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Alternative Thinking: The Pros And Cons Of Soy Milk

As a young girl growing up on a farm, the idea that milk was healthy was firmly implanted into my head. My family drank three glasses a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nothing was sweeter than sitting down to a hearty meal complimented by a cold, creamy glass of milk. Unfortunately, this childhood pleasure did not age well. In a population that has a growing number of lactose intolerance, milk alternatives are making headlines. The controversy surrounding milk has produced an array of alternatives: soymilk, almond milk, goat’s milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and more! Confronted with all of these options, it’s easy to think forget it and stick to our routine ingestion of cow’s milk. This is the easiest way to address the issue, but is it the best? It’s important to be informed about what you’re eating. After all, your body will work for you if you work for it and the better quality you put into it, the better quality you get out of it. It’s a daunting task to find a replacement for deliciously satisfying cow’s milk, but we can start by looking at the good and the bad of the alternative options.

Cow’s milk contains a high concentration of lactose, which is hard on many people’s digestive system, and it can be rather high in fat. Many people who face lactose intolerance also face a sudden challenge in their daily lives. We aren’t always conscious of the amount of dairy we actually consume in one day. We realize the glass of milk accompanying our breakfast is high in lactose, but what about the creamer in our afternoon coffees? That little piece of chocolate you indulge in after school or work, the cheese that tops your healthy-choice salad, and even the bread on your sandwich can contain dairy and lactose. When lactose intolerance became more common in our Western culture, the need for alternatives was imperative.

As options began to invade markets, new reasons came to light to switch to alternative forms of milk.  Our population is increasingly concerned with the treatment of animals as a means to achieve human luxuries. Vegans have to find alternatives to milk, as their strict diet doesn’t allow the consumption of any animal byproducts whatsoever. Another reason to switch to milk alternatives is to reduce your ecological footprint and make less of an impact on the environment. Whether you’re keeping an eye on your figure, exercising your ethical beliefs, or just looking to try something new, the best place to start is exploring the benefits and downfalls of the alternatives.

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One of the most popular alternatives to milk is soymilk, also referred to as soya milk or soybean milk. Soymilk has been popular for centuries in Asian countries and recently has made its way onto the shelves at our local grocery stores. For those of you who haven’t taken the initiative to stop in this aisle and read the information on the side of the soymilk carton, it’s time to take a look at what the product has to offer.

Soy Milk: The Good

Soymilk burst onto the scene when concerns initially began to surface about cow’s milk. It’s made from the liquid that comes from mashed up soybeans mixed with water. If you take a look at the nutritional chart on the side of the container, soymilk boasts a much lower fat content than whole cow’s milk. Silk Soy Milk contains six grams of protein, zero lactose, and still boasts to be a great source of calcium. Soymilk has much lower fat content and less cholesterol than cow’s milk, so switching is definitely a favor to your cardiovascular system. Admittedly, all the health benefits are sounding pretty good right about now. A product that contains less fat and cholesterol but still offers calcium and protein—how can you go wrong?

Well, one obvious issue with soymilk is the taste. The taste of original soybean milk is rather plain, and definitely not identical to that of a cow’s milk. Depending on your preference, soymilk may taste better to you than cow’s milk. The original is rather plain, but there are flavors such as chocolate and vanilla. Worried it just doesn’t have the creaminess to add to your coffee in the mornings? Many reputable brands offer different forms of soymilk as well as flavors. There are often coffee creamer alternatives that make it versatile and easily added to every recipe. The flavors of soymilk are useful in cooking as well. Adding vanilla soymilk in place of (or in addition) to milk in a cooking recipe will enrich your dish with warm flavors.

Soy Milk: The Bad

So everything sounds great so far, and I bet you’re wondering why everyone hasn’t switch to the consumption of soymilk. But like most substances, this milk has some down sides as well. Although it’s high in nutrients and lower in fat than cow’s milk, one ingredient has caused a bit of ruckus in the health department. Soymilk contains natural compounds called isoflavones. These compounds have stirred up some concerns in the scientific community. Basically, isoflavones closely resemble the hormone estrogen. This hormone is present in everyone, although it is often recognized as the female sex hormone. Estrogen is very important to human development with many bodily functions including many sexual characteristics. By introducing a compound so similar to estrogen, we can cause a bit of confusion inside our body. The effects can vary depending on the individual, but the confusion our body endures after ingesting such a similar compound affects its own natural production of estrogen. Isoflavones have actually been proven helpful for women enduring menopause who may be lacking in production of their own estrogen; however, its effects on women of childbearing age are somewhat controversial.

Another con to soymilk is the unfortunate sugar content. Original soymilk generally contains about six grams of sugar in one serving, with even more in the flavored versions. So although it may have benefits for your cardiovascular system, the sugar content can weigh heavily on any weight-loss plan your employing, or simply take a toll on your general health.

The Verdict

As we’ve heard our entire lives, moderation is key. While it can be interesting and exciting to explore new food options, it’s important not to over do it with any food. Both soymilk and cow’s milk have their pros and cons. When looking for a milk alternative it’s essential to consider what your reasons are. If you need to improve your heart health or find you cannot tolerate lactose, soymilk can be a healthy alternative for you.

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