Replacing cow's milk with soy

Originally Published: November 16, 2007
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Dear Alice,

Recently my family has completely replaced regular 2% milk with soymilk. Is this bad? Am I not getting the calcium and things I need from regular milk? Also, does replacing milk help with weight loss? I'm afraid I am not getting the nutrition I need!

— almost vegan

Dear almost vegan,

Moooooove over cow's milk, here comes soy!

Many people drink cow milk as a healthy source of calcium and protein. Fortified soy milk (i.e. soy milk that has calcium and vitamins A and D added) provides almost the same dietary value as cow milk. Soy milk may also provide additional nutrients including vitamins B1 and B3, fiber, and minerals important for calcium absorption. Although research suggests that the calcium in soy milk may not be as readily absorbed into the body as calcium from cow milk, it is often added to soy milk in sufficient quantities to make its nutritional value comparable. Also, soy milk is lactose-free, making it an attractive option for people who are lactose intolerant. (On the flip-side, some people have trouble digesting soy and could experience gastrointestinal discomfort after consuming soy milk, or other soy products. In this case, there are other non-dairy milk options – read on.)

Not all soy milk is fortified and not all brands use the same fortification formulas, so it's important to look at the nutrition information on the brand you buy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 1000-1300mg of calcium a day (depending on your age and gender) and 46g a day of protein for women, 56g for men. Both 2% milk and regular soy milk are high in fat. If you're concerned about calories, you might look for non-fat versions of either beverage. You could also sample rice, almond, oat or other types of "milk" that are on the grocery shelf near the soy milk. These non-dairy delights have different flavors and textures that you may prefer over soy or dairy milk; many even come in chocolate!

The best way to assure you are getting the nutrients you need is to read the nutrition labels on any product you buy. Here's a sample of the nutritional content of regular skim milk compared with nonfat fortified soy milk (the nutritional value may vary somewhat by brand):

Skim Milk

 

Non-fat Vanilla Soymilk (fortified)

Serving size 1 cup (250g)

 

Serving size 1 cup (240g)

Calories     

90

 

Calories     

80

Fat

0g

 

Fat

0g

Sodium

135mg

 

Sodium

105mg

Carbohydrates

13g

 

Carbohydrates

12g

Sugars

13g

 

Sugars

10g

Protein

9g

 

Protein

6g

 

 

 

Fiber

1g

Vitamin A

10% of RDA*

 

Vitamin A

10% of RDA*

Calcium

30% of RDA*

 

Calcium

25% of RDA*

*Based on a 2000 Calorie diet

Whether you are avoiding dairy for health reasons or due to personal beliefs, you can still achieve a healthy diet with non-dairy milk (although soy milk should never be substituted for breast milk or infant formula). One additional detail: it's important to shake your soy, rice, almond or other non-dairy milk before you pour it because the nutritional goodies tend to settle to the bottom. When you mix 'em back in, you'll be that much closer to having mighty muscles and unbreakable bones.

Go ahead and enjoy a nice tall glass of milk — soy, cow or otherwise — in the morning, before bed, or whenever you like.  

Alice