You might have seen an entire non-dairy section at your local supermarket or advertisements for non-dairy products and wondered what these were about. The fact is that non-dairy alternatives for dairy products like milk, butter, paneer and cheese are gaining popularity across the world. This is primarily because of ethical concerns about how the consumption of dairy products is based on the exploitation of animals.

On the other hand, the gradual yet rising popularity of products like soy milk, almond milk made from almonds, oat milk from oats, coconut milk from coconut, rice milk from white rice, cashew milk from cashew nuts and even hemp milk from hemp seeds also has a nutritional aspect. These plant-based foods not only contain good quality proteins and many essential vitamins and minerals but are also often reinforced with other nutrients. What’s more, since non-dairy products like soy milk do not contain the same kind of proteins as dairy products like cow’s milk, they are unlikely to cause lactose intolerance.

However, scientific evidence also shows that soy milk does not have the same nutritional value as dairy milk since it lacks all the amino acids that animal products contain. Moreover, manufacturers often include added sugars, salt and thickening agents like gellan gum - all of which can also affect the nutritional profile of soy milk. So, is adding soy milk to your diet, whether you follow a vegan diet or not, beneficial for your health? Read this article to find out.

  1. What is soy milk?
  2. Soy milk nutrition facts
  3. Benefits of soy milk
  4. Side effects of soy milk
  5. Should you substitute regular milk with soy milk?
  6. Is soy milk safe for infants and children?
  7. Takeaways
  8. Doctors for Soy milk: Nutrition facts, benefits and side effects

Soy milk is a non-dairy beverage which originated in China and is now globally used as an alternative to animal-based dairy milk like cow’s milk, goat’s milk, yak milk or buffalo milk. Traditionally, soy milk is prepared by soaking high-protein and large-seeded soybeans in water overnight. These soaked soybeans are then ground up with water to produce a slurry. Alternatively, soy flakes, grits and flour may also be used to create this slurry, but the nutritional value may be affected by this. 

This soy slurry is then boiled for 30 minutes, a process that inactivates harmful antinutrients like the trypsin inhibitors in soy, improves the flavour, adds to the nutritional value of the resultant soy milk and also increases its shelf-life by reducing the microbial load. The hot slurry is filtered through a cloth or nylon bag to separate the fiber residue from the milk. Once the soy milk is filtered, it may be flavoured, pasteurized, homogenized or sterilized before being packaged and sold.

This soy milk has a lower oil to protein ratio than cow’s milk, which is why oil is supplemented into soy milk. Further, it may taste unusual and not be suited to everyone’s palate, which is why sugar, cocoa, natural or artificial flavours may be added to enhance the taste and customer acceptance of soy milk. When you buy soy milk, ensure that the manufacturers have gone through the heating process that kills the antinutrients and that there aren’t too many added sugars or artificial flavours. This will help you prevent nutritional deficiencies and health issues like obesity.

(Read more: Soybean oil)

Soy milk is derived from the soy plant and is a great source of plant-based nutrients. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the following are the nutritional facts for soy milk.

Nutrient Value per 100g
Water 90.36 g
Energy 43 kcal
Protein 2.6 g
Total lipid (fat) 1.47 g
Carbohydrate, by difference 4.92 g
Sugars, total including NLEA 3.65 g
Vitamins  
Vitamin A 55 µg
Vitamin B9 9 µg
Vitamin E 0.11 mg
Vitamin K  3 µg
Minerals  
Calcium 123 mg
Iron 0.42 mg
Magnesium 15 mg
Phosphorus 43 mg
Potassium 122 mg
Sodium 47 mg
Selenium 2.3 µg

Soy milk is a plant-based beverage and a great substitute for dairy products. It is not only packed with proteins, vitamins and minerals but also with phytonutrients and antioxidants. Therefore, consuming soy milk can be very beneficial for your health. The following are some of the key benefits you can receive by including soy milk in your diet.

Soy milk boosts the immune system

All soy products are naturally packed with plant proteins, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K and minerals like calcium, potassium, phosphorus and selenium. Other nutrients are added to soy milk during the manufacturing process, which adds to its nutritional value. Because it is so packed with nutrients, consuming soy milk is considered to be good for your immune system. Your immune system requires a high intake of most essential nutrients to function properly and keep diseases at bay, and soy milk can provide many of those.

(Read more: Weak immune system)

Soy milk may improve heart health

Soy milk, whether it is fortified during the manufacturing process or not, is packed with potassium. Adequate potassium intake is linked to better blood pressure control, which suggests that its consumption can help prevent high blood pressure. Further, soy milk is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help control cholesterol levels and prevent high cholesterol. Both these factors can improve your heart health and help keep conditions like heart disease, heart failure and even stroke at bay.

Soy milk prevents lactose intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar that is naturally found in dairy products and causes an allergic reaction in people with lactose intolerance. Since soy milk and all soy products are plant-based, they do not contain lactose. This suggests that soy milk is safe for consumption by people with lactose intolerance and is a good substitute for animal-based dairy products.

Soy milk may improve brain health

Soy milk is packed with B vitamins, which aid in the maintenance of nerve cells and brain function. Further, studies suggest that all soy foods contain oligopeptides, dipeptides and tripeptides, which can not only minimize memory loss and function but also prevent cognitive decline. By these mechanisms, consuming soy milk may also help prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

(Read more: Memory loss)

Soy milk may improve bone health

Apart from being packed with calcium, soy milk is chock full of vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and even has trace amounts of zinc. All of these micronutrients are essential for the maintenance of bone strength and mineral density. Consuming soy milk may also help you prevent bone-related problems, like osteoporosis and arthritis, in later life. Since soy milk is also packed with protein, it can also help strengthen the muscles and further support bone health.

Soy milk may reduce menopause symptoms

When a woman reaches the menopause, her body gradually slows down the production of estrogen. This causes many menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, low libido and in some cases even depression. Estrogen or hormone replacement therapy often helps relieve these symptoms. Consuming soy milk may be a good way of naturally dealing with decreasing estrogen levels, since soy foods contain phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens, though weaker than natural estrogen, may help relieve menopause symptoms.

(Read more: Early menopause and premature menopause)

Although soy milk is packed with nutrients and is considered to be a healthy food for most people, it may cause adverse health effects too. This may occur if you have an underlying condition that is exacerbated by soy milk consumption or if you consume too much soy milk and don’t have a balanced diet. The following are some of the side effects you may experience due to soy milk consumption.

Soy milk may cause allergy

It may not be well-known but soy is one of the key allergens known to humankind; other common food allergies include cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish and shellfish. Soy allergy begins at an early age but is likely to resolve by itself as you grow up. However, in many cases, soy allergy continues even after you reach adulthood and soy milk consumption can trigger an allergic reaction in people with such sensitivity. Symptoms of soy allergy include abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, skin rashes and itching. Anaphylactic shock only occurs in the rarest of soy allergy cases.

Soy milk may impair thyroid function

Soy milk is packed with a class of phytonutrients called isoflavones. Although limited, research shows that excessive consumption of isoflavones may impair the function of iodine in your body. This is likely to affect your thyroid function and cause or worsen thyroid problems like hypothyroidism, goitre and autoimmune thyroiditis. While more evidence is needed to confirm this link between soy milk consumption and thyroid dysfunction, you should consult your doctor about your soy intake if you already have or are at risk of developing any of these conditions.

(Read more: Diet for hypothyroidism)

Soy milk may cause malabsorption

Soy milk contains a class of phytochemicals known as antinutrients. These compounds, like trypsin inhibitors, can reduce the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from all food sources and thereby cause malabsorption syndrome, nutritional deficiencies and even malnutrition. This is the reason regulating your soy milk consumption, especially on the basis of your individual health status and the recommendation of a doctor or nutritionist who has studied your reports, is very important.

Soy milk may cause digestive problems

The antinutrients in soy milk can often have another effect on your body. These antinutrients can obstruct or impair the digestion process and cause issues like indigestion, bloating, stomach gas, flatulence and even diarrhea in extreme cases. If you get any such symptoms after consuming soy milk or any soy products, then consult a doctor without delay.

If you have a health issue like lactose intolerance or cow milk protein allergy then shifting to soy milk could help. If you follow a vegan diet and lifestyle, then again, replacing dairy products with soy milk is a good option. However, if you have a soy allergy, thyroid dysfunction, malabsorption issues or a nutritional deficiency, then avoiding soy milk is necessary. 

While soy milk is quite nutritious, the proteins in it are not completely at par with those provided by animal sources and dairy products like paneer. So, if you do adopt soy milk then you should also add other plant-protein sources to your diet or talk to a doctor about getting dietary supplements. Going dairy-free is a big decision and may have a huge impact on your everyday life, expenses and health. So, consider your pocket and consult a doctor before making the shift to soy milk. 

(Read more: Protein deficiency)

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that babies below the age of six months must be exclusively breastfed by their mothers. This is because there are many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. So, introducing soy milk to the baby at this age may not be recommended. Even after the age of six months, infants should only be given soy milk if their pediatricians say so. The US National Institutes of Health reveal that this is because soy milk and soy formula is rich in isoflavones, phytoestrogens and antinutrients. 

(Read more: Best foods for your six month old baby)

Although there is only limited scientific evidence to support it, studies have shown that high amounts of these compounds may affect a baby’s development. Some research also suggests that children who have been completely weaned should only be given soy foods in limited amounts or on the recommendation of their doctor. If your child has been diagnosed with soy allergy then completely avoiding soy milk and other soy products is vital.

(Read more: How to introduce solid foods to your baby)

Soy milk is a plant-based dairy milk substitute that is quickly gaining popularity across the world because of its nutritional and ethical/environmental values. Soy milk is packed with plant proteins, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Consuming soy milk is believed to improve many health parameters, including heart health, brain health, bone health and even muscle health. On the other hand, the phytonutrients present in soy milk can also cause some adverse health effects if consumed in excess. If you have a soy allergy then consuming soy milk or any soy products can cause an allergic reaction.

The key here is to consume soy milk and all soy products in moderation. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that adults should consume a total of 25 g of soy protein - including all soy products like soy milk, tofu, edamame, soya chunks, etc - in a day for this food to be beneficial. This translates to about four servings of soy daily, which means that you can safely consume a cup of soy milk every day if you have two-three servings of other soy foods too. However, it is important to remember that every individual has a different health status and reaction to individual foods, so consulting a doctor or nutritionist about your daily soy consumption is essential.

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Dt. Akanksha Mishra

Nutritionist
8 Years of Experience

Surbhi Singh

Surbhi Singh

Nutritionist
22 Years of Experience

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Dr. Avtar Singh Kochar

Nutritionist
20 Years of Experience

Dr. priyamwada

Dr. priyamwada

Nutritionist
7 Years of Experience

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References

  1. FoodData Central. United States Department of Agriculture. Washington D.C. USA; Soy milk
  2. Cleveland Clinic. [Internet]. Cleveland. Ohio; What You Need to Know When Choosing Milk and Milk Alternatives
  3. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Dairy and alternatives in your diet
  4. National Institutes of Health; [Internet]. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Soy Infant Formula
  5. Messina, Mark. Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature. Nutrients. 2016 Dec; 8(12): 754. PMID: 27886135
  6. Jargin, Sergei V. Soy and phytoestrogens: possible side effects. Ger Med Sci. 2014; 12: Doc18. PMID: 25587246
  7. Keshavarz, Seyed Ali. et al. Effect of Soymilk Consumption on Waist Circumference and Cardiovascular Risks among Overweight and Obese Female Adults. Int J Prev Med. 2012 Nov; 3(11): 798–805. PMID: 23189232
  8. Sadeghian, Mehdi. et al. Soy product consumption and association with health characteristics and dietary quality indices in Isfahan, Iran. ARYA Atheroscler. 2015 Feb; 11(Suppl 1): 94–101. PMID: 26261456
  9. Miraghajani, Maryam Sadat. et al. Soy Milk Consumption, Inflammation, Coagulation, and Oxidative Stress Among Type 2 Diabetic Patients With Nephropathy. Diabetes Care. 2012 Oct; 35(10): 1981–1985. PMID: 22787172
  10. Matthews, VL. et al. Soy milk and Dairy Consumption are Independently Associated with Ultrasound Attenuation of the Heel bone among Postmenopausal Women: The Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2). Nutr Res. 2011 Oct; 31(10): 766–775. PMID: 22074801
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