Soy Label Confusion (aired 8/14/04)

The health benefits of soy are big news and people are going for it in a big way. Sales will reach almost five billion dollars this year. But do the labels tell you everything you need to know? Consumer Reports just tested more than 50 soy products to find out.

You're seeing more and more soy products these days. Soy is an ingredient in everything from energy bars to chips to smoothies. And the list doesn't end there.

"I just tend to look for soy products that we like."

"Soy milk, soy cheese, soy tofu, whatever."

"I do know that there are supposed to be some real health benefits to it."

But before you reach for the Tofutti Cuties, just how healthy is soy?

"A large body of evidence shows that soy can be good for many people."

Consumer Reports' Dr. Marvin Lipman says the health benefits of soy are linked primarily to two ingredients.

Soy proteins and isoflavones help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack. They also may help reduce menopausal symptoms, fight osteoporosis and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

But Consumer Reports Kim Kleman says while soy proteins are labeled on most products, isoflavones are another matter altogether.

"Most soy foods don't label isoflavones. And even if they do, it can still be hard to tell what you're getting."

For example, this product lists 47 milligrams of soy isoflavones, but Consumer Reports says the entire amount does not necessarily deliver potential health benefits.

"We tested dozens of products for isoflavone levels, and many of them didn't have as much as the manufacturer claimed."

Another problem — there are no government standards for how soy isoflavones are labeled. So at this point claims like "rich in natural isoflavones" have no defined meaning.

Consumer Reports also turned up significant differences in the amount of isoflavones found in the same types of food, even from the same company. For example, Boca's Organic Vegan Burger has 25 milligrams of isoflavones per serving. But Boca's All American Flame Grilled Burger has only one milligram.

So while soy products can provide health benefits, without better labeling, shoppers can't be sure just how much of those benefits they're really getting.

Consumer Reports can give you the amounts of healthy isoflavones and soy protein found in the fifty products it evaluated. The test results are in the current July issue of the magazine, on sale now.

Consumer Reports also taste-tested one of the most popular soy products out there — soy milk.

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