Is soy milk a healthy choice?

Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine
There’s been conflicting news on whether soy has added health benefits or not. Some have suggested that soy can have estrogen-like properties, which brings its own risks and benefits. It’s still not entirely clear if soy has any impact on breast tissue and cancer. For heart disease, while soy does seem to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and may help your blood pressure, it doesn’t improve other measurements. Overall, it appears that taking extra soy for health benefits probably is not necessary.
However, if you’re searching for a good protein source, soy IS a better option than high-saturated-fat options, like red meat, as soy has low saturated fat, good amounts of unsaturated fat, and many products have good amounts of fiber.
So the bottom line? Don’t go out of your way to add soy to your diet, but you also don’t need to avoid it. When it comes to choosing soy vs. other animal products for protein, a little soy can be great for your health. Just choose wisely.  When buying soy milk, try to find fresh soy milk that contains less preservatives and is low in hidden sugars (the terms “brown rice syrup” or “evaporated cane juice” can tip you off to added sugars).
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
This is a tricky one. You have to choose the right kind of soy milk to reap soy’s true benefits. Soy milk is the liquid residue of cooked soybeans. However, many types of soy milk on the market are processed and not made with real soy beans. Fresh soy milk is best, and available at certain health food stores. If this isn’t easily found, you want to choose whole-bean soy milk to avoid one made from soy protein or soy isolate.

Also, be wary of a far-off expiration date. While it may seem like a good deal, the further out the expiration date, the more likely the soy milk will contain additives to extend its shelf life. You will also want to check the label for hidden or added sugars. Look for brown rice syrup or evaporated cane juice, especially if they are one of the first ingredients listed. One cup of this kind of soy milk can easily wind up being 100 calories more than a cup of skim milk.
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Parents have often asked me about substituting soy milk for milk in their lactose intolerant children. My concern with this is the amount of sugar often added to the soy milk, for example, vanilla, or chocolate varieties. I recommend that my patients purchase plain soy milk and blend it in a smoothie with fresh fruit, agave syrup, or peanut butter. Small children are still getting cavities despite fluoridation and better oral hygiene. We have to look closely at labels to check for added sugars. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.