There’s never an excuse soy milk
Some lactose-intolerant folks drink it because they want a milk substitute. Some health-conscious people drink it because they think it is the “heart-healthy low fat option.” And some vegans drink it because they don’t want to drink cow milk.
But no matter what reason you have for drinking soy milk, it is not a valid excuse. Soy milk is not a food and has no place in anyone’s diet.
Ironically, almost every ingredient in soymilk is cause for serious concern. Here are the ingredients in Silk Soymilk:
Soymilk (Filtered Water, Whole Soybeans), Cane Sugar, Sea Salt, Carrageenan, Natural Flavor, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12.
What’s so terrible with this ingredient list? There are 10 reasons below!
1. Phytoestrogens in Soy
Soy is extremely high in phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that look like estrogen to the body. Does this mean that soy milk will disrupt your hormones? Perhaps, but studies are highly conflicting and likely biased by the soy industry.
Although studies showing the hormonal effects of consuming soy are controversial, play it safe rather than sorry. Consider the following research:
- One study showed that infants consuming soy formula had concentrations of blood estrogen levels 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than normal estrogen levels. It is reasonable to theorize from this study that soy consumption does indeed wreak havoc on normal estrogen levels.
- Numerous animal studies (here and here) show that soy phytoestrogens can cause breast cancer. Studies (here and here) show that soy consumption increases the proliferation of potentially carcinogenic breast cells.
- This list of studies from 1939 – 2008 shows various adverse effects of soy consumption
- Researcher Kris Gunnars compiled an exhaustive and unbiased summary of soy research here and pointed out, “every study I looked at that showed beneficial effect, the study was either sponsored by the soy industry, or the authors had some kind of financial ties to the soy industry.” He also discusses that studies showing benefits of soy consumption are often observational studies, which are often unreliable.
2. Phytic Acid in Soy
Soy contains high levels of phytic acid, a compound that reduces the absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. As a result, soy milk also contains problematic amounts of this anti-nutrient.
In this thorough article on the phytic acid, author Ramiel Nagel explains:
Phytic acid is the principal storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially the bran portion of grains and other seeds. It contains the mineral phosphorus tightly bound in a snowflake-like molecule.
In humans and animals with one stomach, the phosphorus is not readily bioavailable. In addition to blocking phosphorus availability, the “arms” of the phytic acid molecule readily bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well. In this form, the compound is referred to as phytate.
Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.
3. Unfermented Soy is Not A Traditional Food
The one book that is responsible for completely changing the way I looked at nutrition was Dr. Weson Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Dr. Price was a dentist who, in the 1930’s, traveled the world to discover the secrets of healthy cultures.
From the Inuit in Alaska to the Maori in New Zealand, Dr. Price discovered that when tribes consumed the foods that their ancestors had eaten for centuries, they produced strikingly healthy virtually devoid of chronic disease, infertility and tooth decay.
Most interestingly, the traditional diets – although dependent on geography – followed a strict set of dietary laws. For example, certain animal products like liver and fish eggs were seen as sacred and vital to health. The takeaway rule from Dr. Price’s book is that ancient cultures intrinsically knew what to eat, and how to prepare it, for optimal health.
When it comes to soy, we need to look at how traditional cultures enjoyed this food. Traditional Asian cultures have consumed soy for thousands of years, but they intuitively knew how to minimize the anti-nutrient aspects of this legume. They would ferment soy into soy sauce, tempeh or natto. The fermentation process drastically reduces the phytic acid levels.
While fermented forms of soy are traditional foods, unfermented soy products are not.
If soy milk was a truly nutritious and delicious way to prepare soy, you could bet that great-great-great-great Chinese grandmothers would have raised their children on soy milk.
4. Genetically Modified Soy
As of this year, the US Department of Agriculture reports that 90% of soy grown in the US is genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp.
These “RoundUp Ready” crops pose a serious threat to both human health and the health of the environment.
- RoundUp Ready crops allow farmers to use even larger amounts of this toxic herbicide.
- Concerning levels of glyphosphate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, is found on RoundUp Ready crops. Glyphosphate is linked to a number of serious health problems (source).
- We lack any research showing that consumption of GMO foods is safe to eat in the long-term
Whenever you purchase a non-organic soy product, you support the industry of genetically modified soy.
The term seaweed-emulsified legume juice would be a more accurate label than soy milk. Carrageenan is a highly-processed seaweed that is added to most non-dairy milks and some other food products to create a creamy texture.
There are two types of processed carrageenan. One type is used to induce colitis in lab rats. The other type is supposedly safe for human consumption. However, food-safe carrageenan has been found to cause inflammation and stomach problems (read more in my article about carrageenan here).
Many people find that consuming carrageenan causes digestive distress and pain. The reason that I first learned about the problems with carrageenan was because I discovered that consuming anything with this additive gave me intense heartburn.
6. Calcium Carbonate
When it comes to processed foods, the sum of the parts does not equal the whole. Just because a soy milk claims to have as much calcium as regular milk does not mean the body absorbs and utilizes the calcium from both items the same way.
Case in point: calcium supplementation raises the risk of heart disease (source). Why?
The body requires vitamin co-factors to use calcium properly. Vitamin K2 is the most important because it shuttles calcium into the bone. Without adequate K2, the body cannot use calcium and the calcium can create plaque in the arteries, raising the risk of heart disease (source).
Whole milk from grass-grazing cows provides the saturated fats and vitamin K2 needed to absorb the calcium. In the same way, calcium-rich leafy greens smothered in grassfed butter offers the co-factors needed to absorb calcium.
Because soy milk completely lacks the vitamin cofactors required to use calcium, the added calcium carbonate is likely comparable to calcium supplements – it is more harmful than beneficial
7. Vitamin D2
The vitamin D that nature intended for us is D3. Vitamin D3 is the bio-avaiable form of the vitamin found in food sources such as grassfed dairy and cod liver oil. When we are exposed to sunlight, our bodies also produce the form of D3.
Vitamin D2 is a synthetic and isolated form of the vitamin and, as a result, is extremely poorly absorbed (here’s the study). It offers no viable benefit to the body and may actually be harmful (source).
Further, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. Mother Nature paired foods rich in vitamin D with the healthy fats which are required for the absorption of this nutrient. For example, yolks from pasture-raised hens are a good source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2. The beneficial saturated fats found in the egg yolks allow the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins.
8. Synthetic Vitamin A
The vitamin A added to soy milk (and other non-dairy milks) is synthetic and, as a result, lacks the vitamin co-factors. Remember, your vitamin is only helpful if accompanied by its co-factors.
While naturally-occuring (non-isolated, food-source) vitamin A only creates toxicity in uber-extreme doses, moderate overdoses of synthetic vitamin A can cause toxicity (read more about synthetic vs. natural vitamin A). This is because the body cannot assimilate the synthetic version of the vitamin, likely due to the lack of vitamin co-factors.
The body requires saturated fat and minerals to absorb vitamin A. This is why vitamin A is naturally found in sources rich in those co-factors, such as liver and egg yolks.
9. “Natural Flavors”
A company that lists “natural flavors” on their ingredient list is trying to hide something – and it could be anal secretions from a beaver. Let me explain…
“Natural flavors” can even mean various additives, even forms of MSG and artificial sweeteners. Castoreum is a secretion from the anal gland of the beaver that is often listed under “natural flavors” (with the FDA’s approval). It’s commonly used to replicate vanilla flavor (source).
If someone has chosen to drink soy milk because it is not an animal product, they may still be inadvertently consuming by-products of animals. I never purchase a product that has “natural flavors” on the ingredient list, and I recommend that you don’t, either.
10. It’s simply not Real Food!
Healthy eating can be simplified into four words: just eat real food. But this is easier said than done when we are surrounded by slippery marketing claims about “all natural” health foods.
Here are five questions that I suggest you ask yourself to determine if an item is real food:
- Is it a product or is it a food?
- Is it made with ingredients that humans have used for thousands of years?
- Is this something that your great-grandmother would recognize as food?
- Can you make it in your kitchen with grocery store ingredients?
- Is it advertised on TV?
When we ask these questions about commercial soymilk, the answers are:
- Soymilk is a product, not a food.
- Synthetic vitamins and unfermented soy beans were never used by traditional cultures thousands of years ago.
- Nope! Great grandma would been utterly repulsed by the idea of drinking soybean juice emulsified with seaweed.
- Nuh-uh. Where can you get your hands on “natural flavors” and synthetic vitamins?
- Yes! Soymilk is heavily advertised.
The only conclusion to make about soymilk is that it is not a real food.
What are healthy alternatives?
Try real milk! While I don’t recommend the highly processed milk from massive farming operations, unprocessed milk is a time-honored food rich in vitamins, protein and healthy fats. Try to source milk from grass-grazing cows, which is vastly higher in nutrients (and it’s beneficial for the planet when cows graze in pasture).
The best option is non-homogenized and non-pasteurized milk, which is highly digestible and rich in enzymes. Read about the safety of raw milk in my article here.
If you prefer a non-dairy option for milk, making your own nut and seed milks is easy and affordable. Homemade coconut milk – recipe here – is the best option due to the healthful fats and lack of phytic acid in coconut.
If you wish to use other nuts or seeds, I recommend a specific soaking process to help reduce the naturally-occuring phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Try this recipe from Wellness Mama for soaked almond milk.
Do you love real food? Please help me spread the message that soy milk is not a real food!