Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.
This week, Registered Dietitian Preethi Rahul addresses concerns about soy milk and suggests a few alternatives.
Question: I have heard that soy foods, especially milk, can be bad for kids because of a high estrogen content. IS this true and what is my alternative?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents give soy formula only to infants who cannot digest cow’s milk or to those whose parents wish them to follow a vegan diet. For the majority of infants, the AAP says cow’s milk formula is still the next best thing to breast milk.
The main concern about soymilk is that it contains high levels of phytoestrogens — estrogen-like substances found in some plants. Soybeans are a significant source of mammalian lignan precursor secoisolariciresinol containing 13–273 µg/100 g dry weight. Another phytoestrogen in the human diet with estrogen activity is coumestans, which are found in beans, split-peas, with the best sources being alfalfa, clover, and soybean sprouts.
People who are worried about soy formula fear that these substances could interfere with a child’s development and even cause early puberty, thyroid problems, breast development in male children, or other difficulties. However, most of the research on soy has been carried out in animals and not in people. Soy may cause some endocrine disruptions in animals but humans metabolize soy differently. According to British Medical Journal there is virtually no data on the effects of phytoestrogens on children. However, the long-term effects of soy are still not known. So, use soy milk in moderation as research is still being carried out and it is highly controversial.
Other alternatives to soy milk are almond milk and rice milk unless of course you do not plan to use cow’s milk. Almond milk is rich in magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, the antioxidants vitamin E and selenium, and calcium. Almond milk, then, may be one of the more nutritious milk alternatives on the market but it is expensive. Rice milk is processed from brown rice and usually contains rice syrup, evaporated cane juice or some other natural sweetener. It is typically fortified with calcium or vitamin D. Rice milk is largely a source of carbohydrates, so it’s important not to look at it (or either of the other two milk substitutes) as a nutritional replacement for milk (cow’s milk is a source of protein, fat and carbs).
Below is table comparing various milks:
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