Tofu makes this strawberry smoothie slightly thick
Someone once said that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. A review of 38 studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995, found that soy consumption reduced cholesterol levels in 89 percent of the studies. If the articles written and spawned by Fallon and Enig were to be believed, just about everything we’ve been taught to believe about soy’s benefits is completely backwards. What about soy’s vaunted reputation (and FDA approval) for bringing down cholesterol levels? “For most of us,” say Fallon and Enig, “giving up steak and eating veggieburgers instead will not bring down blood cholesterol levels.”
Soy and cholesterol
If there is a grain of truth in Fallon and Enig’s statement, it is that while soy consumption tends to bring down total cholesterol levels most in people whose cholesterol levels are high, the results are less dramatic in those with healthier levels. But even people with normal levels benefit from eating more soy, according to dozens of studies, because it improves the ratio between HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol. This ratio is now recognized by the American Heart Association to be an even more important factor than total cholesterol levels in heart disease risk.
In 2000, the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association published a major statement in the peer-reviewed journal Circulation, officially recommending the inclusion of 25 grams or more of soy protein, with its associated phytochemicals intact (i.e., not in the form of an isolated soy protein supplement), in the daily diet as a means of promoting heart health. This recommendation is consistent with the FDA’s ruling allowing soy protein products to carry the health claim: “25 grams/day of soy protein, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
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What do the soy pooh pooh-ers say to this? They say that lowered cholesterol levels, even those lowered by diet, are dangerous: “The truth is that cholesterol is your best friend,” they write. “When cholesterol levels in the blood are high, it’s because the body needs cholesterol… There is no greater risk of heart disease at cholesterol levels of 300 than at 180.”
That’s quite a point of view, ignoring as it does just about everything that has been learned about heart disease and cholesterol in the past 30 years of medical science. The Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial, for example, is considered the broadest and most expensive research project in medical history. Sponsored by the federal government, it took over ten years of systematic research, and cost over $150,000,000. George Lundberg, M.D., the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, where the gargantuan study was first published, said that the study proved that even small changes in our blood cholesterol levels produce dramatic changes in heart disease rates. Charles Glueck, M.D., director of the University of Cincinnati Lipid Research Center, one of the twelve major centers participating in the project, noted: “ For every one percent reduction in total blood cholesterol level, there is a two percent reduction of heart disease risk.”