What to know about soy, according to Harvard researchers

Does soy protein lower ‘bad’ cholesterol?

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers removing soy protein from its list of heart-healthy foods for lower cholesterol due to lack of consistent research, a new study suggests the protein may actually significantly reduce low-density lipoproteins, often called “bad” cholesterol.

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The findings, recently published in the Journal of Nutrition, involves a meta-analysis of 46 different studies identified by the FDA on adult men and women with baseline LDL concentrations between 110 to 201 mg/dL. For reference, a healthy LDL cholesterol level is typically less than 100 mg/dL.

The 46 trials examined the effect of soy protein on adults’ LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol compared with non-soy protein. Of the 46, 43 trials provided sufficient data for the study.

Through the meta-analysis, researchers found soy protein reduced LDL cholesterol by approximately 3-4% in adults.

“Although the effect size seems small, the results are significant,” according to Medical News Today. In fact, in the real world, "when one adds the displacement of high saturated fat and cholesterol-rich meats to a diet that includes soy, the reduction of cholesterol could be greater,” lead author David Jenkins of the University of Toronto said in a statement.

» RELATED: Are there dangers to low cholesterol levels?

Study limitations

A major limitation of the meta-analysis is that researchers only examined a subset of relevant studies exclusively referenced by the FDA. But, as Medical News Today pointed out, the study’s purpose was to “test the strength of the FDA's conclusions using the very data that they had used to draw their conclusions.”

Ultimately, Jenkins concluded in the study, “the existing data and our analysis of it suggest soy protein contributes to heart health.”

Read the full study at academic.oup.com.

Nearly 1 in 3 American adults has high cholesterol, according the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, both leading causes of death in the U.S. To make healthy lifestyle changes, experts recommend opting for foods lower in saturated ad trans fats and maintaining a healthy weight.

Learn more at CDC.gov.

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