Organic Soy Milk: What You Need to Know
Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Powell, MS, Medical Sciences
Organic Soy Milk: What You Need to Know
Soy milk is a low-fat alternative to cow milk that’s extracted from soybeans. Today, many people are starting to drink more 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 you consider soymilk that’s labeled “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 centuries in other countries, many of which are located in Asia. However, it’s a relatively new trend in American dieting habits. There are a few reasons why people are making the switch to soy milk from cow milk:
- Health: Soy milk is extremely low in saturated fat and doesn’t contain any cholesterol. It also has some health benefits that cow milk doesn’t offer.
- Lactose sensitivity/intolerance: Some people have trouble digesting cow milk due to lactose sensitivity or intolerance, making soy milk a good alternative because it doesn’t contain lactose.
- Ethics: Those interested in animal welfare or in reducing their environmental footprint may choose organic soy milk over cow milk.
Soybeans are difficult to digest on their own. To make soy milk, the soybeans have to be soaked and then ground up to create a paste. This is then filtered to separate out the smooth, milky liquid from the bean pulp, but at this point the taste is a bit bitter. Manufacturers often add vegetable oils, sugar or other ingredients to make the soy milk more palatable or to help it taste more similar to cow milk.
What Are the Health Benefits of Soy Milk?
There are several reasons why soy milk is healthier than cow milk, many of which involve the nutrients it does — and doesn’t — contain:
- Fat: It’s widely known that a high-fat diet can lead to various health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, metabolic disorders and obesity. Soy milk is naturally low in fat. This is different from cow milk, which has to be processed in certain ways to be classified as low-fat or fat-free. In addition, the small amount of fat present in soy milk consists of very little cholesterol-raising saturated fat, which is primarily present in animal products like cow milk.
- Protein: A diet high in protein is essential for the growth and maintenance of tissues as well as other functions in people’s bodies. Soy milk is naturally high in protein. It has around the same amount of protein as cow milk, although it may contain slightly more in some varieties.
- Other nutrients: Soy milk contains fiber, which is important for digestive health and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. It’s also high in other vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins and iron, which both promote healthy blood cell production and function. Additionally, the B vitamins found in soy milk protect your cells from damage with their antioxidant properties, which may also reduce the risk of developing certain diseases.
Soy Controversies to Be Aware Of
Not everyone is convinced that soy milk is a superior product to cow milk. Some of the ongoing controversies surrounding soy milk involve the following:
- Calcium content: Soy milk naturally contains lower levels of calcium and some other vitamins compared to cow milk. For this reason, some people argue that it’s not as healthy and can cause dietary problems. However, many soy milk products are fortified with calcium and other nutrients to levels that are sometimes even higher than those of cow milk.
- Hormone content: Soy milk contains isoflavones, which act as phytoestrogens in humans. This means they function similarly to the hormone estrogen. There have been some studies linking high consumption of isoflavones to an increased risk of breast cancer. However, these studies are not conclusive, and there are other studies that suggest isoflavones reduce the risk of breast cancer. Generally, regular consumption of soy milk isn’t thought to be dangerous. In fact, these same isoflavones have been shown to have many health benefits, including relieving postmenopausal symptoms. Also, it’s important to note that cow milk is not hormone-free — it can contain estrogen and progesterone.
- Sugar content: Some soy milks contain extra added sugar to offset the bitter taste of soy. These added sugars are caloric and lack nutritional value. Make sure that you purchase unsweetened soy milk, which only contains approximately 1 gram of naturally occurring sugar per cup. Also, be careful of many of the flavored soy milks, which tend to have substantial amounts of added sugar.
- Geography: Generally, soybeans are thought to be great for your health, and many people who live in various Asian countries exhibit certain health benefits to support this idea. However, there have been some experts who argue that people in other countries won’t experience those same health benefits because the soy products in the United States and other parts of the world are highly processed. In contrast, people in Asia usually consume soybeans as a whole food and they also tend to consume substantially more soy per day. So, it may not be appropriate to expect the same level of health benefits just from drinking soy milk.
What You Need to Know About Organic Soy Milk Labeling
The term “organic” means that a food has been produced through approved cultural, biological and mechanical practices that promote ecological balance and biodiversity. Organic products have not been produced with any processes that involve genetic engineering, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge or irradiation.
Not every product that claims to be organic necessarily is. To find out if your soy milk is really organic, you need to check for a specific U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) label that certifies the product as organic.
What’s important is to understand that just because something is labeled as “organic” doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthier, even though 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.
In general, regular consumption of soy milk is considered to be good for your health and may be superior to drinking cow milk. For best results, however, you should check to make sure that the soy milk products you buy are fortified with calcium and other vitamins. In addition, consider buying soy milk that’s certified as organic by the USDA. If you have a soy allergy, you’ll want to avoid soy milk and other soy-based dairy alternatives completely.