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Soy slips as cholesterol reducer

Are you one of those people who forced yourself to eat tasteless tofu and veggie burgers because you thought they would significantly reduce your cholesterol levels?

Well, the American Heart Association has just done one of those policy reversals that's going to make your blood boil.

Back in 2000, the influential AHA said it was "prudent" to add soy protein to your diet, based on earlier research that suggested soy has a special ability to combat artery-clogging cholesterol.

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But now, a scientific panel of the AHA has taken a look at more recent studies and concluded that soy isn't such an amazing cholesterol fighter after all. The latest research shows that blood levels of LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, dips by just 3 per cent when soy makes up 50 per cent of the protein in a diet.

Equally disappointing, the experts concluded that neither soy, nor a component of soy called isoflavone, is useful in treating menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, as was once thought. (The jury is still out on the role soy might play in cancer prevention.) The panel urges consumers not to take isoflavone supplements any more.

The panel, led by Frank Sacks at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, published its updated policy position this week in Circulation, the official journal of the AHA.

Dr. Sacks said soy products should still be considered "healthy foods" because they are a rich source of heart-friendly polyunsaturated fats, as well as beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals. And they are low in harmful saturated fats. But there is no reason to believe that soy is different from other heart-healthy foods such as fish and low-fat dairy products.

"There is nothing really special about soy protein," he said in a telephone interview.

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