Diets including tofu, other plant proteins linked to lower heart disease risk

Eating tofu and other isoflavone-rich plant proteins is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, according to a new study published in Circulation. The drop in risk was especially evident in younger women and postmenopausal women not taking hormones.

The researchers explored data from more than 200,000 people who took part in three different prospective studies from 1984 to 2013. Each participant was free of cancer and cardiovascular disease at the start of the trial. Diets were tracked through surveys conducted every two to four years.

Overall, eating tofu more than once per week was linked to a 18% lower risk of heart disease. Tofu is a rich source of isoflavones, as are whole soybeans, chickpeas, fava beans, pistachios, peanuts and a variety of other nuts and fruits. The team also monitored soymilk consumption, noting that there was no association between drinking soymilk and heart disease risk.

The authors noted that they could not confirm causality through their study—numerous other factors could be at play when judging the health of so many individuals—but the findings do represent a trend present in other studies as well.

“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,” Qi Sun, MD, the study’s contributing author and a researcher at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said in a prepared statement. “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.”

Sun added in the same statement that tofu is no “magic bullet,” but it can be “a very healthy component” of any diet.

Additional information on plant-based diets from the American Heart Foundation can be read here.