"Food Pyramid Guidelines" FAQs

Public and Patient Education Department Program, March 21, 2006


Sotiria Tzakas, RD
Food and Nutrition Department
Hospital for Special Surgery

What are the health benefits of soy foods such as soy milk?

There are many studies linking soy to reducing heart disease, lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and alleviating osteoporosis, certain cancers such as breast and endometrial cancers, and symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes.

Most health benefits of soy foods are attributed to the abundance of phytoestrogrens or non-steroidal plant estrogens. In 1999, the FDA approved a health claim label that can be seen on all soy products for the cholesterol lowering properties of soy protein. However, many studies seeking to prove this claim have resulted in inconsistent results and only modest reductions in cholesterol levels.

Research on the effects of soy and reducing breast cancer have also been inconclusive, indicating that consuming a diet rich in soy may not reduce the occurrence of breast cancer in high risk populations.

The bottom line is that soy foods can be part of a healthy, balanced diet when used in moderation, because they are good sources of protein, calcium, and phytonutrients.


Is washing raw meat to get rid of any bacteria a good alternative to heating it up to a certain temperature?

Not necessarily, because washing raw meat involves more handling of the meat. When preparing the meat, you touch the meat, and then you will probably touch the refrigerator, countertop, faucet, cabinetry, and/or dishes. As a result, there are a lot of extra opportunities for the meat to become contaminated along with kitchen surfaces.


What is the best way to make sure all of the bacteria in meat products are killed?

The best way is to make sure that you cook the meat at the right temperature: 165F for ground meat, stuffing, and leftovers, 180F for whole poultry, and 145F for medium rare steaks, veal, and lamb. However, you need to be careful about handling surfaces and keeping your hands clean while doing this.


What do butter substitutes consist of? Are they really better for you than regular butter?

Most butter substitutes contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and do not contain saturated fats.

Butter is a significant source of saturated fats which may increase LDL cholesterol levels. Therefore, butter substitutes may be beneficial for those following cholesterol-lowering diets. These substitutes contain plant sterols and stanols and have been shown to decrease LDL and improve the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio. 

Having a high HDL level is considered a "negative risk factor" for heart disease, meaning that it decreases your risk. Factors that increase HDL cholesterol include weight loss and exercise.

Always look at labels when choosing a spread, and make sure itís not high in sodium or trans fats.


What is a good substitute for butter?

Olive oil is recommended as a substitute for butter. It is a good source of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, but be careful of the serving size. One tablespoon is equal to 120 calories. Also, it has a rich, fruity flavor that enhances flavors of salad dressings, stir-fries, and broiled foods, but may not be suitable for baking.

When it comes to baking, you may want to reduce the amount of saturated fats by substituting butter with a low-saturated fat, trans fat-free spread.


What is the proper amount of fat intake per day?

Less than 10% of your daily calories should be attributed to saturated fats. The consumption of trans fatty acids should be kept as low as possible. Additionally, fat intake, as a whole, should account for between 20 and 35 percent of your daily caloric intake. Examples of foods with healthy unsaturated fats, which should dominate your fat intake, are nuts, fish, and vegetable oils.

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