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Soy Protein and Cholesterol

By Kara Mayer Robinson
WebMD Feature

Adding tofu to your stir-fry, soy milk to your morning bowl of oatmeal, or edamame as a snack can be a good move if you're working on improving your cholesterol level.

Some studies suggest that soy protein may help, says cardiologist James Beckerman, MD, of Portland, OR. But the evidence isn’t strong, so you'll definitely want to make other changes to your diet to help your cholesterol, too.

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Eating soy foods may help lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol by about 3%. That's very little, but when you're trying to take advantage of everything you can do for your cholesterol, it's worth considering.

Soy is also a good source of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy omega-3s (though not the same kind that you get in salmon or tuna). Plus, soy is naturally cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat.

 

What to Eat

The best way to benefit is to swap soy products for foods you usually eat that are high in animal fats. Here’s how:

  • Instead of chicken, try a soy substitute like firm tofu.
  • Instead of ground beef, try soy protein.
  • Instead of a regular hot dog, choose a soy dog.
  • Instead of beef chili, cook chili with soybeans.
  • Instead of drinking cow’s milk, experiment with soy milk. Check the label to make sure it's fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and not too high in sugar.
  • Instead of butter, use soy nut butter.
  • Instead of high-fat cheese, try soy cheese.
  • Instead of processed snack foods, enjoy a cup of edamame.

There’s one exception: soy supplements. There’s no proven benefit to adding soy isoflavone supplements to your diet. Stick with whole soy foods instead.

Three other things to remember:

  1. Soy sauce and soybean oil don’t contain soy protein, even though "soy" is part of their name.
  2. Read the label. Make sure the soy products you buy are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar.
  3. If you see "soya" on a packaged food, that's another word for soy.

How Much to Eat

If you’re new to eating soy, add it to your diet a little bit at a time. Substitute soy protein for animal protein foods a few times a week. That’s the best way to cut saturated fat and lower your overall risk of disease.

A little goes a long way. Your best diet is one that has a variety of foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans. That’s better than a diet that’s too heavy in soy products.

Eating soy in moderation should be fine. But ease into it and see how you do. It's rare, but some people have digestion problems (like stomach pain, loose stools, or diarrhea) when they eat soy. Others are allergic to soy.

Also, "some people have concerns that too much soy can have negative hormonal effects, particularly on men,” Beckerman says. There is some controversy about this. Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist about how much soy you should include in your diet.

Reviewed on May 16, 2014

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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