New research has found that eating tofu and other foods rich in isoflavones such as chickpeas and peanuts may lower one’s risk of developing heart disease. This is especially the case for younger women and postmenopausal women who are not taking hormone supplements.
For the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined data from over 200,000 people who participated in three prospective health and nutrition research papers. When each study began, all of the participants were both free from cancer and heart disease.
In the end, the researchers found that those who consumed tofu, a food with high isoflavone content, more than once per week had an 18% lower risk of developing heart disease, while those who ate tofu less than once per month had a 12% lower risk of developing cardiovascular problems. In particular, the researchers noted that regular consumption of tofu had an especally positive effect on young women prior menopause and postmenopausal women not taking hormonal supplements.
Lead author of the study, Qi Sun, said, “Other human trials and animal studies of isoflavones, tofu and cardiovascular risk markers have also indicated positive effects, so people with an elevated risk of developing heart disease should evaluate their diets...If their diet is packed with unhealthy foods, such as red meat, sugary beverages and refined carbohydrates, they should switch to healthier alternatives. Tofu and other isoflavone-rich, plant-based foods are excellent protein sources and alternatives to animal proteins.”
Perhaps somewhat explaining why populations with isoflavone-rich diets such as those in China and Japan tend to have lower rates of heart disease in comparison to those who consume less of the compound, Sun nevertheless urges that his findings be taken with caution. This comes as, although his results demonstrate a correlation between isoflavone consumption and a lower rate of heart disease, their underlying mechanisms are still unknown, and thus no causality can be confirmed.
Sun added, “For example, younger women who are more physically active and get more exercise tend to follow healthier, plant-based diets that may include more isoflavone-rich foods like tofu. Although we have controlled for these factors, caution is recommended when interpreting these results.”