Soy products and nutrition and cancer: Conflicting messages

June 6, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my granddaughters is allergic to cow’s milk. I saw effects of such allergies decades ago when a nephew was born with severe allergies to cow’s milk and used goat’s milk. My granddaughter used goat’s milk for awhile but seemed to develop an allergic reaction to it as well. Not as severe as cow’s milk but not waiting around to make that happen…

What about soy milk, my son asked. I have read some of the research and debate surrounding soy and phytoestrogens and cancer. But I never read anything specifically about infants. So I searched and read a number of pieces written. I want to recommend this one written by a pediatrician:

In a nutshell, the author notes various deficiencies in soy milk that need to be address, such as its lack of B12, and the importance of buying whole soy milk to obtain the fats necessary for brain development, and the importance of having soy milk that is fortified with vitamins A & D, as well as calcium.

The pediatrician does not address the phytoestrogen controversy directly but observes that there is no research linking adverse outcomes to children.

Another alternative is coconut milk. While I could not find any research or pediatrician discussing this as an alternative, I did find a site with a pretty complete discussion by moms, including moms who used coconut milk for multiple kids who are into adolescence now and still drink it. Coconut milk has they say a lot of good fats in it but lacks calcium and protein.

My son asked specifically about Asian diets rich in soy and the health benefits. I have worked closely with Asian graduate students over the past two decades and have come to understand that how they consume soy is quite different from what we think of. Our grocery stores offer tofu and soy milk as mainstays in soy products. Soy in Asian diets takes on different forms and is often fermented in miso, tempeh and natto. Soy milk and tofu are highly-processed soy products. So it appears that one part of the conflicting messages relates to the form that soy takes. More processed forms, as with so many food products, do not offer the same health benefits as less processed.



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