Study defends soy as FDA plots to remove it from heart-healthy food list

Researchers found that soy protein reduced LDL cholesterol by 3-4% in adults, a small but significant amount

Soy protein has the ability to lower cholesterol by a small but significant amount, suggests a new study led by St Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

With the FDA planning to remove soy from its list of heart-healthy foods, researchers at St Michael's set out to provide a meta-analysis of 46 existing trials that evaluated soy and determine whether the proposed move aligns with existing literature.

Of the 46 trials, 43 provided sufficient data for meta-analysis. 41 trials examined the protein's effects on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is often referred to as the "bad cholesterol" because a high amount of it leads to a build-up of cholesterol in arteries. All 43 studies provided data about "total cholesterol," which reflects the overall amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Researchers found that soy protein reduced LDL cholesterol by 3-4% in adults - a small but significant amount, noted Dr David Jenkins, the lead author of the study, who is also the Director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre, and a scientist in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St Michael's Hospital.

"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," Dr Jenkins said. "The existing data and our analysis of it suggest soy protein contributes to heart health."

A limitation of this study was that it exclusively analysed the 46 trials the FDA had referred to previously, as opposed to casting a wider net.

Dr Jenkins and his team hope that this work is taken into account in the FDA's current evaluation of soy protein as it pertains to heart health.

"We hope the public will continue to consider plant-based diets as a healthy option," Dr Jenkins said. "It is in line with Health Canada's recently released Food Guide, which emphasizes plant protein food consumption by Canadians."

This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research through the Canada-wide Human Nutrition Trialists' Network. The Diet, Digestive tract, and Disease (3D) Centre, funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation's Ontario Research Fund (ORF), provided the infrastructure for the conduct of this project.

NB: Dr David Jenkins has previously consulted for and received research funding from soy food companies and the United States Soy Institute.

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