The health benefits of soy milk are making a significant contribution to the legume-based beverage’s rapid rise in popularity.
The latest findings from Roy Morgan Research show an estimated 1.1 million Australians consume at least one soy drink every week.
Although soy milk drinks remain popular with vegetarians and folks who can’t tolerate dairy foods, almost one-third of soy guzzlers are also regular consumers of cow’s milk.
So should you ask the barista for a soy latte, a regular latte or alternate between the two?
Pros and cons
The research revealed consumers interested in health and nutrition are more inclined to drink soy beverages.
“People who ‘favour natural medicines and health products’ are more than 50 per cent more likely than the average Aussie to drink soy milk, as are those who ‘look for drinks with added ingredients that are good for my body’,” says Norman Morris from Roy Morgan Research.
But while there are health benefits to be gained from drinking soy milk – including lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and protection against various cancers – the same also goes for cow’s milk, which is a rich source of bone-building calcium and vitamins A and B12.
And evidence shows that much-maligned cow’s milk can actually aid weight loss.
Just to make the choice more confusing, there is also concern that soy products may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells among women who have the disease, and contribute to male infertility.
A personal choice
Thankfully, Associate Professor Tim Crowe from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University says that while women with breast cancer should talk to their doctor before consuming soy, the research examining infertility is inconclusive.
“Soy is a food where there’s research supporting both sides, but when you look at all of the evidence it’s much more in favour of overall health benefits,” he says.
“It’s a case of swings and roundabouts – what health aspect are you concerned about when you’re looking at soy foods? In the end I consider it neutral.
“Even with cow’s milk you can find evidence for and against the health benefits so it really comes down to personal choice.”
Lisa Renn, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, agrees that, in moderation, soy is a healthy choice.
“As long as soy is being eaten alongside plenty of other healthy foods and not in over-the-top amounts, it’s perfectly safe and healthy,” she says.
Ultimately, because eight out of 10 Australians aren’t consuming the recommended 2.5 serves of dairy per day, Renn says consumption of either type of milk is more important than which type of milk you choose.
“It really comes down to personal flavour preference and your tolerance,” she says.
“Anything that’s going to be a sustainable change needs to be something that you’re enjoying, so if you prefer a soy latte, go for it. Is it healthier than cow’s milk? There’s no evidence to suggest that for the people who tolerate it well.”
If you prefer soy, both experts recommend calcium fortified varieties.
Check the nutrition panel or ask the barista for milk with at least 120mg of calcium per 100ml.
“A lot of soy milk is fortified with calcium and that’s what makes it a good substitute for regular cow’s milk,” Associate Professor Crowe says.