Nutritional benefits of soy milk over real milk?

I apologize because I’m sure that this topic has probably been addressed some time in the past, but since we can’t do a search for a word under four letters on this message board, I don’t have much choice. I searched for threads about milk but didn’t come up with much.

I wanted to get some informed opinions on what benefits, if any, there are to drinking soy milk over regular milk (skim or 2% milk being the assumption because of its comparable fat content to soy milk … skim milk probably actually has less fat than some brands of soy milk). Is there really any health-related benefit for someone who isn’t lactose-intolerant to drink soy milk? I’m not entirely sold on the taste but my mom buys the stuff now and I wonder why. I tell my mom she’s silly to listen to anything the nutty “nutrional digest” newsletters usually say, and that she’s finally gone too far. I mean, these mags go on about how cow milk is a health epidemic that’s at the root of heart disease, organ failure, and diabetes. It’s almost like they villify regular milk right up there with soft drinks. My mom isn’t lactose-intolerant, but I have a feeling she believes too much of what she reads from these things. I’ve compared the nutritional contents of various brands of soy milk to that of skim milk and tend to find soy milk is generally higher in fat, lower in protein and potassium, but equal to or lesser in sugars/carbs. Many brands of soy milk, however, are vitamin-enriched beyond the standard A & D found in milk, but I don’t think that comes from the soybean since the vitamin content varies from brand to brand. Many soy milks don’t have any vitamins at all, while some read like the label on a pack of multivitamins. A lot of the soy milks make a big deal out of the high isoflavone content (a phytoestrogen which continues to be investigated as a supplement for the prevention of cancer).

I don’t even consider it the stuff milk, since milk only comes from the mammary gland of an animal. As famed comedian Lewis Black would say, it’s soy JUICE. :wink: So, anyone who isn’t a member of the Soybean Farmers Union want to tell me why someone would ever want to drink this stuff unless they can’t digest milk and dairy? I can’t imagine that anyone would drink it for the taste.

Hey, it takes all kinds. I quite like the taste of soy juice (soy nuts are pretty nice too.) Actually, I find cow milk quite disgusting in taste, which I suspect may be related to some mild degree of lactose intolerance, as it seems to run in my family. (Lactose intolerance is quite common in adult humans, you know.) I’ve talked to my doctors about it, and they all agree that milk is not the wonder-drink that we tend to consider it. In fact, my aunt, who’s a doctor, recommends soy milk and opines that cows’ milk is indeed not very good for you.

I don’t really have much real information here. Nothing I’ve heard about soy protein or phytoestrogens seems certain enough that you’d want to rely on it as yet. There do seem to be various health benefits of these chemicals, but they’re not well-studied enough to engender real confidence - they seem to provide all the sort of vague promises of just about every nutritional fad (prevents heart disease, prevents cancer, et cetera.) I myself am skeptical about these sorts of claims, whether in soy protein or antioxidants or whatever other chemical. There’s no great benefit to be gained in terms of the better-understood vitamins, as you yourself gleened from the label.

I basically drink it because I want something to pour on my raisin bran in the morning. I wouldn’t rely on it as a health tonic until there’s more evidence.

Here are the basics:

  • though the total fat content between soy milk and cow milk as about equal, soy milk is low in saturated fat. Most of the fat in soy milk is polyunsaturated (and most of the other fat is monounsaturated), which appears to be good for you. Most of the fat in milk is saturated, which appears to be bad for you.

  • soy has high levels of phytochemicals. These are a new topic of nutritional research, so are not fully understood and are not included in the standard nutritional listings for foods. But what has been discovered about them so far indicates that they are powerful beneficial nutrients that fight heart disease, cancer, and probably much more. Regular milk has none.

  • many people have concerns about contaminants passed from the cows into the milk. This includes drugs given to the cows (such as antibiotics) and environmental pollutants that are concentrated as you go up the food chain .

  • the traditional use of protein and vitamins as a measure of food quality is falling out of style, mainly because most people get WAY more of both than we need. Soy milk is plenty high in both, so that worrying over the differences isn’t warranted.

As for the taste, it’s mainly a matter of, well, taste. I don’t drink plain soy milk myself, but I enjoy the soy drinks that are a little sweet and maybe have some vanilla. In cooking, I find that I can use soy milk as a replacement for milk about half the time with an improvement in taste (I find it improves pancakes A LOT).

Without trying to revive the multithread battle that raged a few months back over these, I think it’s worth noting that “phytochemical” is one of those phrases that’s so broad as to be pretty meaningless. It could be taken to mean “any plant chemical”, and under that definition, soy milk has a lot of them (obviously!) But plants produce all sorts of chemicals, and significant among them are chemicals designed to kill pests. All plants produce such chemicals, and in some cases they are poisonous in high amounts or carcinogenic to humans.

OTOH, if you define a “phytochemical” as some nutritionally beneficial plant chemical, and exclude the major nutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and things like vitamins, then I’d say it’s not proven that they exist at all. Not to say that I doubt that there are chemicals with unknown positive benefits in plants, but none of them are well enough studied to make conclusions. That is, we can’t point to soy beans and say “These contain 4-ethanal methylene gluconate [probably not a real chemical] which reduces the risk of heart disease by 40%!”

Like I mentioned in my previous post in the thread, the nutritional benefits attributed to soy are very vague claims and not well-proven. Larger dietary studies are problematic because you can’t isolate variables enough to suggest that particular plant chemicals are the source of a certain effect, since a diet high in soy is likely to be a healthy diet to start out with.

Well, as I said, the field is new, and I’m certainly not one to jump on the bandwagon before the results are in. And I hope that people will resist the inevitable shams that will pop up as different people try to cash in on the fad.

But I think that your statement is patently untrue.

We already have plenty of solid evidence that plant-based foods contain beneficial nutrients that go beyond vitamins. The benefits of cruciferous vegetables, licopene sources, and many others are well-established.

As for soy in partcular, this comes from an article at the US FDA web site:

I applaud an objective skepticism, but I feel that we’ve reached a point where being objective requires us to accept that there’s something there that we simply didn’t know about before.

Yet another useless point, but I love the taste of Silk brand soy milk (or juice, if you prefer.) I find it much more refreshing than milk. I have trouble getting enough calcium in my diet (and I think supplements are the wimp’s way out :slight_smile: ) so I drink a glass of soy milk pretty much every day. They now have Silk Light, which is half the fat of regular Silk, and fewer calories than even skim milk, and IMHO the taste is pretty good.

I understand the bad rep soy milk has, because I’ve tried a couple other brands, and the last one was so awful that I’m still traumatized, and I ain’t buyin’ anyting but Silk from now on. If you’re considering adding soy milk to your diet, I recommend that you try different brands, because the flavors of different brands are all over the map.

Silk is also my favorite, not to mention that they are doing a bang-up job with promotion and distribution (you can find that stuff anywhere, and get a latte made with it in Starbucks, even). I second the advice to try different brands in search of flavor, but bear in mind that almost any soymilk that needs to be kept refrigerated (as most varieties of Silk are) will be superior to aseptic cartons of soymilk you find sitting around on room temperature shelves. I prefer the aseptic stuff for cooking just because it’s pantry-stable, though, so I was thrilled when Silk came up with an aseptic variety.

I drink soy milk because I prefer the taste and I’m quite lactose intolerant. That being said, though, according to the august 05 issue of Men’s Health, soy milk doesn’t hold calcium in solution very well, so it tends to sink to the bottom, and even shaking it in a paint shaker doesn’t do a very good job of redistributing it. I still think soy milk is healthier, but for calcium I drink calcium fortified orange juice.

I drink it because it tastes way better than cow’s milk (maybe because cow milk tastes spoiled to me, even when it’s not). I also drink it because if I have a choice I will generally pick the plant based food over the animal based food because most studies have shown the former to be healthier compared the latter.

Can you please provide an objective cite for this? 'Cause when I worked in cancer research, the epidemioligists, medical researchers and doctors used to get a hearty laugh out of “studies” that purported to prove this.

Actually, I’d be more inclined to ask you for an objective cite of cancer researchers who “get a hearty laugh” out of this idea. I seriously doubt said researchers exist.

Just for starters, here’s a link to the American Cancer Society’s “Nutrition and Fitness” pages for cancer prevention. Specificially, the first item on the list is:

Eat a variety of healthful foods, with an emphasis on plant sources

I could post many, many more, but both your claim and the wording of it make me suspect that you simply don’t want to accept the conclusion.

The simplest explanation for why eating more vegetables lowers the risk of many diseases is because vegetables provide lots of fiber, fewer calories per ounce of serving, less fat, and healthier fat to boot. Therefore people who eat more veggies and less meat/dairy/“junk food” tend to weigh less, have lower blood pressure, and a lower risk for diabetes and heart disease just based on eating fewer calories, less and healthier fat, and having a higher throughput thanks to all the fiber.

Many people invoke “phytochemicals” and “micronutrients” to explain these benefits. But solid scientific studies have not yet demonstrated such a cause and effect, while many good studies support the theory I outlined in my first paragraph.

While fully supporting the ideas in your first paragraph, I must take issue with the idea that “people” simply “invoked” these substances as a superfluous explanation of health benefits that are already explained. On the contrary, they are a serious field of research, and some solid results are already in.

For instance - cruciferous vegetables against cancer. The linked article contains the specific results that:

Epidemiological studies provide evidence that the consumption of cruciferous vegetables protects against cancer more effectively than the total intake of fruits and vegetables

The Prostate Cancer Foundation weighs in on the protective effects of Lycopene, phenols, antioxidants, and isoflavones. In discussing this, they include a specific section entitled “Not All Vegetables Are Created Equal.”

Somehow I seem to be coming across in this discussion as the resident health food nut, which is strange because I’m not. But anyone who dismisses the benefits of plant-based nutrients (macro and micro) is not keeping up with the data - or is simply so invested in their anti-vegetable stance that they can’t absorb the information.

Slight hijack here-- anybody in the real medical community (not holistic massage or chiropractic, they have their specialities and endocrinology ain’t it) have any information about soy estrogen?

from I found the following:

I lift weights and bike a lot because I like being shaped like a man and the upper body strength that I have from it. I don’t want to grow breasts. My quasi-girlfriend gives her 2 year-old son soy milk…is this really necessary? Is it possible that she’s messing up his hormonal balance?

I’m not sure what this article is trying to say…

For one thing, a large portion (the majority?) of the world’s population consumes soy milk and soy products in large quantities, every day, at all ages - and has done so for many generations. Add together the amounts that we (Americans) consume of milk, cheese, and about 3/4 of our meat, and you get an idea of how East Asians use soy and tofu. Just because we’re not used to it doesn’t make it strange.

So, is the article claiming that there’s a hormonal disaster going on that nobody’s noticed yet?

They don’t say what they mean by the “high doses” used in the rat experiments, but I assume that it could only be acheived through supplements (which would be fitting for a “buffing” magazine.) But they don’t say this explicitly, and they refer to the effects in pre-pubescent children - which doesn’t fit the idea of discussing mega-doses of anything.

I would, however, echo the previous poster’s concern about calcium intake, especially with a child. Your friend may want to look at the rest of the child’s diet to make sure there are sufficient calcium sources.

Sorry, Charizard. Not impressed by the cites. In the latter, unproven speculation is stated as fact:

It has not yet been demonstrated that consumption of any antioxidant, much less lycopene, protects the body against cancer. Is there speculation that it could? Yes. Mechanisms proposed as to how it might work? Yes. Good scientific proof? Nope.

Your first cite makes the same leap.

All fine and dandy in the lab, and nice theories why these elements might be effective against cancer. But the hard evidence is lacking that adjusting the diet as suggested really does prevent cancer in actual living people.

I trained as a medical scientist, and while I’ve been mostly a clinician during my career, I still know how to read a scientific report, and figure out what the data shows, versus what it suggests. I also recognize speculation when I see it. “Gee, if all this holds true, and everybody follows this recommendation, we could cut cancer by 20%!” There’s a whole lot of supposition going on there.

And I still remember having to reverse course and recommend my patients get off estrogen, because “oops, it seems to aggravate heart disease, not prevent it, like our earlier models and studies implied”.

And remember vitamin E? For a while, one got accused of malpractice if one didn’t put their cardiac and hepatitis patients on vitamin E supplements. “We know it helps them! We must use it!” Then “Oops, the meta-study shows those patients we put on vitamin E do worse, not better, than those we don’t.”

I’m all for consumption of more fruits and vegetables. They are of proven benefit. I’m all for more research into what it is about them that makes them healthy. But too many claims are being asserted waaaaaay too early based on too little evidence.

My motto: Primum non nocere, or “first, do no harm.”

(“Kill as few patients as possible” is a nice motto too.) :smiley:

I’ll certainly agree with you on this one. It’s a field ripe for hucksterism. And even the best research results so far don’t give us any guidance on what to do to improve overall, long-term health (except to eat more fruits and vegetables, which we already knew).

But you’ll notice that I wasn’t claiming final proof of any claims. I was rebutting your claim from your previous post that the benefits of increased intake of fruits and vegetables were completely explained by 1) increased fiber intake and 2) displacing calories and fat from other sources. The claim that interest in other micronutrients was only because people felt the need to invoke them as explanations through ignorance of mechanisms 1 and 2.

And the cites were not meant as ironclad proof, either. They were to show that serious scientists in those fields are looking at these substances because the evidence says that we *should * be looking at them, not because they just don’t know how fruits and vegetables work.