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The Joy of Soy

Photo of soy milk carton

The labels in the snack food aisle make lots of big promises: low-fat, no-fat, low-cal and low-carb tasty treats. But what really makes a food healthy? And should we believe the commercial hype about soy products and our health?

Renowned nutrition, weight-loss expert and UK physician James Anderson addressed the issue of soy in two articles in last June’s Journal of the American College of Nutrition. One article was a report on his study of soy in adult weight loss.

Meal replacements, including powders, drinks and energy bars, are popular weight-loss tools. Anderson tested two commercially available meal replacements—one soy-based and one milk-based—in a group of obese adults for 12 weeks. Both groups lost weight, but the soy-based group lost slightly more weight in any given week and displayed lower cholesterol levels. Soy intake also produced small but significant reductions in serum glucose. This evidence suggests that soy may be valuable in maintaining overall health, lowering cholesterol, and even slowing the development of diabetes. “Soy is an excellent source of high-quality protein,” Anderson concludes.

In the companion article, “Snack Foods: Comparing Nutrition Values of Excellent Choices and ‘Junk Foods,’” Anderson tabulated the nutrition value of about 100 snack foods and rated them on their nutrient and calorie content.

Anderson wants manufacturers and government to make the nutritional value of snack foods more readily available to consumers. “Labels should clearly identify excellent food choices and junk foods,” says Anderson. “The government should also consider options such as taxing junk foods, subsidizing healthy foods, and prohibiting junk food advertisements in media targeted to children, especially advertising in schools.”

As a physician, Anderson regularly treats young people who are trying to control their weight. He believes stemming the American obesity epidemic is a task shared by all.

“Communities, schools, legislative bodies, movies, television, and food companies should partner in promoting healthful food choices. Where childhood obesity is concerned, we are all responsible,” Anderson says.

Anderson, an endocrinologist in the UK College of Medicine and director of the UK Metabolic Research Group, is also the director of the Obesity Research Network, a nationwide network of physicians and scientists recognized for their work in the treatment of obesity. He also is medical director of the HMR® Program for Weight Management in conjunction with the University of Kentucky. For more information, visit www.mc.uky.edu/nutritionresearch.

—Allison Elliott

In Brief section as pdf (6 pages)