The Pros & Cons of Soy Milk for Children

You can find soy milk lining the shelves of most grocery stores. With a wide range of child-friendly flavors, such as vanilla and chocolate, this creamy dairy milk substitute can be appealing to kids of all ages. Some infant formulas are even made from soy. As with any food item, soy milk has several potential advantages and disadvantages for the children who drink it.

Two children enjoying a glass of soy milk (Image: szefei/iStock/Getty Images)

Pros and Cons: Allergies

Millions of children throughout the United States suffer from some level of allergies related to cow's milk, warns the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The agency says that soy milk can be an ideal substitute as it doesn't contain the lactose protein that can cause kids such trouble. On the flip side, some children are allergic to soy products. Because food allergies can vary widely in terms of severity, consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your child's allergic reactions.

Pros and Cons: Hormones

Research is inconclusive regarding the effect that soy milk and other soy products may have on a developing child's hormone levels, reports Harvard Medical School. Soy milk contains estrogen receptors that may mimic the effects of estrogen, and may affect cancer risks related to breast and prostate cancer. Harvard notes that there's yet to be sufficient evidence to avoid soy milk, and that cow's milk also contains hormones that may potentially be harmful.

Pros: Bowel Movements

Children ages 3 years or younger may benefit from being fed soy milk formulas over cow-milk-based formulas. The National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus reports that soy formulas help such children experience fewer cases of diarrhea and less frequent bowel movements, potentially because of soy milk's fiber content.

Pros: Calcium Supplementation

Washington University advises using fortified soy milk as a way to ensure your child is getting enough calcium. Sufficient dietary calcium intake among toddlers and children helps ensure proper growth, development and strong bones, according to the university. Additionally, the university says fortified soy milk also contains vitamin D, a vitamin that enhances calcium absorption.

Cons: Thyroid Problems

In very rare cases, soy milk given to infants can cause fluctuations in thyroid levels, which can cause goiters, warns the National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus. Goiter is the medical term involving an enlarged neck related to thyroid problems. The institutes report that the problem ceases when soy milk is withheld.

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