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Soy Protein Can ‘Boost’ Heart Health: Fact or Fiction?

Just as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to remove soy from its list of heart-healthy foods, a recent meta-analysis suggests rethinking the notion  Published in the 2019 Journal of Nutrition, this new study claims that soy protein can help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels in adults by 3% to 4%. According to lead study author Dr. David Jenkins:

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

But are the results really as positive as they appear — and is the study truly as objective as Jenkins would have you believe? There are a couple things going on here. First, the meta-analysis used the SAME studies the FDA used to eliminate soy from its heart-healthy list. So how could the FDA and Jenkins come up with two diabolically opposed conclusions with the same information?

Perhaps when you consider the second thing going on here — that Jenkins admits in the featured article that he both consults for and receives funding from soy food companies and the U.S. Soy Institute, it kind of puts things in a different perspective.

Beyond that, there are other problems with calling soy a healthy food, for example, most soybeans in the U.S. are genetically engineered and sprayed with glyphosate-containing pesticides. In fact, soy is only healthy if it’s fermented, like miso, tempeh, natto and traditional soy sauce — all foods that are popular and greatly enjoyed in Asian countries like Japan because of their health benefits.

Next, the study referred to lowering cholesterol levels by eliminating saturated fats as a basis for promoting heart health. But cholesterol, a waxy substance found in almost every cell in your body, isn’t the villain it’s portrayed to be. In fact, your body needs it to function properly. Cholesterol and saturated fats are not the main culprits behind heart disease, and numerous studies are now demonstrating that they have virtually nothing to do with this disorder.

Another misconception regarding cholesterol is the notion that “good” and “bad” cholesterol exists. According to Zoe Harcombe, Ph.D., a prominent obesity researcher, LDL and HDL or high-density lipoproteins, are not cholesterol; they are carriers and transporters of cholesterol, triglycerides (fat), phospholipids and proteins.

So, instead of stressing about “lowering” your “bad” cholesterol levels, you should look into managing other health factors like insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, inflammation, omega-6 fat consumption, stress and poor dietary habits — any one of which can be more predictive of heart disease.

Remember that making small yet significant changes — optimizing your vitamin D levels, getting enough exercise and eating a healthy diet — can also help you achieve optimal heart health and lower your risk for devastating diseases.

And, before you take any study to “heart,” make sure to look at all the angles so you know you’re making a truly healthy decision. 

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