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Soybeans for a healthy heart

Researchers delve into consumer awareness of food-health link


November 23, 2007
By Christine Eisler and Kayla Duffield

etc44Soybeans are cholesterol free, low in saturated fat and contain compounds such as isoflavones and omega-3 fatty acids that are linked to reduced risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Despite these benefits, a University of Guelph researcher says consumer awareness of the connection between soy and health may not be strong.

Professor Alison Duncan, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, is leading a one year study to evaluate how adults with type 2 diabetes perceive soy. She says the findings will help understand how to better market and develop new products so diabetics can reap the cardiovascular benefits of soy consumption.

“It’s very important to find out what consumers know about soybeans,” says Duncan. “If those living with type 2 diabetes are more aware of the benefits of soy consumption, it will encourage them to incorporate it into their diets.”

For the study, Duncan and her research team have distributed 200 questionnaires to Guelph area citizens living with type 2 diabetes. The questionnaires are designed to help understand soy consumption patterns as well as how medical, general health, lifestyle and demographic information relate to soybean consumption.

Duncan is comparing the questionnaire results between those who consume soy and those who do not, to examine characteristics such as what is understood about soy benefits, potential barriers to soy consumption, and attitudes and perceptions about soy.

Since this project is based on a questionnaire, there can be variation in the data. While this could be a problem in some research studies, it adds a dimension of realism to her work, Duncan says.
Ultimately she hopes the information from her study will help develop soy products that are more appealing, and implement educational programs that will enhance the link between soy benefits and cardiovascular well being. She says this is important in light of the growing portion of Canadians with diabetes. “There is a real need for diabetes management strategies that are practical,” says Duncan.

“It’s encouraging to see the potential of soy foods to provide benefits for those with type 2 diabetes,” says John Johnston, Chair of the Ontario Soybean Growers Research and Development Committee. Johnston points out that as consumer awareness and interest in the health benefits of soy and soy products grows, opportunities for growers will continue as they are able to provide healthy Ontario grown soybeans.

Johnston believes that opportunities for growth of domestic food grade soybeans exist and the research by Duncan emphasize the potential for new markets for Ontario soybeans.

Final results from the study are expected to be compiled by the end of 2007. Duncan has interacted with many departments, including the University of Guelph’s Department of Plant Agriculture, to explore all aspects of links between soy and human health.

As alliances build between disciplines, Duncan believes she can better understand all of the potential benefits of soy and soy products.

Other researchers working on this project include graduate students Colleen Gobert and Sharon Chandra, and undergraduate students Rachel Loopstra, Jacqueline Post and Cheryl MacAulay, all of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences.

This project is funded by the Ontario Soybean Growers. Additional funding is provided in part through contributions by Canada and the Province of Ontario under the Canada-Ontario Research
and Development (CORD) Program, an initiative of the federal-provincial-territorial Agricultural Policy Framework designed to position Canada’s agri-food sector as a world leader. The Agricultural Adaptation Council administers the CORD Program on behalf of the province.

*This article appears courtesy of the Ontario Soybean Growers.