Is Soy Milk safe for my daughter?
November 14, 2012 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Is it safe for my little girl to drink soy milk?


My husband wants my 8 year old to get off dairy. We are trying to eat healthier, raw, whole foods, so it is only natural to look at our dairy intake. He thinks soy milk is the way to go. That it would be better for her. I thought that little girls should not drink soy because it messes up their feminine hormones, or causes female reproductive cancers. Who is right?
posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are definitely concerns about soy milk in general and particularly for kids. I don't know how much validity they have - like most food issues, it's the subject of some debate. I would ask yourself why she needs a milk-like beverage at all - you may find that it's just not all that necessary.

If you do want a replacement, I'd go for coconut milk, personally - there are some big-brand milk-carton kinds that do perfectly well. (I don't drink it straight, though - see above, re: why drink milk?)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many plants, soy among them, contain plant hormones similar to estrogen -- the degree to which that is good or bad then depends on who you ask and what other options are acceptable (and, I suppose, on how clean your milk is -- e.g., grass-fed and antibiotic-free?), as well as on how much she drinks.

Almond milk is another acceptable option, that gives some calcium and other nutrients. Or just increase intake of cheese or yogurt or other calcium- and fat-rich products that have been "digested" by organisms along the way. Growing bodies need lots of nutrients, but cow's milk itself isn't so critical.
posted by acm at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2012

Does she need milk at all? Why not consider other alternatives if you don't want dairy and you are concerned about soy?
posted by yogalemon at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2012

We are trying to eat healthier, raw, whole foods, so it is only natural to look at our dairy intake.

I think your premise is flawed. There is nothing wrong with cow's milk for people who have not trouble digesting it. But, yes, you're correct that you should probably not have your daughter drink too much soy milk.
posted by OmieWise at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2012 [17 favorites]

I'm Chinese and my sisters and I grew up drinking soy milk, first in Hong Kong and then in the US. We also drank cow milk, but now I'm lactose intolerant. Go figure.

I think fresh Chinese soy milk might be processed in rather different ways here than what you get in the boxes. I had actually never heard about soy milk being linked to cancers before I read this thread, in fact, so I don't know if there are higher incidences of cancer in Asia because of this. But, I'm just going to say that there are literally millions of young girls in Asia growing up with soy milk.
posted by so much modern time at 12:12 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I do not know what other changes you are planning to make to your daughter's diet, but there is nothing wrong with cow's milk unless she has a lactose intolerance. And, if such things are important to you and your husband, soy milk is not raw or a "whole food".

Please talk with your daughter's pediatrician about making wholesale changes to her diet. A child's growth depends in no small part on her dietary intake and any substantial changes to it should be based on consultant with the medical professional who knows her.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:15 PM on November 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

Everything in moderation. It won't hurt her to have soy milk over her cereal in the mornings. I wouldn't let her drink it all day. It also won't hurt her to continue to drink cow's milk. It will hurt her if your husband's dietary restrictions are too strict. She could end up malnourished. She could also end up with an eating disorder in an effort to take back control of her food intake. I would be more concerned with what he is removing from her diet than what he is adding in.
posted by myselfasme at 12:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

How are you planning to replace the calcium in cow's milk?
posted by leahwrenn at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about soy milk in moderation. Mix it up with rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk, etc, if a milk like product is required for whatever reason. There's no convincing evidence that the hormones in soy milk are any more or less harmful than the estrogens in cow's milk. Unless your child is lactose intolerant, I don't really see why you should reduce or remove access to cattle dairy.

The real issue is whether your child is getting enough calcium. Only about 75% of the calcium in soy milk is absorbed by the digestive system because of the presence of phytates. To supplement calcium you would need to have yogurts and cheeses, which are products I don't really see in lists of "whole, raw foods."

I think it's great that you want to eat healthier, but you should check with a nutritionist to make sure your child is getting access to everything she needs to grow. Adult vegans, raw foodists, vegetarians, etc. can make decisions about the pros and cons of their dietary choices, but kids are dependent on parents to make the right choices for them. These choices should be made with the help of a qualified professional if you are in any way unsure.
posted by xyzzy at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Chinese people drink soy milk, but it's different than the American one (in terms of taste and how it's made). You may consider going to an Asian grocery place and getting a half gallon jug that looks like plastic milk jug.

I personally prefer almond and rice milk. (Almond being slightly thinner, rice being slightly richer and fatter.) They taste much more like milk to me, and actually taste good with hot chocolate. (Soy milk hot chocolate is gross.) You can also make almond milk at home, but it's usually not more affordable to do so than to just buy store bought ones. The advantage is that it's fresh and you know exactly what went into it.

Avoid coconut milk. It's healthy, but gross.

Hemp milk is also a viable alternative.

Mix it up. See what sticks.
posted by ethidda at 12:26 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your husband seems not to understand that children have different dietary needs from adults. An eight-year-old needs WAY more fat in her diet than an adult.

Seconding "meet with a nutritionist" because these choices need to be made from a place of information.

And as others have said, soy milk isn't a "whole" food or a raw food any more than cow milk is.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:27 PM on November 14, 2012 [14 favorites]

I've recently been trying to minimize the dairy in my diet and I have been experimenting with non-dairy milks. If your concern is whole foods, you will want to stay with the brands that do not add extra ingredients like carrageenan and guar gum - that means the texture will not be as smooth. So stay away from the stuff that is in the dairy case and stick to the shelves. But I have found that almond milk and coconut milk are both tasty and work for coffee. My barrista recommends hemp milk and I plan to try to find a carton of that next.

It is also very easy to make almond milk and home-made almond milk is like liquid ambrosia. Seriously it is pretty much the best beverage ever. I priced out the cost of making it at home versus buying it in the carton and when I buy the almonds at Costco the cost is comparable. But it's kind of a pain in the ass to clean the blender so I stopped.

That said, I also have kids and I would not have them consume soy every day. Every now and then is OK but not all the time. I am not comfortable with the estrogens either.

Kids don't need milk. You can make sure she is getting calcium by buying fortified orange juice and delicious, delicious yogurt.
posted by bq at 12:31 PM on November 14, 2012

I agree with those who say that there's no need to cut out cow's milk unless there's a known allergy. However, I think allergies can build up over time - that seems to be what happened to me with cow's milk.

A happy medium (cut down the rGBH and antibiotics, save the calcium) might be to substitute goat's milk or sheep's milk SOMETIMES. The Whole Foods near me carries a lot of goat's milk products (milk itself, kefir, yogurt, butter) as well as some sheep's milk yogurt. Your young'un might be a bit put off by the taste but it is worth a try.

I take soy milk in very small amounts if I'm someplace like Starbucks. Other than that I leave it alone because of all of the reports of endocrine disruption. Too bad, because I like it.

Other nut milks are yummy and I haven't heard anything about adverse health effects.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:32 PM on November 14, 2012

As for getting enough calcium: Eat lots of dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc.). If you really feel you MUST have a milk-type substance as a calcium source, almond milk is the best for it. See also: LiveStrong site.

There's also LOTS of evidence coming out that milk is not only unnecessary, but probably bad for you (including children). A lot of it started as vegan propaganda, but I'm a complete ominvore, and they make sense to me.
posted by ethidda at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

To answer your question, I'd say it's about as safe as all of the other contentious food products out there, but it's not necessarily a great choice.

Depending on the brand, lots of the soy milks on the market are really really really processed, and many have a lot of added sugars and things. That's not what you're going for. Since she's 8, I'll just bet she drinks because things taste good, and kids get thirsty, and heck, I work with them and water is always their last choice. They'll have water bottles in their lunch and tell me "My mom forgot to pack a drink." At the Breakfast Club at school, some kids choose soy because their adults don't want them to drink milk. Some choose milk because soy is "bad." It's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Though there are non-GMO, unsweetened brands of soy milk, I can't make myself really genuinely like them and don't know how a kid who's used to milk would take to them. We live right near a few Asian supermarkets and I never know what's the best to buy there either, but I haven't had luck. Coconut milk was a bust.

Almond milk was a much easier switch for me (baby steps!), and I find it easier to buy healthier packaged almond milks than soy milks - the most common one was better than most of the soy brands on the shelf right next to it (I'm a label reader.). Though in time, I hope to be able to accomplish this recipe with some regularity - it sounds pretty great. But almond milk, you can make it yourself pretty easily. Just as it's harder to find unadulterated yogurt in regular stores these days, but you can do it - the good stuff is out there, but it's at a premium and takes an investment in time and energy to shop for it.

Kids are all about convenience and I'm sure whatever you choose, what matters most is that it's easy for her to grab and learn to make her own good choice. I don't really count on my kid getting nutrients from beverages - they're just to keep her hydrated, and mostly she gets water. I say provide the best you can while encouraging more water drinking -- but up the calcium and good stuff from whole foods for meals and snacks.
posted by peagood at 12:45 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kids don't need milk. You can make sure she is getting calcium by buying fortified orange juice and delicious, delicious yogurt.

Most yogurt tends to be made from milk.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:54 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree that the soy milks that would even remotely appeal to a kid are so processed and full of stuff, they can't possibly be better than cow milk unless there's an allergy or something. Disclosure, though, my kid drinks some of both, but drinks more water than the milks combined. I've been trying to switch her to almond milk, which her dad and I both drink, but it's thinner and she doesn't like it on her cereal. Good luck. As my husband and I have tried to make better food choices, it mostly goes over just fine with our daughter, but the milk issue has been a joke, she's *really* opinionated about what goes on her cereal.
posted by upatree at 12:57 PM on November 14, 2012

re calcium: Silk brand soy milk is fortified with calcium and basically has the same per serving as cow's milk. I'm absolutely not qualified to speak to the dietary needs of a child or the safety of soy milk for kids or whole foods or raw foods diets or whatever, but it's got calcium. I know lots of people with soy intolerances that rival or exceed lactose intolerances, so there's that, too.

Many tofu products are calcium fortified as well. But getting to raw foods, there's lots of calcium in kale, broccoli, turnip greens and, less raw, canned fish with bones, like sardines and some salmon.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2012

To show my own biases, my personal concerns run to minimizing sugar and simple starches, and eliminating processed foods. I have zero concern about levels of fat intake, especially for children, so long as those fats are whole ones like butter, olive oil, nuts, etc, and not built in a lab from rapeseed. I think dairy is a super-wholesome food if you have the genes to digest it properly. I am skeptical of the purported benefits of raw food in most cases.

I think that whole cows milk is a very wholesome and nutritious food for children. I don't really feel that children need to drink "beverages", and I don't think of milk as a thirst-quencher. It is a little mystifying to me when people take their kids off dairy (which is fine by me, if you have trouble digesting dairy, or are vegan or just don't like it or whatever) but then conclude that the kid needs a milk replacement beverage. I find this especially mystifying when people take their kids off unsweetened, whole cows milk and put them on sweetened soy or almond milk. That's basically just a milkshake!

I agree that soy milk is potentially troubling, especially if used by the child as a beverage - drunk multiple times a day in significant quantities. If I really, really wanted my kid to have the option of a caloric, milk-replacing drink, I would look at unsweetened almond or coconut milk. (If all you're using the milk/"milk" for is a little bit on cereal, I think this is less important.)

But really, there's no particular need for a school-aged kid to drink milk. Milk is not magic. It's a fast, easy, generally kid-approved way to get whole fats, calcium and calories into a kid. If the rest of your diet already provides these things, no worries!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

I agree with most of the other posters -- I'm not convinced soy milk is a good substitute. Some people are intolerant of soy, just like a lot of other foods.

What impresses me is that you are even able to change your daughter's diet. The (formerly) 8 year old in my life would have had a fit if we had drastically changed her food options by taking milk away.

I suggest you emphasize the We're adding options! to her life and de-emphasize-phase-in-very-slowly any substitutions or outright deletions.

I was picky as a child and would've thrown a big stink if you started messing with the foods I like.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:10 PM on November 14, 2012

It's not fun to have cereal, icecream and pudding without a milk of some sort being involved.

There's a big anti-soy/pro-dairy lobby throwing scare stories around. Some people are intolerant or allergic to soy, and some soy drinks are full of sugar and added fat (even salt) but the stuff about hormone mimicry is hype.

That said, there are good alternative alternatives, including some new types of milk-like coconut milk (rather than the thick stuff in cans) such as Kara, oat milk (oat cream is very good) It's also worth trying a lot of different brands of soymilk to see which are best - they can vary in taste a great deal.
posted by BinaryApe at 1:16 PM on November 14, 2012

lynnie-the-pooh: We are trying to eat healthier, raw, whole foods, so it is only natural to look at our dairy intake.
Dairy milk is healthy, raw, and can be purchased as a whole food. You're buying into some PR that doesn't match your stated intent.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:34 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

Dairy milk is healthy, raw, and can be purchased as a whole food.

If by this you mean unpasteurized milk, that's a terrible idea as a substitute for a child!

According to the CDC, "unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products."

Because raw, unpasteurized milk can carry salmonella, e. coli or listeria bacteria, "the bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems, older adults, pregnant women, and children. In fact, the CDC analysis found that foodborne illness from raw milk especially affected children and teenagers."

OP, if you want to change your daughter's diet, please do make sure you run it by your pediatrician first. We don't consume whole milk, but because of hormonal issues we don't choose soy milk, either (I get my calcium mostly from cheese and greek yogurt, and use skim milk in my cereal).

Anecdotally, my oldest son is thinner and healthier than the rest of us, and he drinks, and enjoys, whole milk with almost every meal. He was underweight as a baby, with scary "failure to thrive" issues (like not nursing), so once he went over to whole milk as a toddler and did so well, we decided to let it be. To this day, he really doesn't drink sodas or high-sugar fruit juices or the like, preferring whole milk.

So, why it might not be the healthiest choice for all, milk can certainly work in a diet that is already healthy, especially if your child enjoys the taste.
posted by misha at 2:13 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I only want to suggest that if you do it, give her the plain version rather than a flavored version that has more sugar.
posted by Dansaman at 2:29 PM on November 14, 2012

Kids don't need milk. You can make sure she is getting calcium by buying fortified orange juice and delicious, delicious yogurt.

Most yogurt tends to be made from milk.

True, but it usually contains less lactose than milk and is definitely a food rather than a beverage.
posted by bq at 3:29 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to raw milk? Higher fat content (very important for neurological development) and, since it's not pasteurized, the calcium can be better absorbed.

And you're absolutely right, soy would not be a healthy option for your little girl.

Please read this article concerning soy, with references:
posted by Neekee at 4:24 PM on November 14, 2012

Neekee: "Do you have access to raw milk? Higher fat content (very important for neurological development) and, since it's not pasteurized, the calcium can be better absorbed. "

The FDA calls this a myth based on this study (at least in pre-term infants).
posted by mkb at 6:57 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, as I hope you're getting from this thread, this is an area where people often repeat what they've heard uncritically, and some of what's repeated is speculation/myth. Even pediatricians can hold some outdated beliefs and not necessarily be up on the latest research on nutrition. I really encourage you and your husband to talk to a registered dietitian (that's who you want as opposed to a "nutritionist," a term with little/no regulation).

Healthy fats are really important for kids, but they don't need to come from dairy (great choices include avocado, walnuts, fish if you eat fish, and DHA supplements if you don't eat fish).

My kid drinks every kind of milk and we try to avoid both large amounts of sweetened non-dairy milk (because of the sugars) and large amounts of dairy (because of an increasing amount of research suggesting that at least U.S.-diet levels of dairy aren't great for the body long-term -- this according to my partner who's a scientist and only trusts what he reads in the primary literature).
posted by kalapierson at 12:58 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of confusion and misinformation about the dangers of soy on the internet.

Much of it has been sown by the Weston A Price Foundation, a fringe group (some say of cranks) who are in favour of drinking unpasteurized milk and believe people with high cholesterol live longest, which sort of indicates where their views stand in relation to the views of mainstream medical science. It was a shill for the Weston A Price Foundation who wrote the blog post of "170 scientific reasons" linked above. Detailed rebbutal here.

For a balanced and impartial view of the evidence on soy, check out the UK government's report which examines the possible risks and benefits in detail.
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:29 AM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I don't understand why people are concerned about the hormones in soy milk but not those in dairy milk. Also, dot forget that meat (of all kinds) also contains hormones. Additionally, higher consumption of saturated fats (those in meat and dairy) are linked to heart attacks.

Here's an article from the Harvard School of Public Health that discusses issues of calcium, protein, and other vitamin consumption with regards to dairy milk.
posted by reddot at 6:12 AM on November 23, 2012

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