General Health Thursday May 12, 2016

Cow's Milk vs. Soy Milk, Which is Better for Health?

Soy milk is often presented to us as a healthy milk alternative, especially for those who have trouble digesting animal milk, but is it better for us than traditional cow's milk? Let's compare the points and find a winner.

Hold on, what is soy milk?

It's made by grinding up soybeans and mixing the powder with water. Soy is 100% vegan and a common alternative for lactose intolerant folk. Other 'milks' include rice, almond, and hazelnut extracts.

Which has the most nutrients?

Low fat cow's milk and soy milk are pretty similar when it comes to nutritional content. They've both got around eight grams of protein and whilst cow's milk is naturally full of calcium, phospherous, and the vitamins A,D and B12, soy milk is fortified with these.

Cow's milk is fattier because it contains cholesterol and saturated fats whereas soy milk has omega 3 fatty acid. BUT we need some cholesterols and saturated fats and the ones found in whole foods like dairy are thought to be better for us that those in junk food, OBViously.

Winner: It's a draw here. You get nutritional value from both, but if you're looking for something nutritionally specific, check the labels.

Which Has The Most Fibre?

No contest. Soy milk contains 10% of your fibre needs, it is a bean after all, but cow's milk has no fibre whatsoever.

Winner: Soy milk

Soy Milk

Calorie Content

Dieters should reach for the soy milk, which contains around 80 calories per cup. In comparison, 1% cow's milk contains 100 calories. When you add these up over the day it can mount up, particularly if you're an avid tea or coffee drinker. Whole fat cow's milk contains 150 calories per cup.

Some studies have differing opinions on the usefulness of soy milk for dieters. The International Journal of Preventative Medicine found that soy helped to reduce fat around the waist, but the journal of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases found cow's milk was best for weight loss.

Winner: Let's stick with the lower calorie option to crown a winner here. Soy ahoy!

Which is best for your heart?

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of disability and one of the biggest killers in the UK. We should all be looking to help our hearts, but which milk lowers the risk of heart disease?

It's both of them. I need a cushion to sit on this fence...

So soy milk may reduce the amount of bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood. Cholesterol coats the artery inners walls with a fatty substance making it harder for blood to flow sufficiently. This can raise your blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, kidney disease and heart attacks.

BUT cow's milk and other milk products like cheese and yoghurt could be associated with lowered heart disease risks as claimed by a recent review.

Winner: Polishing the fence with another draw.

What About Muscles?

Both milks have plenty of protein and amino acids that builds muscle. Of course, they don't just create muscle on their own; you have to put in some resistance training to get strong muscles. Both drinks give you a good grounding in nutrition but a recent study found that cow's milk is better at supporting muscle gains.

Winner: Cow's milk

Cancer Worries

There have been reports that oestrogen in soy products, including milk, causes cancer but there's no evidence to actually support this. Soy contains isoflavones which are plant oestrogens 'phyto-oestrogens'.

Oestrogen affects the body in many ways. It can improve symptoms of menopause, provide contraception and even lead to breast cancer growth, but soy oestrogen isn't real human oestrogen and it's not been medically proved to have any bad effects.

Cow's milk studies have found its high calcium levels can protect against bowel cancer, but other studies show it might lead to an increase in breast and prostate cancers. You can't win!

Winner: Much more evidence is needed before we can definitely say one is better than the other when it comes to cancer. So we'll call this a draw - or even forfeit the question till later.

What About Babies?

Babies are big milk drinkers. In fact, milk is their only food for many months, but if they aren't being breastfed, is cow or soy milk better for them?

The arguments above relating to oestrogens is important when it comes to baby milk. The NHS state because they only take in milk, and because they are much smaller than adults, the high oestrogen levels could cause problems with reproductive development.

Winner: Cow's milk, unless they have an intolerance.

Lactose Intolerance

Dairy intolerance is a fairly common complaint. It happens when lactose, a sugar found in dairy foods such as cow's milk, cannot be digested properly. It causes bloating, wind, bad skin, feeling sick and stomach cramps. Soy milk has no lactose and is recommended as an alternative to cow's milk.

Winner: Soy milk


This is big draw for soy milk products. The dairy market is not kind; Cows produce milk to feed their baby cows, not us, so cows are regularly calved and then the calves are removed so we can harvest the milk. Conditions are not always the best and there are concerns around growth hormones and other treatments given to dairy cows to keep them healthy, which may be passed onto humans.

Winner: Soy milk wins the ethical battle.

Taste test

Most of us have been brought up on cow's milk. It has little flavour particularly when it's cold. Soy milk however is what you'd call an acquired taste.

Sweetened versions are not so good for you because they can have high amounts of sugar in them but original unsweetened versions are well, tangy at best. It is squashed beans and water after all. If you keep drinking it you get used to the taste and might even enjoy it - a bit like sprouts, mushrooms and Dr Pepper. It takes time to appreciate.

Winner: Cow's milk


Some quick maths crowns soy milk as our winner. Its status as a nutritional, low calorie, heart-supporting, cow-friendly allergy-reliever means we should all try soy. Just hold your nose as you drink it.

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