Few nutritional conflicts are as heated as the soy debate, so we’re here to set the record straight. Plus, here are 5 other milk alternatives for if you’re avoiding soy.
The reason for these conflicting views is primarily down to the compounds known as isoflavones which are found in soy products. These are thought to be disruptive to the endocrine system when taken in high doses, with some studies in animals finding that soy’s isoflavones produce an inflammatory response, though this hasn’t been studied adequately in humans.
It’s a widely-held belief that excessive levels of isoflavones can lead to unbalanced hormones and, consequently, cancer – though it’s worth noting that this has not been substantiated by research, with some researchers even posing a conflicting theory that it may reduce the risk of cancer. This, again, remains a topic of debate.
While we don’t have the straight facts for either of these claims, here’s what we do know. Soy foods are brimming with protein, vitamin Bs, magnesium, potassium and even calcium – though the latter will vary greatly depending on the product and how it was produced. For instance, calcium-set tofu and tempeh will be far higher in calcium, with some brands packing in 350 mg per serve – around the same as a glass of dairy milk.
Fortified soy products like natto are also exceptional sources of probiotics and nutrients like vitamin K2 – in fact, this is one of the highest sources of this essential nutrient for bone health. It’s one of the few plant-based sources of this vitamin, making it a strong addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet – and any diet, for that matter.
But if you’re looking to steer clear of soy, whether for health reasons or even if you just don’t like the taste – here are a few other plant-based milk options.
This one is beloved for its creamy and mild taste that works well as a milk replacement, especially in café-style drinks. It has almost the same number of calories as dairy milk, though it tends to be higher in the nutrient riboflavin. Depending on the brand, oat milk may also be fortified with a variety of nutrients, from calcium and potassium to vitamin D.
Rice milk is a naturally sweet milk alternative, and may be a better option for anyone with a sweet tooth – just be sure there are no added sugars. It also happens to have the lowest allergenic qualities among milk types, so if you have a sensitive gut, it could be worth looking into this one. Again, different brands will have different vitamins and minerals fortified into the milk, so check out the label to ensure you’re getting the best nutritional profile.
Macadamia milk has only recently shot to popularity, with many people jumping onboard with this nutty milk due to its creamy taste and texture. It also has heart-healthy fats which help to manage those sugar cravings and prevent the dreaded 3 o'clock slump. Even without fortified nutrients, macadamia milk already packs in calcium, potassium and vitamin B6.
Hemp milk is relatively new on the market in Australia, having only been legalised to be sold as a food product in 2017 – but don’t worry, this stuff won’t get you high. Hemp seeds are actually a highly nutritious food, and while they pack more vitamins and minerals in their whole form, hemp milk makes for a decent plant milk option.
They’re rich in polyunsaturated fats – these are the good kind, which can help lower our cholesterol levels. In fact, it's the linoleic acid which has been found to reduce cholesterol by 15%, and hemp milk has this in spades. It's known for its slightly nutty flavour and has been described as tasting similar to sunflower seeds and pine nuts. Plus, it's also an ideal choice for those with tree nut allergies
Almond milk is a popular choice for its taste and availability. It also has less saturated fat than its dairy counterpart, while still packing in some healthy fats that help keep you feeling full.
To make your own, simply blend a cup of almonds (soaked overnight) with 4 cups of water, then strain the liquid through some cheese cloth – and that’s it! It’ll make around 4 cups of almond milk and it will be much thicker and creamier than the milks you’d buy at the store. Plus, you’ll know there’s no added sugars or gums.
Plus, there are a number of other options on the market – subject to availability, of course:
- Flax milk.
- Pea milk.
- Cashew milk.
- Coconut milk.
- Potato milk.
When choosing a plant-based milk, it’s important to check the ingredients to ensure you get a product that matches your nutritional needs, while providing the least amount of added sugars – especially if you’re living a low or no-sugar lifestyle.
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