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Soy Milk Basics

Soy milk is made by soaking dried soy beans in water, then grinding, heating and pressing them. The fluid is then strained and packaged as "milk" Among its many benefits, soy milk:

  • Can substitute for cow's milk in many culinary applications, thus avoiding the butterfat, which is unhealthy
  • Does not contain milk protein (casein), which can increase mucus production and irritate the immune system in some people
  • Does not contain milk sugar (lactose), which can cause digestive distress in those that are lactose intolerant.
  • Is a good source of protein - one cup contains four to 10 grams of soy protein.

When choosing soy milk, opt for a brand that is:

  • Fortified with calcium - while soy milk is naturally a good source of calcium, it doesn't have as much as cow's milk
  • Organic - many soy crops are heavily treated with pesticides
  • Free of the thickening agent carrageenan, a seaweed derivative, which I believe may be harmful, especially to the intestinal tract
  • A low-fat version, especially if you are watching your weight.

I recommend one to two one-cup servings daily.

Don't believe the many sensationalist negative claims about soy. Like any healthy food, enjoy it in moderation for optimal health.

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Reader Comments (5)

I don't find the negative claims about soy milk to be "sensationalist." There seem to be just as valid viewpoints about the downsides to soy. I don't know the answer for sure, so I'll use almond milk or some other nut milk instead of soy, just to be safer. However, bear in mind that these are all "processed" foods; use them in moderation, or make your own at home.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStan

Anyone know of a brand of soymilk that is organic, calcium fortified, and carrageenan free? I have yet to find a brand that is both calcium fortified and organic, but does not have carrageenan.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

If you have a super blender like the Vitamix, it's easy to make your own almond milk. Anything type of milk you buy in a package is a heavily-processed food, especially soy milk.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStan

Emily, I used to buy a brand of soy milk in the US that was organic and carageenan-free. It was not calcium-fortified, but you can take a calcium pill for that if you want to. I think it was called Westsoy organic unflavored soy milk and I found it at some (not every) Walmart stores (by the way, at some Walmarts, it was all on its own in the middle of the cleaning products aisle-no kidding!), all Whole Foods Markets that I went to, and many smaller health food stores. Most soy milks in the US seem to have carageenan or other icky ingredients in them, so it took me a while to locate this option.

I stopped drinking soy milk last year because I have hypothyroidism and I read that soybeans are goitrogenic. I also have painful periods and other 'female' hormonal trouble that unfermented soy (the kind that soy milk is made of) is not supposed to be too good for. I know there are pros and cons, and Dr. Weil thinks it's not too bad for female hormones if limited to a cup a day. However, adding the goitrogen aspect into the mix just made it something that I don't want to mess with, since it's an optional food.

The other types of organic alternative milks on the market in the US also have carageenan in them or something else that I don't want to ingest [like "flavor" which I avoid because I avoid MSG and "flavor" (on its own without a designated flavor descriptor, even if it says "natural flavor") is often a disguised term for MSG on ingredient labels]. There was also a news story a few years ago about a bad ingredient in rice milks (it was a bigger deal in the news in Europe than in was in the US - I think the European Union health body did some testing of it) - I now forget what the ingredient or outcome was, but it kept me away from commercial rice milks. You can look it up on the internet if you are interested.

I've got a strong digestive intolerance to dairy milk so I needed something else to replace soy milk, and I ended up buying a home-use soy milk machine that has the capability to make other sorts of milks (not all of these machines make other sorts of milks - some are for soybeans alone, so shop carefully) and I can make oat milk, rice milk, almond milk, etc. with it. I've used it once a week for the past year, and am really pleased with it. The milk it makes is fine, and the whole process takes about half an hour each time. (Some machines on the market are a pain to clean, some are not too bad - keep this in mind if you are thinking about buying one.) Even if I went back to drinking soy milk, I'd make my own with the machine instead of buying it in the store. You can control the ingredients that way - no stabilizers, gelling agents, flavors, preservatives, whatever.

I tried to find out if almond milk is goitrogenic, and even posted a question about this on the Dr. Weil forum a couple of years ago, but never found out for sure. Some sources say that raw almonds are goitrogenic, but it seems that after they are cooked (boiled), they might be okay. The soy milk machine distributor told me that my machine boils the contents as it's making the milk, so I decided to take a chance on the almond milk, which is what I generally make each week. BTW, if you are interested in what other foods have been claimed to be goitrogenic (bad for hypothyroidism), you can look up my post on Dr. Weil's forum from about 2 years ago -- I attached a huge list in that thread that I had compiled after scouring the internet and medical articles. There aren't many good sources on this - most references just list a handful of the foods (out of dozens and dozens of common foods that, surprisingly, apparently have goitrogens in them) and then say that eating these foods in moderation and after cooking them for a substantial time shouldn't be too detrimental to the thyroid. However, cooking millet, cassava, and tapioca does not lessen the goitrogens in them, and not all of the foods on that list are traditionally eaten cooked, so there are exceptions.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranon

when you use almonds to nake your own milk make sure that they are organincs as almonds are one of the foods that are also very much pesticides.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjne

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