Every single person I've spoken to has a very different (and strong) opinion on soy milk. Some say it’s good for you others that it’s really bad and that you should be very careful, finally others do not care and just drink it because they like it (I kinda like those kind of persons).
Personally, I discovered soy milk not a long time ago. Through my roomie Svet. She's obsessed with vanilla soy lattes. Whenever she goes out she comes back home holding a "tall one". So it was only a matter of time before she got me hooked on it.
Next thing I know, I find myself buying a big carton of vanilla soy milk at Whole Foods. I literally love the taste. It's so good.
Being made from a bean, soy milk is said to be high in protein and fiber, but the biggest benefit is said to reside in the "isoflavones".
What are they?
Isonflavones are similar to the hormone estrogen produced by the human body and are supposed to be beneficial in preventing some types of cancer and osteoporosis1.Soy milk is also high in vitamins B1, B2, B6 and E (also, most of the brands you can find on the supermarket's shelves are calcium enhanced).
Everything looks perfect right? However, if you do further research, you'll discover that there is a ton of literature against it, that, in particular, advocates upon the dangers of soy.
Dangers? Really? I thought soy was supposed to be good for my body.
Opponents of soy milk claim that it contains "phytoestrogens" or chemicals found in plants. This chemical is believed to be the catalyst for the dangers of soy milk because they can affect the body in the same way that the female hormone estrogen does. This is said to negatively affect men who regularly consume soy causing problems with their thyroid and possibly even fertilityThis is where it get confusing: we were just talking about isoflavones and their health benefits and now we’re discussing phytoestrogens are their danger? Where’s the truth?
There are further researches claiming that consuming soy milk may increase the risk for endometrial cancers. This happens, in particular, when women consume high levels of phytoestrogens1
Phytoestrogens or isoflavones?
Isoflavones are a class of phytoestrogens, plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity. Soybeans and soy products are the richest sources of isoflavones in the human diet.
As mentioned before, isoflavones are thought to aid in reducing cholesterol preventing some type of cancers and aid with osteoporosis.
However, the results of randomized controlled trials suggest that substituting 50 g/day of soy protein for animal protein results in only a modest 3% reduction of LDL cholesterol. Isolated soy isoflavone supplements do not appear to have favorable effects on serum lipid profiles2.The results of numerous observational studies do not support the idea that high soy isoflavone intakes in adults are protective against breast cancer. Limited research suggests that higher intakes of soy foods early in life may decrease the risk of breast cancer in adulthood3.
Consumption of soy isoflavones may inhibit bone resorption and stimulate bone formation but the not at the rate originally thought4.
Furthermore, although scientists have been interested in the potential for soy isoflavones to prevent or inhibit the progression of prostate cancer, evidence from observational studies that soy isoflavones are protective against prostate cancer is limited and inconsistent5.
It goes without saying that people who suffer from soy allergy, should avoid soy milk (and any other soy related product) at all times.
As a matter of fact, as of today although diets rich in soy or soy-containing products appear safe and potentially beneficial, the long-term safety of high doses of soy isoflavone supplements is not yet known6.
After all this research I think I will still enjoy (vanilla) soy milk from time to time. I just like the taste so much I can’t renounce to it completely.
Also, there has been also speculation that many of the negative reports or studies on soy milk were funded by dairy associations.
Still, I would soy milk a staple of my eating regimen. In addition, soybeans are fed to cows, pigs, chicken and, moreover, soy oil is used in many popular processed foods. It's thus very likely we're already consuming heaps of soy without even knowing it!