Organic Soy Milk: What You Need To Know

By:    Published: June 13, 2012

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Today, many people are switching to soy milk due to its health benefits or because they have dairy sensitivities. However, there’s a lot about this type of milk that people don’t know. Information can get even hazier when spotting the numerous versions of soy milk that are labeled as “organic.” This guide will give you the information you need on organic soy milk, including the health benefits and controversies surrounding it.

Soy Milk Basics

Soy milk has been a traditional drink for years in other countries, many of which are located in Asia. However, it’s a relatively new trend in Western dieting habits. There are a few main reasons why people are making the switch to soy milk from cow’s milk:

  • Health: Soy milk has less cholesterol and has some health benefits that cow’s milk doesn’t offer.
  • Lactose sensitivity: Some people have trouble digesting cow’s milk due to lactose sensitivity or lactose intolerance.
  • Ethics: Those interested in animal welfare or in reducing their environmental footprint by eating lower on the food chain may choose organic soy milk over cow’s milk.

Soybeans are actually hard to digest on their own. To make soy milk, the soybeans have to be soaked and then ground up until they create a paste. This can be filtered to create a milky texture, but the taste is a bit bitter. Therefore, vegetable oils, corn syrups or other ingredients are added to get the soy milk to taste more like cow’s milk.

Health Benefits

There are several ways that soy milk is healthier than cow’s milk, including:

  • Fat content: Soy milk is naturally low in fat. This is different from cow’s milk, which has to be processed in certain ways to be classified as low-fat or fat-free. In addition, the little fat that soy milk does have is free from any saturated fat.
  • Protein: Soy milk is naturally high in protein. It has around the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, although it may contain slightly more in some varieties.
  • Cholesterol: Soy milk contains no cholesterol because it comes from plants rather than being an animal byproduct like cow’s milk (which contains about 20 milligrams of cholesterol per cup).

Soy Controversy

Not everyone is convinced that soy milk is a superior product to cow’s milk. Some of the ongoing controversies surrounding soy milk include:

  1. Calcium content: One of the ways in which soy milk is less healthy than cow’s milk is calcium content. Soy milk contains lower levels of calcium and certain B vitamins when compared to cow’s milk. For this reason, some people argue that it is not as healthy and can cause dietary problems. To fix this, many soy milk producers have created fortified soy milk products which contain higher levels of calcium, B vitamins and vitamins E and D.
  2. Hormone content: Soy milk contains isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens. This means they are similar to the hormone estrogen. There have been some studies which link high consumption of isoflavones to an increased risk of breast cancer. However, these studies are not conclusive and there are actually other studies which suggest that isoflavones reduce the risk of breast cancer. Generally, regular consumption of soy milk isn’t thought to be dangerous. Also, it’s important to note that cow’s milk is not hormone-free – it contains estrogen and progesterone. (For additional information, see The Negative Effects Of Soy Milk On Men.)
  3. East vs. West: Generally, soybeans are thought to be great for your health and those who live in Eastern countries have certain health benefits to prove it. However, there have been some experts who argue that people in Western countries won’t experience those same health benefits because the soy products in this part of the world are highly processed, whereas those living in Eastern countries usually consume soybeans as a whole food. Those in Eastern countries also tend to consume about ten times as much soy per day as those in Western countries do, so it may not be appropriate to expect the same level of health benefits in both parts of the world.

Organic Soy Milk Labeling

The term “organic” means that a food has been produced through approved cultural, biological and mechanical practices which promote ecological balance and biodiversity. Organic products have not been produced by any processes which involve genetic engineering, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge or irradiation.

Not every product that says it’s “organic” is necessarily what it claims to be. To find out if your soy milk is really organic, you need to check for a specific USDA label which certifies the product as organic and contains at least 95 percent organic content.

What’s important is to understand that just because something is labeled as “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthier, although there certainly are benefits to consuming organic soy milk for both yourself and the environment. When choosing organic soy milk, be sure to take into account the information above and always read the nutrition label carefully.

Bottom Line

In general, regular consumption of soy milk is considered to be good for your health and may be superior to drinking cow’s milk. For the best results, however, you should check to make sure that the soy milk products you buy are fortified with calcium and B vitamins. In addition, consider buying soy milk which is certified as organic by the USDA.

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