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The Benefits, Risks, and Uncertainties of Soy for Lower Blood Cholesterol
Soy, a type of legume, can be found in many products. On the grocery store shelves, you will see soy milk, tofu, protein bars, veggie burgers, and many other options. If you are interested in adding soy to your diet and wondering if there health benefits, then read on to find out if soy is a good option for you.
Soy and Cholesterol Levels
Some studies have found that substituting soy protein for high-fat meats and other foods may slightly reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Since high cholesterol puts you at an increased risk of developing heart disease, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows a "heart healthy" label on foods that contain 6.25 grams (g) of soy protein. But, researchers do not know the exact components of soy that may lead to these benefits. And some experts are debating if this label is deserved at all.
Soy Safety Issues
While soy is considered safe for most people, there may be some health concerns if you have certain conditions, such as:
- Problems with absorbing certain nutrients—Soy could reduce how well your body absorbs zinc, iron, and calcium.
- Impaired thyroid function—Soy may affect the thyroid gland, but research has produced conflicting results. In general, if you have problems with your thyroid gland, you may want to avoid eating large amounts of soy.
- Lower testosterone levels—One study found that soy may decrease testosterone levels in men. This could potentially cause problems with infertility or erectile dysfunction.
If you are concerned about any of these safety issues, talk to your doctor before adding soy to your diet.
Ways to Get More Soy Into Your Diet
Here are some tips on substituting soy protein for meats and other protein sources in your diet:
Include it in other dishes:
- Mash a cake of tofu and use it in place of ricotta cheese in your lasagna, soups, or stews.
- Mix textured vegetable protein into hamburgers and seasoned meat dishes like tacos, chili, and casseroles.
- Add cubes of fried, seasoned tofu to salads.
- Try Asian cuisine—Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese foods often contain flavorful soy options, including tofu, tempeh, and edamame (green soy beans). Edamame is eaten cold and salted. Tofu and tempeh can be stir-fried, steamed, or added to soups.
- Use supplements and soy protein powders—Try mixing soy protein powders into smoothies or mashed potatoes.
- Soy nuts, flavored with salt and spices, make a delicious snack.
- Use soymilk in cereal.
Major Food Sources
|Soy Food||Serving size||Soy content (grams)||Isoflavones (milligrams)|
|Soybeans, cooked||½ cup||9-11||40-50|
|Soy milk (regular)||1 cup||7||10|
|Soy milk (fortified)||1 cup||10||43|
|Textured soy protein||¼ cup||11||33|
|Isolated soy protein||½ ounce||11||27|
|Meat alternatives (soy crumbles)||½ cup||11||8.5|
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Dietitians of Canada
20 ways to increase soy in your diet. University of California San Francisco Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/20%5Fways%5Fto%5Fincrease%5Fsoy%5Fin%5Fyour%5Fdiet/index.html. Accessed May 10, 2016.
Go Ask Alice: What are the benefits of soy? Columbia University website. Available at: http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/what-are-benefits-soy. Accessed May 10, 2016.
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2016.
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Sacks FM, Lichtenstein A, Van Horn L, Harris W, Kris-Etherton P, Winston M; American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health: an American Heart Association Science Advisory for professionals from the Nutrition Committee. Circulation. 2006;113(7):1034-44.
Siegel-Itzkovich J. Health committee warns of potential dangers of soya. BMJ. 2005;331(7511):254.
Soy. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated December 2015. Accessed May 10, 2016.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2016
- Update Date: 06/11/2014