly and effectively be reduced by replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats. In this study, a group of people between 21 and 40 years old reduced their total blood cholesterol levels on average by about 15% in only 2-1/2 weeks.

I suggest that your patient reduce his consumption of meat and begin to eat more soy products like
tempeh, textured soy protein (also known as TVP), edamame (sweet young and green whole soybeans), roasted soynuts, tofu and soymilk. There are many meat analogs that are available at regular supermarkets, like soy-based cold-cuts, soy hotdogs, veggie burgers, soy-based breakfast patties. He can also find other soy foods at these stores, like tempeh, tofu, soynuts, soymilk, soy protein powders and soy cheese. At health food stores, there is an even greater selection of soy foods, such as frozen soy-based entrees and snacks, as well as edamame. He would also be wise to use unsaturated fats like olive oil and canola oil.

If your patient is new to soy, or reluctant to try soy foods for fear that it will taste bad, tell him to start by adding small amounts of it to his daily meal plans. Once he becomes familiar with soy's various tastes and textures, he can add more soy to his diet and he will be better able to substitute soy-based products for animal-based products in his favorite recipes.

For more information about soy, visit the
Virtues of Soy website

For great soy recipes, get my book
Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook.

For more information about cholesterol, go to

Also go to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website and read "Cholesterol and Heart Disease" at

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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.

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