The Joy of Soy Milk

The Joy of Soy Milk

Hopefully you enjoyed learning a bit more about how cow’s milk is produced and the nutritional benefits of consuming it from the first installment in our “Milk Series.” Many people like cow’s milk, many do not. And for some, there may be dietary restrictions that prohibit them from drinking cow’s milk or enjoying other dairy products. For these folks there are dairy alternatives such as soy milk, coconut milk and almond milk.

Heard of these dairy alternates before? Well, if not, read on to first learn more about soy milk—a healthy and great-tasting milk alternative. And guess what! We are just in time to celebrate National Soyfoods Month (April).  In the next installments in our series, we will cover coconut and almond milk.

Soybean Farming

First things first: We want to tell you where soy milk comes from. Of course, there are no “soy-cows” out there being milked, so let’s shed a little light on how this healthy beverage is produced.

It all starts with soybeans. Ah, little soybean, who knew you were so awesome? Well, many food nerds, like us around here, do! Soybeans are among the top commodities in the United States. Farmers have invested years of effort to guarantee high productivity of their crops by ensuring proper soil drainage, sowing disease-resistant seeds, picking the right time of spring to plant (mid-April is best) and supplying optimal amounts of nitrogen to the soil

In U.S. farming, there are three main kinds of soybeans: green, black and yellow. Green soybeans can be eaten as is (yummy edamame), black soybeans are for drying and yellow soybeans can be used to produce our beloved soy milk. Once the soybeans are harvested, the pods are dipped in boiling water so that the beans can be more easily taken out. But for dried soybeans, the pods are hung upside down for an extended amount of time until they are completely dry; then the beans can be taken out.

Soybeans, native to East Asia, have become increasingly incorporated into the American diet. They can be made into various foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso and soybean oil. However, with the swelling popularity of soy-based foods, a multitude of so-called “second generation” soy products and ingredients have become available such as soy milk, soy flour, soy protein concentrate and soy protein isolate. Soy protein isolates and concentrates have been used to develop a range of food products including beverages and meat alternatives such as “veggie burgers.”

Sippin’ on Soy

Soy milk is a nutritious alternative to dairy milk: An eight-ounce serving has 8 grams of protein and nearly a third of the recommended amount of calcium. Soy milk contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats as well as magnesium, iron, B vitamins and potassium. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming between five and eight ounces per week of soy products (for a 2,000-calorie diet), including soy milk. Soy milk can be used as a great alternative for those who are lactose-intolerant or wanting to use other milk alternatives.

According to the Soyfoods Association of North America, the majority of soy milk that you may find on your grocery store shelves comes from cooked, water-soaked and ground whole (yellow) soybeans to produce a soy base. The final soy milk product contains a “protein-rich soy base that naturally consists of soy protein, oil, fiber, sugars, water, and bio-active compounds.” For the final product that is ready to go on the shelf, the soy base can then have sweeteners, flavorings and stabilizers added to it. Another method to make soy milk is to add water to full-fat soy flour or soy protein solids.

Oh Boy, Oh Soy

One little bean can bring so much health and happiness. Remember Jack and the Beanstalk? Little Jack found out that a handful of beans could certainly be life-changing.

Soybeans are supporting farmers, our food system and our healthy diets. Stay tuned to our “Milk Series” for more insights on milk production and the nutrient benefits you can find in each of these nutritious beverages. We think you’ll find that there is a milk for everyone!

This blog post includes contributions from Megan Meyer, PhD.