Soy Milk: A Healthy Alternative To Cow’s Milk?

Soy milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk. But how healthy and sustainable is the vegan milk substitute really? We investigate the myths surrounding soy milk.

Soy milk is suitable for cooking and baking and can also be frothed up for the morning latte macchiato.
Soy milk is a high-quality source of protein for vegetarians and is comparatively cheap.
When buying soy milk, pay attention to the origin of the soy.
More and more people are removing cow’s milk from their diet and switching to plant-based milk alternatives. Soy milk is particularly popular, not least because of its low price. What speaks in favor of the plant-based milk made from soybeans: It is well suited for cooking and baking, it also tastes good on its own or in muesli – and it can also be frothed up well for a vegan cappuccino.

But what about the life cycle assessment of soy milk? And is soy milk really healthier than cow’s milk? We also debunk three persistent soy milk myths.

What is soy milk?

Soy milk is a plant-based drink made from soybeans and water. Soy milk has a slightly earthy, nutty flavor. You can use them as a vegan milk substitute for almost any dish that uses cow’s milk in the recipe.

Only the name “milk” is actually not allowed to bear it. The packaging therefore usually says “soy drink”.

Life cycle assessment of soy milk

Reasons for turning to milk alternatives such as soy milk are often animal welfare and climate protection. The reasons that speak against cow’s milk are, conversely, good arguments for plant drinks:

Questionable methods in factory farming.

During digestion, cows release methane, an environmentally harmful greenhouse gas.
Feed production for cows requires a lot of resources. Above all, one problem: cows from conventional husbandry eat feed containing soy – and thus contribute to the clearing of primeval forests.

Life cycle assessment of cow milk and soy milk

A 2009 Swedish study compared the environmental impacts of soy milk and cow’s milk. The result: If it was soy milk from European soybeans, 60 percent less land was required for the plant drink and 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases were produced.

The Albert Schweitzer Foundation also certifies that soy milk has a “significantly better ecological balance” than cow’s milk.

Myth 1: Soy milk is partially responsible for rainforest deforestation

A reproach that vegans who use plant-based milk often hear: Large areas of rainforest are being cleared in South America for the cultivation of soy for soy drinks, soy cream or tofu.

This myth is mostly wrong: Soymilk is only problematic when it is made from Brazilian soybeans. In fact, large areas of rainforest are being cleared in South America for soybean production, which is why habitats for plants and animals are being lost. However, 80 percent of soy from Brazil is used for animal feed production.

Soy milk is therefore hardly affected by the rainforest problem. Most of the soy for our milk drinks does not come from Brazil, but from Europe. So the crucial point is: With soy, it depends on the origin.

Origin of soy milk

We asked the major manufacturers of soy milk about the origin of the soybeans used:

Alnatura: The organic soybeans come 100% from Europe.
Alpro: The soybeans are guaranteed GMO-free and are sourced from contract farmers in Europe (60%) and Canada (40%).
dm: The organic soybeans come from Hungary, Italy, Austria and France.
Natumi: The soybeans from controlled organic cultivation come mainly from Austria.
Provamel: The beans from controlled organic cultivation are all from Europe – mainly from France, Italy and Austria. The beans are 100% ProTerra certified.
Myth 2: Soy milk contains genetic engineering
The same applies here: the origin of the soybeans is crucial.

Almost 80 percent of soybean plants worldwide are genetically modified. In Brazil it is even 96 percent (source: Transgen). When it comes to soy milk made from European beans, consumers should actually be on the safe side.

How healthy is soy milk?

Soy milk (like any other plant milk) contains no lactose and no cholesterol.
Compared to other plant drinks, soy milk has a high protein content (approx. 3.5 g per 100 g). Vegetable protein is easier for the body to digest than animal protein.
Soy milk contains less fat (2 percent) and fewer calories than regular-fat cow’s milk.
Soybeans are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are considered healthy for our cardiovascular system.
Soy milk contains four times as much folic acid as cow’s milk.
Soy drinks contain many important vitamins – but no vitamin B12, which is particularly important for vegans.
Calcium and vitamin B2 are rather less contained, but are often added during production.

Myth 3: Soy milk can promote breast cancer

Soy has come under criticism because of the isoflavones (secondary plant substances) it contains. These substances are similar to the female sex hormone estrogen and can influence the hormonal balance. There are a large number of studies on the health effects – some of the results are extremely contradictory, and there is no reliable evidence.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults consume no more than 800 milliliters of soy milk or 300 grams of tofu.

No soy milk for children

Babies and children should not drink soy milk as a substitute for infant or baby food, advise the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and paediatricians. The effect of the isoflavones it contains has not been sufficiently researched.

Soy also contains phytate, which can affect the absorption of minerals and trace elements. According to the Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE), however, nothing speaks against the occasional consumption of soy products as part of a healthy diet.

Important when buying soy milk

When shopping, pay attention to the fine print: soy milk is an industrial product that often has added sugar, vitamins and flavorings.
Soy milk is currently only available in Tetrapaks – milk, on the other hand, comes in refillable glass bottles. Make sure that the empty milk carton goes back into the recycling loop.
Soy milk is available in numerous variants: unsweetened, sweetened, organic or with vanilla or chocolate flavor.
Two real alternatives: oat milk & almond milk

Oat drinks are also becoming increasingly popular. In any case, the drink makes ecological sense: the oats often, but not always, come from Germany.

Almond milk is also a good and healthy alternative to cow’s milk. Almond milk is available in grocery stores, but you can also make it yourself. In our almond milk guide, we answer how it works and which varieties are really healthy and recommended in the supermarket.

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