DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Claire Dunston popped a carton of carob-flavored soy milk into her cart in the aisle of the Acme grocery store, the latest step in her mission to persuade her boyfriend to try it.

Dunston, who is lactose intolerant, wants her beau _ an Air Force mechanic who is fond of fast food _ to consider his health.

``I don't think you're ever too young to think about that sort of stuff,'' the 24-year-old Dunston said Monday.

It becomes easier today for shoppers to check out the pros and cons of eating soy. Food suppliers now have approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use labels on soy-based foods touting a link between eating soy and a lower risk of heart disease.

In order to qualify for the claim, the food must have at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving _ one-fourth of the 25 grams of soy protein daily that studies have shown is needed to show a significant cholesterol-lowering effect.

Qualifying foods include soy beverages, tofu, tempeh, soy-based meat alternatives and some baked goods.

While bland-tasting tofu comes to mind for some when they think of soy, Sharon Wilson, proprietor of Rainbow Earth Natural Foods in Rehoboth Beach, said there is now a much wider variety of soy-based food that can easily be found on grocery store shelves.

``There is such a diversity to soy, from tofu to tempeh to miso. A lot of snack bars have it, and in the supplement end, there's powders made from soybean protein,'' Wilson said.

The move by the FDA is similar to a move about three years ago, at the request of Quaker Oats Co., to allow food labels which claim that rolled oats, oat bran and oat flour contain enough soluble fiber to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Protein Technologies International, the world's largest manufacturer of isolated soybean protein and a subsidiary of DuPont Co., made the request to the FDA for the right to label the healthy benefits of soy.

Wilmington-based DuPont bought Protein Technologies last year for $1.5 billion and hopes the new labels will spur growth in sales of soybean protein.

A survey by the United Soybean Board found that only 15 percent of Americans eat a soy product at least once a week. However, 66 percent of American consumers already believe soy products are healthful and 67 percent have tried them at least once.

Wilson said she hopes any new ``good for you'' labels add up to a ringing cash register.

``A lot of my customers already do browse the labels,'' she said. ``It'll be good for people who are looking for healthy foods. I would think it would help sales.''