Soy milk, or soya drink, is a dairy-free alternative to cow's and goat's milk and comes in a variety of flavors. However, because it contains phytoestrogens, plant-based chemicals that mimic estrogen, there is some concern about its safety for boys. What does science have to say?
As with anything else in your diet, soya drink should be used in moderation. This is true for both boys and girls. Soya milk for boys isn’t inherently bad when combined with other varieties of milk.
What Is Soy Milk?
According to the Soy Food Products Association of North America, soy milk is lactose-free and provides a good source of essential fatty acids. It contains high-quality protein, B vitamins, iron, fiber and isoflavones.
Many of the soy milk products on the market today are fortified with vitamins A and D along with other nutrients, such as zinc, riboflavin and vitamin B12. It can be used in place of cow's milk in a variety of recipes. You can find low-fat and fat-free versions, just like you can with cow's milk.
According to the USDA, one cup of unsweetened soy milk contains 80 calories, 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber and 1 gram of sugar.
A cup of whole milk (3.25 percent milk fat), by comparison, provides 137 calories, 8 grams of protein, just over 7 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of sugar. Like soya drink, it is fortified with added vitamin D. The downside is that it's higher in calories, fat and sugars and has no fiber.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, soy offers a variety of health benefits. It's a plant-based protein, so it's good for lowering blood pressure. Furthermore, soy-based foods are naturally low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol, making them a healthier alternative to most animal foods.
By swapping animal proteins in your diet for soy-based protein, you can increase your fiber intake to reduce cholesterol, enjoy better digestion and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Drinking soy milk is a good way to get more polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3s in your diet. These healthy fats have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, points out the Cleveland Clinic.
Additionally, the isoflavones in soy milk are being studied for their role in preventing bone loss in postmenopausal women. These phytochemicals may also protect against certain cancers.
Supplementing your diet with soy isoflavones rather than soya drink shows no health benefit. Focus on including whole soy foods in your diet instead.
Dangers of Soy for Kids
For children who can't drink milk due to lactose intolerance, soy seems to be a fairly healthy alternative. But it may not be as healthy as you'd think.
According to a March 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, babies fed soy formula underwent reproductive changes, as compared with cow's milk formula. An interesting thing to note is that these changes were observed in baby girls, but not baby boys.
Since this was an observational study rather than a randomized clinical trial, additional research is needed to further evaluate the effects of soya milk for boys or girls on child development.
In another large-scale study, which was published in Nutrition Research in August 2016_,_ children who consumed significant amounts of soy isoflavones had significantly higher chances of developing Kawasaki disease compared with those nonconsumers. The risk was even higher in children of Asian descent.
The Mayo Clinic says that Kawasaki disease causes inflammation in artery walls throughout the body, generally affecting the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Although it's treatable, its symptoms can be frightening.
According to the American Heart Association, health experts agree that cow's milk starting at age one is the best option for children except in cases where allergies are present. Soy and other non-dairy alternatives are not as nutritious, but fortified options are a good substitute for those with lactose intolerance. But even still, soy-based food needs to be used in moderation, and vegetarian families must be careful when replacing meat with soy-based products.
Furthermore, some children are allergic to the protein in soy. If this is the case, they may outgrow the allergy, but it may persist into adulthood.
If regular cow's or goat's milk is not an option, opt for almond, cashew or coconut milk as an alternative. Just make sure you choose unsweetened natural varieties. Ideally, opt for organic brands as they contain no additives or synthetic flavors.
Read more: Is Silk Soy Milk Good or Bad For You?
Soy Milk for Men
Because of the estrogen-like phytochemicals in soy, many believe it may pose some dangers for young women and men. This assumption isn't based on hard science, though.
In a July 2013 study published in Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, researchers examined the xenoestrogens in commercially-processed and packaged Finnish foods. The products that tested positive all contained soy-based ingredients, accounting for their high estrogenic activity. Soy-based ingredients may render an entire food highly estrogenic, which may have detrimental effects on children and men.
According to a October 2016 meta-analysis of soy research published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, dietary phytoestrogens offer a variety of health benefits, but the data on potential adverse health effects overshadow the benefits. Given the available data, the health benefits are not so obvious that they outweigh the risks. It's not possible to reach a definite conclusion in regards to possible health benefits of dietary phytoestrogens like those found in soy.
Soy is safe in moderation for all individuals except those who are allergic to soy protein. Anyone is free to consume soy as part of a healthy diet as long as they pay attention to the food's overall nutritional quality. Soya milk for boys isn't a bad option for lactose-intolerant children, provided they are only offered a cup or two per day. Soy milk for men is likely safe when consumed in moderation.
- Soyfoods Association of North America: "Soymilk"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Silk Unsweetened Soymilk"
- U.S Department of Agriculture: "Milk, Whole, with Added Vitamin D
- Cleveland Clinic: "Benefits of Soy"
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Longitudinal Study of Estrogen-Responsive Tissues and Hormone Concentrations in Infants Fed Soy Formula"
- Mayo Clinic: "Kawasaki Disease"
- Nutrition Research: "Soy Isoflavone Intake is Associated with Risk of Kawasaki Disease"
- Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A: "Commercial Processed Food May Have Endocrine-Disrupting Potential: Soy-Based Ingredients Making the Difference"
- British Journal of Pharmacology: "The Potential Health Effects of Dietary Phytoestrogens"
- American Heart Association: "What Should Your Baby or Child Be Drinking? Health Groups Now Agree"