The humble soybean has once again earned its place on America’s table as a means to prevent heart disease. Last week the American Heart Association (AHA) released its revised dietary guidelines for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Soy protein and soybean oil both figured prominently in the updated guidelines.

One year after FDA approved a soy protein health claim, AHA agrees that soy protein is a viable means to lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol. AHA statistics reveal that nearly 100 million American adults have blood cholesterol levels of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and higher, and nearly 40 million American adults have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher(1). Doctors recommend sustained cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL for heart and cardiovascular health. According to the FDA, consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day (four servings of 6.25 grams each) may lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk for coronary heart and cardiovascular diseases.

Along with a daily dose of soy protein to keep cholesterol levels in check, the updated guidelines reinforce the need for essential fatty acids in maintaining heart health.

An ever-growing body of research shows that foods rich in essential fatty acids, specifically omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, offer cardioprotective effects as well as lower risk of inflammatory and autoimmune disease. Soybean oil, considered one of the most well-balanced vegetable oils, is a good source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with a profile of 61 percent polyunsaturated fat, considerably higher than olive, canola and peanut oil. Soybean oil is also one of the few non-fish oils that is rich in linolenic acid, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that is essential for various body functions.

“The FDA’s approval of a health claim for soy protein was just the first step in getting the message to American consumers on the health benefits of adding soy products to the diet,” stated Don Latham, chairman of the United Soybean Board. “This endorsement from the American Heart Association is strong testimony to the effectiveness of soy in lowering cholesterol and decreasing the risk of heart disease.”

According to the United Soybean Board’s 2000 National Report on Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition, 90 percent of consumers consider soybean oil to be very or somewhat healthy compared to olive oil, canola oil and sunflower oil. And the number of consumers who consider soy and soy foods to be healthy rose to 76 percent, up from 71 percent in 1999. “Those numbers are a good indication that consumers are taking to heart the health benefits of soy” said Latham.

For more information on soy and its many health benefits, visit the United Soybean Board Web site at www.talksoy.com.

(1) (NHANES III [1988-94], CDC/NCHS)