best natural foods

The benefits of soy milk - again, in perspective

The benefits of soy milk, like the benefits of soybeans in general, have to be viewed in perspective.

These days, many people have switched from drinking cow's milk to drinking soy milk because they believe soy is healthier - which is true. Regular cow's milk - which is pasteurised, homogenised, ultra-high temperature (UHT) treated, skimmed, calcium fortified and otherwise processed in various ways - causes a lot of health issues. Click here to learn more about the harm of milk.

And so one of the biggest benefits of soy milk is that it is NOT cow's milk and will not make you sick. It is lactose-free and therefore suitable for people who are lactose intolerant, which includes most Asians, Africans and other populations.

But... Soy milk and cow's milk are not perfect substitutes and we cannot simply switch from one to the other.

In fact, we should re-think whether we need a regular milk-like drink in the first place. Milk is baby food. Adults can make do with water, tea, soup and other liquids. We don't need milk - whether cow's milk, goat's milk, soy milk, rice milk, nut milk or whatever - on a regular basis. Once a while for enjoyment is okay.

So I will not recommend soy milk as a regular drink. There are certainly some benefits of soy milk, including protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as helping older women minimise the effects of menopause. These are similar to the general benefits of soy and you can read more about the benefits of soy milk here.

At the same time, there are also dangers of soy that we should be aware of. Click here to learn more about the dangers of soy and about why fermented soy products are best. Parents, especially, should be aware that soy milk is NOT SUITABLE for babies. Click here to learn about the harm of infant soy formula.

Traditional soy milk

Non-fermented soy products like soy milk and tofu are quite okay IF they are made the traditional way. In the case of soy milk, the traditional way involves:

Only if soy milk is made this way will you enjoy the benefits of soy milk without exosing yourself to the dangers. In Singapore and other parts of Asia, soy milk is commonly sold at hawker centres, small restaurants and even roadside stalls.

Increasingly, the milk is factory made and supplied to these food hawkers, but some of these could still well be made the traditional way.

Industrial soy milk

Modern industrial production of soy milk is quite different, however:

The result is that you get more of the dangers than the benefits of soy milk. If all this is not bad enough, many brands of soy milk are made with genetically modified (GMO) soybeans. This is only to be expected, as 77 percent of world soybean production - and 93 percent of US production - is GMO.

Some brands are not even made from soy beans, but from soy protein isolate, which is a highly artificial, heavily processed and denatured food. And some brands of even "plain" soy milk are heavily sugared. You need to read your food labels carefully. Or better still, make your own to enjoy whatever benefits of soy milk there may be.

Do Asians drink soy milk?

Nowadays, many do. But for thousands of years, soy milk was merely an intermediate product in the making of tofu. So it's a myth that Asians had all along enjoyed the benefits of soy milk.

The practice of drinking soy milk on its own is relatively recent, dating back only about 150 years. By the 1920s, it became popular in China as an occasional - not regular - drink served to the elderly. This was often prepared with other ingredients like shrimp and egg. In China and Taiwan today, fresh soy milk is served both sweetened and salted.

In Japan, soy milk became popularly only after the late 1970s, when the soy industry began advertising it as a healthy "energy drink". Before that, the Japanese were said to find the taste of soy milk "undesirable".

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