Tofu and other plant-based foods may be the new heart rescue protocol, according to research published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Foods such as tofu that contain higher amounts of isoflavones have been found to moderately lower the risk of heart disease, especially for younger women and post-menopausal women not taking hormones.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data from more than 200,000 people who participated in three health and nutrition studies. After adjusting for health factors known to increase heart risk, investigators found that consuming tofu more than once a week was associated with an 18% lower risk of heart disease, compared to a 12% lower risk for those who consume tofu less than once a month.
Lead study author Qi Sun, M.D., Sc.D. warned, “Despite these findings, I don’t think tofu is by any means a magic bullet. Overall diet quality is still critical to consider, and tofu can be a very healthy component.”
Rich Sources of Isoflavones
Many foods, including tofu, are rich sources of isoflavones. These include soybeans, chickpeas, fava beans, pistachios, peanuts, and other fruits and nuts. However, many processed foods that contain these ingredients should be avoided. For example, soymilk tends to be highly processed and is often sweetened with sugar.
Sun noted, “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.”
For the study, dietary data was collected using patient surveys, conducted every two to four years, from 1986 to 2012. Data on cardiovascular disease was collected from medical records and other documents while heart disease fatalities were identified from death certificated.
The study concluded with a total of 8,359 cases of heart disease being identified during the years of follow-up, which help to measure how fast heart disease occurs in a population.
Researchers did emphasize that this study needs to be followed up with more research because many factors can influence the development of heart disease including physical exercise, family history, and a person’s lifestyle habits. “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,” said Sun.
What we can take away from this study is the importance of consuming a well-balanced diet including non-processed plant-based foods, especially for women both before menopause and after. If you are looking for a heart rescue, tofu may not be the magic pill, but it could help to lower heart disease risk.