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Soy Worth a Hill of Beans?

Are soybeans better than other types of beans for heart disease prevention, or does the soy industry just have more money and clout to tout?

February 10, 2012 |
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For over a decade, soy foods have enjoyed the rare privilege of an FDA-approved food label health claim about soy's ability to protect against heart disease. Now a billion-dollar industry, they have a lot of money to fund research touting the benefits of their bean. And although there is also a US dry bean council, representing all the other beans, I think you can get a sense, just by comparing their websites, who may have more money to spread around.

So though you may not soon see ads on TV with anyone exclaiming they are "gonzo for garbanzos", there was a study out of Tulane recently that looked at the cholesterol-lowering power of non-soy legumes. There are all sorts of beans out there. Which did better to lower the number-one risk factor (LDL cholesterol) of our number-one killer (heart disease): soybeans or non-soy beans?

Soy consumption drops bad cholesterol, on average, about 4 points. Other beans -- lentil, lima, navy, pinto, etc. -- dropped bad cholesterol 8. Though it's illegal for, say, a baked-bean manufacturer to make health claims on their label, soy isn't special in that regard. All  beans are beautiful, and in this case, beat out soy, two to one!

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is transcript contributed by Bruce A. Hamilton.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

For more on the wonders of beans, see my videos Plant Protein Preferable, Fill in the Blank, and Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart. And for choosing among the best varieties, The Healthiest Lentil and The Best Bean (though truly the best bean is the one you'll eat the most of!). For other foods that help lower cholesterol see Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol and New Cholesterol Fighters. And for why one would want to lower cholesterol, see Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Purely a Question of Diet, Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death, Cholesterol Gallstones, and How to Prevent Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms. Can cholesterol be too low? Find out in Can Cholesterol Be Too Low?. And feel free to browse the other thousand or so topics I cover, and leave any bean questions below (which reminds me—make sure to check out my blog post Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air!).

For more context, check out my associated blog post, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk and Why We Should Eat More Beans.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    For more on the wonders of beans, see my videos Plant Protein Preferable, Fill in the Blank, and Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart. And for choosing among the best varieties, The Healthiest Lentil and The Best Bean (though truly the best bean is the one you’ll eat the most of!). For other foods that help lower cholesterol see Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol and New Cholesterol Fighters. And for why one would want to lower cholesterol, see Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Purely a Question of Diet, Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death, Cholesterol Gallstones, and How to Prevent Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms. Can cholesterol be too low? Find out in Can Cholesterol Be Too Low?. And feel free to browse the other thousand or so topics I cover, and leave any bean questions below (which reminds me—make sure to check out my blog post Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air!).

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MacSmiley/ MacSmiley

    What? No bar chart? ;-)

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

    I’m ganzo for garbanzo!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/MarcSlavin/ Marc Slavin

    My feeling is that one should never stick to one thing but mix it up. Enjoy them all!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/iburger/ iBurger

    I’m looking at the specifications of Soy Isolate, which is a powder that goes into lots of processed products. (like sausages, or hamburgers). The table shows (for a 100g soy isolate):
    Arsenic < 2mg/ kg
    Lead < 3mg/kg (!)
    Mercury < 1mg/kg

    Does this give cause for concern? or can we still safely consume products that are made from this isolate in question.

    http://www.foodchemchina.com/6-soy-protein-3.html

  • Scottknl

    One of the current dietary trends recommended by some dietary gurus is to move towards a paleo diet.  It is suggested that paleo followers avoid legumes because they contain lectins which are anti-nutrients.   What’s the rational behind this?  Are lectins from your diet dangerous in any way? What’s the kernel of truth and what’s the exaggeration?  Is there a benefits vs risks balance to be considered?  Thanks for  your answer.  Cheers.

    • Toxins

      People often cite “antinutrients” in a plant based diet such as phytates found in oats that inhibit calcium absorption and tannins found in legumes that can inhibit amino acid synthesis and mineral absorption. What they never tell you is that if you cook legumes the tannins are eliminated and that if you cook oats the phytates are deactivated. So cook your beans and grains like most everyone does and there is no risk.

      Dr. Greger covers the paleo diet quite extensively here on his free ebook
      http://www.atkinsexposed.org/

  • beauty1831

    i am learning a heck of a lot on this site….

  • Rickizeee

    the FDA and Monsanto appear to be one and same corporation, and Monsanto seems to own 95% of the Soy in the country with their GMO seeds…

    • http://www.facebook.com/judy.sangillo Judy Sangillo

      Very true. Most of the GMO soy is processed into meal to feed factory-farmed animals and into soybean oil for processed foods. To minimize consumption of GMO soy, avoid factory-farmed animal products and processed foods containing soybean oil, and look for tofu and other soy products that are labeled organic or nonGMO.

  • Sprouty

    I’ve seen claims about uncooked soybeans containing some anti-nutrients
    Is this true, and if it is, does the way you heat the beans matter? Will baking them without water eliminate the anti-nutrients too?

    Also, what about sprouted soybeans? is it safe to consume them raw?

    • Toxins

       Soybeans are not special in this case, raw grains, raw potatoes and all raw beans contain antinutrients. Cooking deactivates these anti-nutrients which include lectins, phytic acid, trypsin and α-amylase inhibitors. I would advise eating all these foods i mentioned cooked.

  • Donald Ives

    Was in Iowa/Minnesota last summer. Very impressed by miles and miles of nothing by corn and soybeans. But I noted there are no weeds for miles and miles as well. Are our soybeans and food from soybeans contaminated with excessive use of herbicides? Pesticides? How would we know?

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      You are witnessing the one of the effects of GMO’s in our food supply. They generally fall into two categories. The first involves inserting a gene which allows the crops whether soy or corn to be immune to the effect of herbicides. This allows the industrial farmers to spray herbicide on the fields without killing the crops. The second involves the insertion of gene which actually produces a toxin that kills insects that consume the plant. This is used in corn and cotton. The best way to avoid the effects of GM foods is to buy organic or products that are labelled nonGMO. You can also look at the PLU (Price Look Up) Code… if it is a five digit code and starts with a 9 it is organic, an 8 means it is GMO and a four digit code means conventional or GMO since GMO’s are not required to be labelled such… California’s ballot initiative to require the labeling was narrowly defeated :(!!. It is very worrisome that very little human studies have been done on this technology. The animal studies suggest effects across many organ systems. It is very complicated area but if you want to learn more about the issue I recommend Jeffery Smith’s book, Genetic Roulette; a DVD by the same title or going to the website for the Institute for Responsible Technology see… http://www.responsibletechnology.org/. The website also has a NonGMO shopping guide for free download. As for me I recommend all my patients, friends and family to avoid GMO foods for many reasons.

  • http://www.wellhappypeaceful.com/ David Schmidt

    What do you think of this article Doctor? It seems like a lot of untruth to me.

    http://www.naturalcuresnotmedicine.com/2013/07/10-reasons-to-avoid-soy-at-all-costs.html

  • BodyRocker Kudelka