Soybean Milk vs Dairy Milk

We compare the difference between infant soy and cow’s milk formulas (breast-milk substitutes) and look at the overall health benefits of soy milk.

Breast Milk Substitutes

Nutritionally speaking, infant soy and cow’s milk formulas (breast-milk substitutes) are fairly similar. Both include vitamins A, D, E, and K. The main differences lie in their protein and milk-sugar make-up.

Cow’s milk is processed into infant formula by heating and other methods that make the animal proteins in the milk more digestible. Supplemental milk sugar (lactose) is added to mimic/match the higher sugar content of breast milk. Finally, the fat (butterfat) in cow’s milk is removed and replaced with vegetable fats, which are also easier to digest.

Soy infant formulas, which contain plant proteins and glucose or sucrose (rather than lactose), have changed greatly since they were first introduced. In the past, they included soy flour, which caused diarrhoea, excess gas, and colic. Today, soy infant formulas contain a soy protein isolate, which reduces the frequency of gastrointestinal problems.

A Word on Breast Milk Substitutes

UNICEF Guidelines promote and support exclusive breastfeeding (ideally in the first 6 months of an infants life) as the best infant feeding option. In rare cases where breast feeding is not possible then a choice of a cow’s milk-based formula or soy-based formula can be used.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents give soy formula only to infants who cannot digest OR are allergic to cow’s milk, or to those whose parents wish them to follow a vegan diet. For the majority of infants, the AAP says cow’s milk formula is still the next best thing to breast milk, and that breast-feeding is preferable to formula.

Benefits of Soy Milk for Everyday Use for Children and Adults

Nutritional comparison (Serving size: 250ml = 1 cup)

  Regular Soymilk Lite Soymilk (reduced fat) Whole cow milk Fat-free cow milk
Calories (kcal) 90 70 149 83
Protein (g) 10.0 4.0 7.7 8.3
Fat (g) 4.0 2.0 8.0 0.2
Carbohydrate (g) 14.0 16.0 11.7 12.2
Lactose (g) 0.0 0.0 11.0 12.5
Sodium (mg) 120 100 105 103
Iron (mg) 1.8 0.6 0.07 0.07
Riboflavin (mg) 0.1 11.0 0.412 0.446
Calcium (mg) 80.0 80.0 276 299

As the taste of commercial soy milk improves more and more people are drinking it as enjoyment.

But many people drink soy milk for the added health benefits.

Benefit 1: Soy milk contains only vegetable proteins

Vegetable proteins have the advantage that they cause less loss of calcium through the kidneys. It is known that a diet too high in animal protein creates a higher risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is an age and hormone related disease. The phytoestrogen in soy can help accelerate calcium re-absorption by your body and reduce the loss of bone density.

Benefit 2: Soy milk contains no lactose

75 percent of the world population cannot tolerate lactose. Some ethnic groups are more affected than others. For example, 75 percent of Africans and 90 percent of Asians have some form of lactose intolerance.

Soy milk contains the prebiotic sugars, stachyose and raffinose. These prebiotic sugars boost immunity and promote a healthy gastrointestinal tract thereby helping decrease toxic substances in the body.

Benefit 3: Fewer people are allergic to soy milk

0.5 percent of children are allergic to soy milk, whereas 2.5 percent are allergic to cow’s milk.

Benefit 4: Soy milk reduces cholesterol 

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration of USA) confirms that soy protein, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The FDA recommends incorporating 25 grams of soy protein in your daily diet.

One of the most important attributes of soy milk is its ability to improve your blood lipid profile.

Soy milk fat is mostly unsaturated (i.e. zero cholesterol. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in soy can inhibit the transport of cholesterol into your blood stream.

Studies have shown that regular intake of soy can significantly lower you blood concentrations of triglyceride and low density lipoproteins (LDL) and raise the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL).

This combined effect makes soy milk an ideal drink if you have high cholesterol or have a family history of coronary heart diseases.

Full cream dairy milk is high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Benefit 5: Soy milk contains no hormones

Cow’s milk contains natural hormones (from the cow) but may also contain commercial farming synthetic hormones, such as the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) to increase milk production by as much as 20 percent.

Benefit 6: Soy milk is rich in isoflavones

The presence of isoflavones is the most important and unique benefit of soy milk. Each cup of soy milk contains about 20 mg isoflavones (mainly genistein and daidzein). Cow’s milk does not contain isoflavones.

Isoflavones have many health benefits including reduction of cholesterol, easing of menopause symptoms, prevention of osteoporosis and reduction of risk for certain cancers (prostate cancer and breast cancer) and for immune compromised patients.

Incidents of these cancers are very low in countries with high intake of soy products, including soy milk. Isoflavones are also antioxidants which protect our cells and DNA against oxidation.

Soy milk is a rich source of phytoestrogen, a unique plant hormone that can inhibit the production of testosterone in men. Reduced testosterone levels can significantly reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. Studies have shown that men who eat a soy-rich diet are less likely to develop prostate hypertrophy or prostate cancer.  Phytoestrogens also lower the risk of developing hormonally driven cancers in women, such as breast and ovarian cancers.

References on request

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