UF nutritionist: Better to vow to eat healthy for new year

January 03, 2000

Part Of Healthy Diet Could Include Soy, For Which FDA Recently Approved Health Claim

GAINESVILLE -- Instead of vowing to lose weight in the next millennium, a University of Florida nutrition specialist says a better resolution to make at midnight Friday is to promise to treat yourself to a healthier diet.

Linda Bobroff, an associate professor of food and nutrition with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said most people will fail to keep a resolution to lose weight because they set unrealistic goals, want to lose weight fast and don't make permanent changes in their lifestyle.

"I would hope that people would resolve to live a healthy lifestyle, exercise more if they are not exercising and eat a healthy diet. Those are good resolutions," Bobroff said. "The losing weight resolution is often a source of great frustration for people, so I would go for the healthy lifestyle. This is something people can control."

Bobroff said anyone planning to make lifestyle changes should go slowly and not try to do too much too quickly right after the holidays. Someone who has been sedentary should not expect to be able to go out and run a marathon and similarly, she said diet changes should be made slowly.

"People should think about starting off slowly, incorporating new foods and maybe cutting down on some of the foods that are not so positive," Bobroff said.

Bobroff said a new food people should consider incorporating into their diets is soy, a good source of protein that is rich in vitamins and minerals. And she said that when combined with a low fat, low cholesterol diet, soy has been found to help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease -- the leading killer of both men and women in the United States.

The evidence supporting soy's protective role is so strong that the Food and Drug Administration recently ruled manufacturers of foods containing soy protein can include a health claim on package labeling.

"The health claim is very specific, as are all the health claims that are approved by the FDA," Bobroff said. "It ties the intake of soy protein in conjunction with a low fat, low cholesterol diet in relationship to heart disease."

Bobroff said to place the health claim on its label, a product must provide a minimum of 6.25 grams of soy per serving, which is about one-quarter of the 25 grams per day that appears to be effective in combating heart disease.

"The research shows that 25 grams of soy protein in the diet, along with having a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, is protective against heart disease," Bobroff said. "Soy would be just one part of an overall healthy diet. We can't forget about the other foods we need -- vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat."

Amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1990 gave the FDA the authority to regulate the use of health claims on food labels. Since then, the FDA has approved eight "substance-disease" relationship claims, and Bobroff said the public relies on the FDA's approval of these health claims.

"More and more people understand that if the health claim is on the label, it's believable, it's been approved by a government agency, it's been reviewed by scientists and it means there is enough evidence in the scientific literature to support the claim," Bobroff said.

Bobroff said soy contains phytochemicals called isoflavones that appear to be protective against certain diseases. Some of the isoflavones work to decrease levels of cholesterol, especially low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the type of cholesterol that can damage blood vessels.

Bobroff said other phytochemicals found in soy are similar to natural estrogens. She said this is what allows soy to be beneficial to women as they approach menopause.

"Many women who eat lots of soy products don't need to take estrogen as they use the natural estrogen," Bobroff said. "They don't get the kind of hot flashes associated with menopause and soy also is protective against bone loss, as is estrogen."

But Bobroff said soy products aren't just important for women. "The phytoestrogens are important for men, because men who eat diets that are high in phytoestrogens have a lower risk of prostate cancer, which also is a hormone-related cancer. So it's not just for women and breast cancer, it's for men and prostate cancer as well," she said.

But Bobroff cautioned that although there is some scientific evidence supporting these additional benefits of soy, they were not included in the FDA approved health claim.

University of Florida

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