The soybean is a versatile, high-protein legume that is used to make a variety of foods, including soy milk. While there are potential health benefits to consuming soy, including the prevention of certain hormone-dependent cancers, critics warn that soy milk does not have the nutrients necessary for growing children. Due to a lack of research, soy milk and other soy-based products are not recommended for children or infants, as of 2014.
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Soy Milk Advantages
Soybeans, which have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, are known for their high-quality amino acid profile, which makes them equivalent to animal foods in terms of protein quality. Soy milk is made from soybeans that are soaked, finely ground and then strained. The final product, which is free of lactose, a common allergen in cow's milk, makes a good milk substitute for vegans, vegetarians and lactose-intolerant individuals.
Used for Centuries Without Problems
Soy and soy milk contain isoflavones -- molecules that behave like a weaker version of the human hormone estrogen. According to Dr. Walter C. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, these weak estrogens can actually reduce the risk of breast cancer, and consumption during childhood may lower the chances of breast cancer later in life. In addition, Willett notes that soy products may also have a protective effect against prostate cancer, although there is no current evidence that this effect extends to childhood. In all, soy products have been consumed throughout life for centuries without any negative effects. Willett advises that children need not avoid soy milk, although it may be best to consume it in moderation -- 1 or 2 glasses per day.
Not Enough Evidence
While MedlinePlus notes that 25 grams of soy protein per day can help lower the risk of heart disease in adults, soy is not recommended for infants or children. This is due to a lack of studies showing that soy products are safe for useful for children. According to an article by Dr. Joseph Mercola posted on the Organic Consumers Association website, soy milk is not suitable for children because it does not contain the proper nutrients required for growth. In addition, Mercola notes that feeding a baby soy milk can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies that can eventually be deadly.
Soy Milk Infant Formula
Soy infant formula currently represents 25 percent of the market for bottle-fed babies. While soy infant formula differs from regular soy milk in that it is heavily fortified with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids, Mercola notes that soy infant formula may pose health threats, including attention-deficit hyperactive disorder; altered behavior and brain damage, due to high levels of manganese; and thyroid disease, due to high levels of isoflavones. In addition, the Israeli Health Ministry, French Food Agency, British Dietetic Associations and other government bodies have advised against feeding babies soy infant formula.