Is Soy Milk the Most Nutritious Non-Dairy Milk?

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Soy milk is compared to dairy milk and other plant-based milks.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There is a constellation of new choices in the dairy case these days––from almonds to oats, such that major dairy corporations are going out of business. But a set of recommendations on healthy beverage choices from 12 to 24 months of age cautioned that these plant-based milks are not adequate nutritional substitutes for dairy milk, with the exception of fortified soy milk. The report and the press coverage immediately triggered an outcry from the medical community for many reasons, including the concern around conflicts of interests, as several of these endorsing organizations receive funds from the dairy industry––though one such organization is accused of trying to cover that fact up by removing the National Dairy Council from their list of sponsors immediately after the report was released. But what about the merits of the report?

Well, after weaning, milk of any kind is not required, and really shouldn’t be relied upon as a main source of calories. Children will be fine with water and healthy food. If you are going to give kids milk, there would seem to be a better choice. Although cow’s milk is rich in calcium, it does not appear to clearly reduce fractures—and most plant-based milks on the market have the same amount. More importantly, the consumption of cow’s milk carries risks, including a potential association with type 1 diabetes onset, anemia in toddlers, lactose intolerance, cow’s milk protein allergy, and infantile colic. I’ve got a bunch of videos on those topics. So, the adverse effects from just normal consumption of cow’s milk must be compared against risks from plant-based milks, which are problematic mainly when used inappropriately––meaning like to the exclusion of any other food: diets that were clearly inappropriate, like the case of kwashiorkor in Atlanta, because his diet was basically 99 percent rice milk.

Plant-based milks have the benefit of being low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, and though the protein content is generally lower than in cow’s milk, plant-based milks are said to be richer in terms of fiber. That’s technically true, since cow’s milk has zero fiber, but the fiber contents of plant-based milks are pretty pitiful, certainly compared to the whole foods from which they were derived. I mean, a cup of soybeans themselves would have more than 10 grams, but still soy milk is likely the “least processed” out of all plant-based milks. It’s basically just soak, crush, cook, and strain, and is said to be the only non-dairy milk that contains the same amount of protein as cow’s milk.

That may have once been true, but now there’s pea milk, which is also comparable protein-wise. They all tend to have the same calcium and vitamin D levels and fewer calories, as many as five times fewer calories than cow’s milk, in fact. Soy milk has the additional benefit of reducing breast cancer risk in girls, and normalizing development. Soy milk consumption is also associated with lower prostate cancer risk in men. And, interventional studies suggest improved gut health by boosting the growth of good bacteria. Soy milk has anti-inflammatory effects, lowering C-reactive protein levels, has desirable effects on phosphorus metabolism compared to cow’s milk, significantly reduces free radical DNA damage compared to rice milk or cow’s milk, prevents bone loss in postmenopausal women when put to the test, and can…improve insulin resistance. Soy milk can help with stroke rehab, improving walking speed, exercise endurance, grip strength, and muscle functionality, as well as lowering blood pressure in men and women better than cow’s milk––not to mention lowering your LDL cholesterol as much as 25 percent after just 21 days. It is quite clear that nutritionally, soy milk is the best alternative for replacing cow’s milk in the human diet.

Yes, there are all sorts of benefits of plant-based versus udder-based milks. No casein, cholesterol, lactose, less saturated fat, actually has a bit of fiber; but what about the specter of anti-nutrients? Is there even such a thing as “anti-nutrients”?

Longstanding evidence suggests that consuming a diet rich in plant-based foods plays a significant role in prevention and reduction of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, cataracts, and others. Despite the need to increase plant-food consumption, there have been some concerns raised about whether they are beneficial because of the various so-called “anti-nutrient” compounds they contain. It’s true there are some compounds that, when eaten in high-enough quantities, especially when taken in isolation, can have adverse effects. Whole plant foods also contain thousands of other compounds in the food matrix, many of which counteract the potential effects of the “anti-nutrients.” Plant-based diets are associated with a reduced risk of lifestyle-induced chronic diseases. The thousands of phytochemicals they contain promote antioxidant defense, for example, and reduce inflammation. In some cases, what has been referred to as “anti-nutrients” may, in fact, be therapeutic agents for various conditions. See, for example, my video series on the role of phytates in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

I don’t want to end without emphasizing one of the plant-based pros. No lactose. People don’t understand that the majority of adult humans on Planet Earth are unable to digest cow’s milk. Throughout childhood, the enzyme you have that breaks down the milk sugar lactose begins to decline in most individuals throughout the world, which makes sense, since milk is for babies. Why would we need to digest it after weaning from the breast? And so, most people experience symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, intestinal gas, and watery stool, or even nausea and vomiting. The global prevalence estimate of lactose malabsorption is more than two out of three people, and in the United States, it’s more than one out of three. But 95 percent of Asians, 60 percent to 80 percent of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80 percent to 100 percent of American Indians, and 50 to 80 percent of Hispanics have trouble digesting milk. It’s really mostly those of northern European origin who can handle it throughout adulthood. So, to say everyone should drink milk seems like an example of racial bias in federal nutrition policy. It’s like they’re assuming everyone is of Northern European descent.

Overall, about 75 percent of the world’s population, including 25 percent of those in the United States, lose their lactase enzymes after weaning. To fight the vitamin D disease rickets, they had to choose something in the food supply to fortify with vitamin D. Choosing dairy is ironic, since individuals of African ancestry, because of their darker skin, are at particularly high risk for vitamin D deficiency; yet, most can’t properly digest it. But, there is some good news.

For reasons like these, Canada has recently removed dairy as a separate food group in their national dietary guidance. In 2019, the new Canada’s Dietary Guidelines and food guide were released, having undergone a thorough review and update to emphasize the importance of consuming more plant-based products. Another major change was the removal of dairy as a separate food group with, wait for it…water included as the beverage of choice—what a concept!

The attenuated emphasis on dairy products and the increased focus on plant-based foods in Canada were based on several parameters, including the removal of industry-funded studies from consideration as part of the evidence base.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

There is a constellation of new choices in the dairy case these days––from almonds to oats, such that major dairy corporations are going out of business. But a set of recommendations on healthy beverage choices from 12 to 24 months of age cautioned that these plant-based milks are not adequate nutritional substitutes for dairy milk, with the exception of fortified soy milk. The report and the press coverage immediately triggered an outcry from the medical community for many reasons, including the concern around conflicts of interests, as several of these endorsing organizations receive funds from the dairy industry––though one such organization is accused of trying to cover that fact up by removing the National Dairy Council from their list of sponsors immediately after the report was released. But what about the merits of the report?

Well, after weaning, milk of any kind is not required, and really shouldn’t be relied upon as a main source of calories. Children will be fine with water and healthy food. If you are going to give kids milk, there would seem to be a better choice. Although cow’s milk is rich in calcium, it does not appear to clearly reduce fractures—and most plant-based milks on the market have the same amount. More importantly, the consumption of cow’s milk carries risks, including a potential association with type 1 diabetes onset, anemia in toddlers, lactose intolerance, cow’s milk protein allergy, and infantile colic. I’ve got a bunch of videos on those topics. So, the adverse effects from just normal consumption of cow’s milk must be compared against risks from plant-based milks, which are problematic mainly when used inappropriately––meaning like to the exclusion of any other food: diets that were clearly inappropriate, like the case of kwashiorkor in Atlanta, because his diet was basically 99 percent rice milk.

Plant-based milks have the benefit of being low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, and though the protein content is generally lower than in cow’s milk, plant-based milks are said to be richer in terms of fiber. That’s technically true, since cow’s milk has zero fiber, but the fiber contents of plant-based milks are pretty pitiful, certainly compared to the whole foods from which they were derived. I mean, a cup of soybeans themselves would have more than 10 grams, but still soy milk is likely the “least processed” out of all plant-based milks. It’s basically just soak, crush, cook, and strain, and is said to be the only non-dairy milk that contains the same amount of protein as cow’s milk.

That may have once been true, but now there’s pea milk, which is also comparable protein-wise. They all tend to have the same calcium and vitamin D levels and fewer calories, as many as five times fewer calories than cow’s milk, in fact. Soy milk has the additional benefit of reducing breast cancer risk in girls, and normalizing development. Soy milk consumption is also associated with lower prostate cancer risk in men. And, interventional studies suggest improved gut health by boosting the growth of good bacteria. Soy milk has anti-inflammatory effects, lowering C-reactive protein levels, has desirable effects on phosphorus metabolism compared to cow’s milk, significantly reduces free radical DNA damage compared to rice milk or cow’s milk, prevents bone loss in postmenopausal women when put to the test, and can…improve insulin resistance. Soy milk can help with stroke rehab, improving walking speed, exercise endurance, grip strength, and muscle functionality, as well as lowering blood pressure in men and women better than cow’s milk––not to mention lowering your LDL cholesterol as much as 25 percent after just 21 days. It is quite clear that nutritionally, soy milk is the best alternative for replacing cow’s milk in the human diet.

Yes, there are all sorts of benefits of plant-based versus udder-based milks. No casein, cholesterol, lactose, less saturated fat, actually has a bit of fiber; but what about the specter of anti-nutrients? Is there even such a thing as “anti-nutrients”?

Longstanding evidence suggests that consuming a diet rich in plant-based foods plays a significant role in prevention and reduction of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, cataracts, and others. Despite the need to increase plant-food consumption, there have been some concerns raised about whether they are beneficial because of the various so-called “anti-nutrient” compounds they contain. It’s true there are some compounds that, when eaten in high-enough quantities, especially when taken in isolation, can have adverse effects. Whole plant foods also contain thousands of other compounds in the food matrix, many of which counteract the potential effects of the “anti-nutrients.” Plant-based diets are associated with a reduced risk of lifestyle-induced chronic diseases. The thousands of phytochemicals they contain promote antioxidant defense, for example, and reduce inflammation. In some cases, what has been referred to as “anti-nutrients” may, in fact, be therapeutic agents for various conditions. See, for example, my video series on the role of phytates in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

I don’t want to end without emphasizing one of the plant-based pros. No lactose. People don’t understand that the majority of adult humans on Planet Earth are unable to digest cow’s milk. Throughout childhood, the enzyme you have that breaks down the milk sugar lactose begins to decline in most individuals throughout the world, which makes sense, since milk is for babies. Why would we need to digest it after weaning from the breast? And so, most people experience symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, intestinal gas, and watery stool, or even nausea and vomiting. The global prevalence estimate of lactose malabsorption is more than two out of three people, and in the United States, it’s more than one out of three. But 95 percent of Asians, 60 percent to 80 percent of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80 percent to 100 percent of American Indians, and 50 to 80 percent of Hispanics have trouble digesting milk. It’s really mostly those of northern European origin who can handle it throughout adulthood. So, to say everyone should drink milk seems like an example of racial bias in federal nutrition policy. It’s like they’re assuming everyone is of Northern European descent.

Overall, about 75 percent of the world’s population, including 25 percent of those in the United States, lose their lactase enzymes after weaning. To fight the vitamin D disease rickets, they had to choose something in the food supply to fortify with vitamin D. Choosing dairy is ironic, since individuals of African ancestry, because of their darker skin, are at particularly high risk for vitamin D deficiency; yet, most can’t properly digest it. But, there is some good news.

For reasons like these, Canada has recently removed dairy as a separate food group in their national dietary guidance. In 2019, the new Canada’s Dietary Guidelines and food guide were released, having undergone a thorough review and update to emphasize the importance of consuming more plant-based products. Another major change was the removal of dairy as a separate food group with, wait for it…water included as the beverage of choice—what a concept!

The attenuated emphasis on dairy products and the increased focus on plant-based foods in Canada were based on several parameters, including the removal of industry-funded studies from consideration as part of the evidence base.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

Milk doesn’t seem to prevent fractures? See Is Milk Good for Our Bones?.

Is soy good for everyone? See my videos Who Shouldn’t Eat Soy? and Is Soy Healthy for Breast Cancer Survivors?.

Speaking of “anti-nutrients,” I did a video series on phytates and cancer: 

I’m glad I was finally able to offer better coverage of the lactose problem. Prior to this, I think I only had a few videos, including Could Lactose Explain the Milk and Parkinson’s Disease Link?.

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