These days it seems as if the nondairy milk section is getting pretty crowded. The original plant-based alternative, soy milk, is still going strong, but you may be wondering how it stacks up against other popular picks, like almond, and more trendy sips, like oat, and whether or not it’s actually safe for both women and men. Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice for your diet.
Soy milk is a plant-based nondairy beverage, often consumed as an alternative to milk. It’s made from soybeans, and many brands fortify their soy milk with vitamins and minerals such as?vitamin D?and?calcium.?“Soy milk offers culinary diversity, creamy texture, and a healthful nutritional profile, including essential omega-3 fatty acids [if fortified] and flavonoids that exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cardioprotective properties,” says Julieanna Hever, RD, a plant-based-foods?dietitian?in the Los?Angeles?area and the author of The Vegiterranean Diet.
Why Might You Drink Soy Milk Instead of Dairy Milk?
There are so many reasons why you might turn to soy milk in your coffee, smoothie, or in your cereal. For one, you might not like the taste of cow’s milk, and you may also prefer soy milk over other nondairy alternatives. You may also be trying to avoid dairy for a variety of reasons, whether it’s for health or weight loss.
Some people are also lactose intolerant, which means that they have trouble digesting a sugar called lactose, which is the carbohydrate found in cow’s milk, says Barbara Schmidt, RDN, a nutrition lifestyle program specialist at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut. That can lead to a variety of uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects; in this case, drinking a plant milk is a wise choice.
What Are the Nutrition Facts of Soy Milk?
There are so many types of soy milk on the market, and the number of calories and added sugar will differ depending on what you buy. Always check the nutrient facts label on your brand of choice. The following is the nutrition facts for one cup of a popular organic unsweetened soy milk: (1)
- Calories: 80
- Fat: 4 grams (g)
- Saturated fat: 0.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 3 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Sugars: 1 g (0 g added sugars)
- Protein: 7 g
As you can see, soy milk packs a lot into a small cup. You’ll notice it is rich in protein, low in sugar, and offers a couple of grams of fiber, all for just 80 calories.
How Does Soy Milk Compare With Regular Milk and Other Milks, Like Nut, Rice, and Coconut Milk?
When comparing all plant milks, we can say, broadly, that soy milk is the most nutritionally similar to a?lowfat?cow’s milk. “I call the soybean the incredible, edible bean. With all nine essential amino acids, soy milk is rich in protein and is balanced in fats and?carbs,” says Schmidt. It also bests?almond?milk in terms of protein, as traditional almond milk may have fewer calories (just 30 per cup), but offers a scant 1 gram of protein. (2) (There are some “added protein” versions of almond milk that use pea protein to bump up the protein content.)
Rice?and oat milks are other popular plant-based milk choices. Like almond milk, rice and oat milk contain just one gram of protein. (3,4)?As for?coconut?milk, using one popular brand as an example, it contains the same amount of fat (4 g), seven times the saturated fat (3.5 grams), but no protein. (5)
Is Soy Milk Really Better for You? A Look at the Potential Health Benefits
Experts have differing opinions on the question of cow’s milk versus?nondairy, alternative milks. Schmidt prefers cow’s milk and other dairy products, like yogurt, because they offer a stellar source of calcium. Hever, on the other hand, recommends consuming plant-based foods, and she advises her clients to choose soy milk as their milk (nondairy or otherwise) of choice because it’s rich in protein and low in saturated fat.
Regardless, if you choose to incorporate dairy into your diet alongside soy foods such as soy milk, one thing is clear: Soy milk is good for you. “I love soy because it’s rich in isoflavones?[plant chemicals that belong to a group called phytoestrogens], particularly genistein,” says Schmidt. (6) “More research needs to be done, but some studies show that it reduces the risk of cancer and potentially osteoporosis, and the compound can also help reduce menopausal symptoms,” she says. (7,8,9)
The plant compounds in soy may also be heart-protective. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a proposal in 2017 to strip soy of the claim that soy lowers the risk of heart disease. “While some evidence continues to suggest a relationship between soy protein and a reduced risk of heart disease — including evidence reviewed by the FDA when the claim was authorized — the totality of currently available scientific evidence calls into question the certainty of this relationship,” reads a press statement from October 2017. (10) In response to this, one study, published in April 2019 in the Journal of Nutrition, analyzing 46 trials on adult men and women with elevated cholesterol levels, found that consuming 25 g of soy protein per day for six weeks decreased LDL cholesterol levels by 3 to 4 percent. The researchers argue that this meta-analysis and review shows that soy is cardioprotective. Worth noting, however, is that the lead study author,?David Jenkins, MD, PhD, previously received research funding from the U.S. Soy Institute and soy-food companies. Dr. Jenkins is the director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. (11) One cup of soy milk provides 7 g of soy protein, on average. (12)
Is It Safe to Drink Soy Milk or Does It Cause Breast Cancer?
Over the years, soy has gotten a bad reputation. Some people may even tell you that soy increases your risk of cancers and is especially dangerous for breast cancer survivors. This discrepancy comes from animal studies that found that when rodents consumed high doses of isoflavones, they were more likely to develop breast cancer. As the American Cancer Society points out, “rodents process soy differently from people, and the same results have not been seen in people.” (13) Researchers also fed rodents an amount of soy that people would not get from a moderate intake from food.
In fact, for those looking to eat a diet that decreases the risk of cancer, whole soy foods are a smart addition. “[Whole] soy foods have been shown to decrease breast cancer recurrence and mortality in breast cancer survivors, and to reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancers, as well,” says Hever. (13)
How Much Soy Milk per Day Is Safe to Drink?
You can feel confident in drinking soy milk, says Hever. As for how much soy milk you can drink, she follows the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommendation of moderate soy consumption. (14) That means having one to two servings daily of whole soy foods, including soy milk. For instance, if you are planning on having a tofu stir-fry for dinner, you can still include 1 cup of soy milk in your morning smoothie. The AICR notes that research shows up to three servings a day has been found to be safe.
Is There Anyone Who Should Avoid Soy Milk?
If you are allergic to soy, then you should avoid soy milk. “Otherwise, it is an excellent food for everyone else,” says Hever. If you’re pregnant, you can consume soy. Likewise, if you have had breast cancer, it’s okay to consume a moderate amount of soy, according to AICR. (14)
How to Choose a Healthy Soy Milk
You’re looking for a few things. One, go for a brand that is unsweetened, says Hever. Sweetened versions can contain around five grams of sugar per serving. (15) If you want a little flavor, unsweetened vanilla is your best bet. She also recommends choosing organic if it’s in your budget.
Most soy milks on the market are fortified, but read the label to make sure yours contains calcium and vitamin D. (Soy milk doesn’t naturally contain calcium.) “This ensures the nutrients resemble cow’s milk the most,” says Schmidt.
FAQs About Soy Milk, Answered
Q: Is soy milk bad for you?
A: Absolutely not. Soy milk is considered a whole soy food, and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and potential heart-protective properties, says Hever.
Q: Is soy milk good for you?
A: Yes! Research shows that not only do soy foods play a role in a cancer-protective diet, but consuming 25 grams of soy protein daily can help decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol. (13,11)
Q: Is soy milk bad for men?
A: Soy foods, including soy milk, are not bad for men. In fact, some studies show that consuming soy isoflavones (plant chemicals that are part of a class called phytoestrogens) is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. (16)
Q: Is soy milk vegan?
A: Yes, soy milk is made from soybeans and water and is fortified with vitamins and minerals. It is vegan.
Q: Is soy milk dairy?
A: No, despite its name, soy milk is not a dairy milk. It is a dairy-free plant-based milk made from soybeans.
Q: How is soy milk made?
A: Soybeans are soaked in water, blended with water, and then strained. Certain brands add vitamins and minerals to fortify the beverage.
Q: Does soy milk have calcium?
A: If you make soy milk at home (which is possible), your soy milk will not contain calcium. But if you buy soy milk at the store, most brands fortify the final product with calcium.
Q: Does soy milk have lactose?
A: No, cow’s milk traditionally has lactose. Soy milk does not, and you can enjoy it even if you are lactose intolerant.
Q: Does soy milk have estrogen?
A: No, soy is rich in isoflavones, including phytoestrogens that weakly mimic human estrogen, says Schmidt. But this does not mean that soy contains estrogen.
Q: Is soy milk gluten free?
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Organic Unsweet Soymilk. Silk.
- Unsweetened Original Almondmilk. Blue Diamond Almonds.
- Rice Dream Original Rice Drink. Rice Dream.
- Oat Drink Whole. Oatly!
- Go Coconuts Coconutmilk. Califia Farms.
- Genistein. ScienceDirect. 2011.
- Spagnuolo C, Russo GL, Orhan IE, et al. Genistein and Cancer: Current Status, Challenges, and Future Directions. Advances in Nutrition. July 2015.
- Zheng X, Lee S-K, Chun OK. Soy Isoflavones and Osteoporotic Bone Loss: A Review With an Emphasis on Modulation of Bone Remodeling. Journal of Medicinal Food. January 2016.
- Chen M-N, Lin C-C, Liu C-F. Efficacy of Phytoestrogens for Menopausal Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review. Climacteric. March 2015.
- Statement from Susan Mayne, PhD, on Proposal to Revoke Health Claim That Soy Protein Reduces Risk of Heart Disease. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. October 30, 2017.
- Mejia SB, Messina M, Li SS, et al. A Meta-Analysis of 46 Studies Identified by the FDA Demonstrates That Soy Protein Decreases Circulating LDL and Total Cholesterol Concentrations in Adults. Journal of Nutrition. April 22, 2019.
- Soyfoods Protein Content Chart. Soyfoods Association of North America.
- Simon S. Soy and Cancer Risk: Our Expert’s Advice. American Cancer Society. April 29, 2019.
- Soy and Cancer Survivorship. American Institute for Cancer Research.
- Original Soymilk.?Silk.
- Straight Talk About Soy. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.