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Unlocking the Hearty Secrets of Soy

Soy Foods

Do you remember when all fat was bad? What about when eggs weren’t healthy? Now it’s time to lay soy’s bad reputation to rest. Packed with protein and nutrients, soy has been a flexible staple in the meat and dairy alternative industry. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition indicates there may be a connection between eating soy and reduced heart disease risk – giving us more reason to include soy in our diets.

During the study Middle-aged Japanese men were tested to see if they produced equol, which has been shown to greatly decrease the risk of heart disease. People who produce equol have a 90 percent lower chance of coronary artery calcification, one of the primary predictors of heart disease. Certain “good” gut bacteria make equol by digesting isoflavones. Isoflavones are micronutrients found in soy.

Does this mean we should eat more soy to increase our equol and prevent heart disease? Here’s the catch: certain “good” gut bacteria produce equol and, unfortunately, not everyone makes it. About 50 to 60 percent of people in Asian countries can produce equol, while only 20 to 30 percent of those living in Western countries can produce it. While there are equol supplements available, there hasn’t been enough research to validate if they work.

The average daily intake of isoflavones (from traditional soy foods such as tofu, miso and soymilk) in China and Japan is 25 to 50 milligrams, whereas in Western countries (such as the United States) it’s only 2 milligrams or less.

Bottom line: If you have the ability to produce equol, you could greatly reduce your risk of heart disease by incorporating dietary sources of soy into your diet.

Written by: Kyla Greenwell, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern

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