Soy is often considered one of the most polarizing products. In fact, depending on whom you ask, it’s often classified as either a potent superfood or a dangerous hormone disruptor.
Like all foods, soy milk has both benefits and drawbacks that need to be considered, and not all soy products are created equal. For instance, although high-quality, organic soy could potentially fit into a healthy diet, consuming excessive amounts of highly processed soy milk derived from GMO crops may do more harm than good when it comes to your health.
So is soy milk good for you, or should it be avoided at all costs? Here’s what you need to know about this controversial ingredient.
What Is Soy Milk?
Soy milk is a beverage that is made from soybeans that have been soaked and ground up. The mixture is then boiled and filtered to produce a smooth, creamy consistency.
Store-bought soy milk may also contain other ingredients like flavorings and fillers, along with added vitamins and minerals to help boost the nutritional value.
It’s often used as a milk alternative for those following a dairy-free diet due to its similarities in taste and texture. Plus, it can also be swapped in for cow’s milk in cooking and baking recipes to give your favorite dishes a delicious, dairy-free twist.
The soy milk nutrition profile is high in protein, manganese, selenium and copper and provides a low amount of soy milk calories in each serving.
One cup (about 243 grams) of soy milk contains the following nutrients:
- 131 calories
- 15.3 grams carbohydrates
- 8 grams protein
- 4.3 grams fat
- 1.5 grams dietary fiber
- 0.5 milligrams manganese (27 percent DV)
- 11.7 micrograms selenium (17 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligrams copper (16 percent DV)
- 60.7 milligrams magnesium (15 percent DV)
- 126 milligrams phosphorus (13 percent DV)
- 43.7 micrograms folate (11 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams thiamine (10 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams riboflavin (10 percent DV)
- 7.3 micrograms vitamin K (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (9 percent DV)
- 0.9 milligrams pantothenic acid (9 percent DV)
- 1.6 milligrams iron (9 percent DV)
- 287 milligrams potassium (8 percent DV)
- 60.7 milligrams calcium (6 percent DV)
- 1.2 milligrams niacin (6 percent DV)
Keep in mind that the nutritional value can vary quite a bit depending on the brand and variety. For example, the homemade soy milk nutrition profile may be lower in calories and protein but higher in certain micronutrients.
Is It Good for You? Potential Benefits
Research has unearthed several potential soy milk benefits. For starters, soy contains specific compounds known as isoflavones, which are polyphenols that act as antioxidants in the body.
Isoflavones can reduce inflammation, which can be especially beneficial for the prevention of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
One of the main benefits of soy milk for females, in particular, is also thanks to its content of isoflavones. This is because isoflavones can increase levels of estradiol, or estrogen, in the body.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo, soy isoflavone supplements were effective at reducing the frequency and severity of hot flashes, which are a common symptom of menopause. What’s more, other research indicates that soy protein and phytoestrogens could help promote regular menstrual cycles in women and enhance fertility.
Soy products can also reduce several risk factors of heart disease and improve serum lipid levels. For instance, one study in the British Journal of Nutrition noted that soy consumption was effective at decreasing levels of total and bad LDL cholesterol, along with triglycerides.
Not only that, but it could also help increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol, which helps prevent plaque buildup in the arteries.
Furthermore, despite concerns about the relationship between soy consumption and cancer, some studies have actually found that soy intake could actually help reduce the risk of recurrence for breast cancer while also increasing survival rates. It may even be linked to a lower risk of other types of cancer as well, including prostate, colorectal and lung cancer.
Many people also wonder: Is soy milk good for weight loss? Soy milk is high in protein, which can help promote satiety by reducing levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. H
owever, according to one study in Obesity Science & Practice, including a few servings of soy foods as part of a high-protein diet had no impact on weight loss or fat loss compared to a high-protein diet without soy.
Some also recommend drinking soy milk at night, which is thanks to its content of tryptophan, an amino acid that is sometimes used in the treatment of sleep disorders. In fact, a recent 2019 study published in Cureus reported that soybean consumption was associated with improved sleep quality in medical students.
Risks, Side Effects and Downsides
Despite the potential benefits of this popular beverage, there are a few disadvantages of soy milk that need to be considered as well.
First of all, the majority of soy produced in the United States is derived from genetically modified crops. For this reason, many people choose to avoid soy altogether due to concerns about the long-term health effects of genetically modified organisms (GMO).
In particular, GMO crops could be linked to issues like antibiotic resistance and food allergies. Selecting soy milk brands that are organic is a great way to minimize your exposure to genetically modified organisms.
Soy allergies are also relatively common, especially in children. If you experience any food allergy symptoms like hives, stomach pain or redness after consuming any soy products, be sure to discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.
Women with a history of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancer, may also choose to avoid soy products because of their content of isoflavones, which mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. However, some types of soy milk could actually be beneficial for the prevention of these common types of cancer.
Specifically, minimally processed, non-GMO soy is rich in nutrients and beneficial compounds that can support overall health. One review even found that soy intake could actually be associated with a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence, plus a higher rate of survival.
According to the researchers, “clinical trials consistently show that isoflavone intake does not adversely affect markers of breast cancer risk, including mammographic density and cell proliferation.”
Because of the effects of soy milk on estrogen levels and testosterone, many people wonder: Is soy milk bad for men? Research on the subject has turned up conflicting findings, revealing that there are both positive and negative aspects of soy when it comes to men’s health.
For example, one animal model published in the Journal of Endocrinology found that soy phytoestrogens reduced testosterone levels and prostate weight when administered to rats in high amounts.
Conversely, however, a review out of Minnesota analyzed the results of several clinical studies and concluded that soy foods had no impact on testosterone levels in men. Not only that, but other studies have also found that regular soy consumption could also be tied to a lower risk of prostate cancer in men as well.
Those with thyroid issues should keep soy consumption in moderation to avoid adverse effects on health. This is because the soy isoflavones found in soy milk can decrease the production of thyroid hormones, which play a key role in regulating everything from metabolism to body temperature.
While it’s not necessary to avoid soy milk altogether, it’s best to stick to just a few servings of soy per day as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Soy Milk vs. Almond Milk vs. Other Milks
So what’s the difference between soy milk vs. cow milk and other types of dairy alternatives, such as almond, cashew or oat milk?
Compared to cow’s milk, soy milk is lower in fat but boasts a similar amount of protein in each serving. Both are a good source of several key vitamins and minerals and are often fortified with added micronutrients, such as vitamin D, to help you meet your needs.
However, soy is also a common allergen and has been associated with several other risks and side effects, which may not make it a great milk replacement for everyone.
When comparing almond milk vs. soy milk, the nutrient profiles are quite different. Like soy milk, almond milk is dairy-free and vegan-friendly.
It’s also generally very low in calories and fortified with several important vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin D. However, when comparing soy milk vs. almond milk, almond milk nutrition is also low in protein and has been associated with several environmental concerns.
If you do decide to incorporate soy milk into your daily diet, be sure to select a product that is organic and free of ingredients, such as additives, added sugar and fillers.
Better yet, you can also try making your own at home. There are plenty of guides available online for how to make soy milk, but it generally involves soaking the soybeans and then draining, blending and straining the mixture using a cheesecloth.
Other dairy alternatives like almond, oat, rice or cashew milk can also be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. As always, look for products that are minimally processed and free of questionable food additives.
Alternatively, you can also make your own at home using just a few simple ingredients.
- Soy milk is a popular milk alternative that is derived from the soybean plant.
- So is soy milk bad for you? There are both pros and cons to consider when it comes to this polarizing product.
- The soy milk nutrition facts boast a good amount of protein, along with important nutrients like manganese, selenium, copper and magnesium.
- Potential benefits of soy milk include reduced symptoms of menopause, improved heart health, better sleep quality, enhanced reproductive health and protection against certain types of cancer.
- However, soy is an incredibly common allergen, and many soybean plants produced in the United States are genetically modified. Excessive soy consumption can also negatively impact thyroid health, and research is mixed on the effects on hormone levels for men.
- If you do decide to add soy milk to your diet, be sure to select a product that is free of added sugar, fillers and questionable ingredients.
- Making your own soy milk at home is another option to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Alternatively, you can try making other milk alternatives, such as almond, rice, oat or cashew milk.