It's no surprise that soyfoods are quickly capturing nationwide attention for their heart-healthy properties and cholesterol-lowering abilities. Encouraged by the Oct. 1999 authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a health claim for soy protein and its ability to lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease, more and more Americans are looking for ways to incorporate this healthful food into their diets. But as if that wasn't enough to get Americans to eat their soy, the government has given consumers one more reason to add soyfoods to their shopping lists.

On May 30, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released the 5th edition of Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, listing soyfoods as means to meet the dietary recommendations demonstrated by the Food Guide Pyramid. The updated guidelines were announced at the National Nutrition Summit in Washington, D.C. The guidelines provide recommendations based on current scientific knowledge about how dietary intake may reduce risk of major chronic disease and how a healthful diet may improve nutrition. The guidelines form the basis of Federal food and nutrition education programs. The 2000 Guidelines recognize that calcium-rich soy beverages are an excellent way to get the recommended calcium intake. Calcium-enriched soymilk is a rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals. One cup of a soy-based beverage equals one serving from the "dairy" group.

Also listed in the updated Guidelines as a serving suggestion in the Meat and Beans Group is 1/2 cup of tofu and a 2 1/2 ounce soyburger. Both tofu and soyburgers contain good amounts of high-quality soy protein and are readily available in mainstream grocery stores. Tofu was also listed as a good source of calcium if made with calcium sulfate.

According the United Soybean Board's 1999-2000 National Report on Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition, the number of consumers who perceive soy and soy products as very healthy increased significantly to 71 percent from 67 percent in 1998 and 59 percent in 1997. Consumers also report they are eating more soy products. Of those who have tried soy products, 68 percent report using them regularly. The three products that ranked highest in consumer awareness are tofu, soy burgers and soymilk.

Soy protein offers Americans who are concerned about heart disease a natural and convenient option for lowering their cholesterol levels. Studies on soy protein have also shown promising results in the prevention of osteoporosis and certain types of cancer.

For more information on the healthy benefits of soyfoods, soyfood recipes or a copy of the United Soybean Board's 1999-2000 National Report on Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition, visit the United Soybean Board's Web site at www.talksoy.com. For tips and information on using soyfoods, visit www.soyfoods.com.