Medical News Today: Almond milk vs. soy milk: Which is better?

By | March 20, 2019
Almond milk and soy milk are the two most popular plant-based milk varieties on the market. What are the differences and is one better than the other?

Issues such as lactose intolerance, milk allergies, and the rising popularity of vegetarian, vegan, and low-cholesterol diets have pushed the food industry to introduce a range of plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk.

Almond and soy milk are both vegan, naturally lactose-free, and low cholesterol, but there are differences in their health benefits, nutrient content, and environmental impact.

In this article, we look at the different benefits and disadvantages of almond and soy milk.

Health benefits

Almond milk and soy milk are both healthful options in various ways. They contain different nutrients and may have varying benefits for people’s health, as discussed below.

Almond milk

man holding glass of milk on table which may be soy or almond
People can use almond milk in coffee, tea, and smoothies.

Raw almonds have excellent health benefits, being a source of protein, key vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. The health benefits of raw almonds have helped boost the popularity of almond milk.

Almond milk has high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids. This type of healthful fat may aid in weight loss and weight management.

Research also suggests that monounsaturated fatty acids may help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — which doctors also call bad cholesterol — in the body. Researchers have linked these fats to heart disease, obesity, and cancers.

Soy milk

Similar to almond milk, soy milk has a higher content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats compared with saturated fats. Saturated fats, which are in cow’s milk, contribute to high cholesterol and heart problems.

Along with containing healthful fats, soy milk is the only dairy alternative that offers a similar amount of protein as cow’s milk. The nutrient content in soy milk is comparable to that of cow’s milk.

Apart from its naturally cholesterol free and vegan properties, soy milk contains isoflavones. Research suggests that isoflavones are antioxidants, can reduce inflammation in the body, and may also have anticancer effects.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, consuming soy protein each day may reduce LDL cholesterol.

Nutrition

The following table from the United States Department of Agriculture compares the nutritional values of 240 milliliters (ml) of almond milk and soy milk in grams (g), milligrams (mg), or international units (IU):

Soy milk, 240 ml Almond milk, 240 ml
Calories 101 29
Macronutrients
Protein 6 g 1.01 g
Total fat 3.5 g 2.5 g
Carbohydrate 12 g 1.01 g
Dietary fiber 1 g 1 g
Sugars 9 g 0 g
Minerals
Calcium 451 mg 451 mg
Iron 1.08 mg 0.36 mg
Magnesium 41 mg 17 mg
Phosphorus 79 mg No data available
Potassium 300 mg 36 mg
Sodium 91 mg 115 mg
Vitamins
Riboflavin 0.425 mg 0.067 mg
Vitamin A 499 IU 499 IU
Vitamin D 120 IU 101 IU

The nutrient content of different brands of almond milk and soy milk differ. Some have added sugar, salt, and preservatives. These additions may alter the carbohydrate content and the calories in the milk.

Most brands of plant-based milk alternatives will also have added calcium and vitamin D to mimic the content in cow’s milk.

Uses of almond and soy milk

Almond milk on a table
Almond milk can be used in coffee, tea, and smoothies.

People can use soy and almond milk in similar ways. Many use them directly in place of dairy milk in cereal, oatmeal, coffee, tea, and smoothies. They can also replace a simple glass of cow’s milk.

Many people find the taste of almond milk more agreeable than that of soy milk. In some cases, the taste of soy milk may come through more strongly in cereals, drinks, or cooking compared with almond milk.

People can use almond milk and soy milk as a substitute for milk in baking. The lower levels of fat in these milk varieties compared with cow’s milk may lighten a cake recipe without altering the taste.

Plant-based milk may also change the consistency of desserts, and people may need to add larger amounts of the milk to recipes.

Disadvantages

Alongside the benefits of soy and almond milk, people may also want to consider their disadvantages, as we discuss below.

Almond milk

Almond milk is low in calories and protein compared with cow’s milk and soy milk. When replacing cow’s milk with almond milk, people should make up the missing calories, protein, and vitamins from other food sources.

Some manufacturers add carrageenan as a thickener for nonfat foods and dairy replacements, including almond milk. Carrageenan has several side effect, the most common being digestive disturbances, ulcers, and inflammation.

To avoid additives in almond milk, try making almond milk at home. People can look online for a range of nut milk recipes, including recipes from registered dieticians.

Similar to the allergic reactions that the protein in cow’s milk causes, some people are allergic to almonds and should avoid drinking almond milk.

Soy milk

Although soy milk contains protein, some brands are deficient in methionine, an essential amino acid, due to the process manufacturers use to make soy milk. People may need to get this amino acid from other areas of their diet.

If a person does not get enough additional methionine, calcium, and vitamin D, soy milk may be a poor substitute for cow’s milk.

As with almond milk, some people may have an allergy to soybeans and should avoid soy milk.

Soy milk contains compounds that some people refer to as antinutrients. These natural antinutrients can reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients and impair the digestion of protein and carbohydrates.

The antinutrients contained in soybeans include:

  • trypsin inhibitors
  • lectins
  • phytic acids
  • indigestible oligosaccharides

Different manufacturing processes may reduce the presence of antinutrients and enhance the nutritional value of soybeans. These processes require additional labor, work, and costs.

Environmental impact

Almond milk production may be taking a toll on the environment.

Almonds are a very water-intensive crop. According to the Office of Sustainability at the University of California San Francisco, manufacturers use 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds.

Farmers produce an estimated 80 percent of the world’s almonds in California. The increased irrigation needs on these farms may have long-lasting effects on the environment in this drought-stricken region.

Farmers use pesticides to produce almonds and soybeans. The 2017 Agricultural Chemical Use Survey highlights the use of various pesticides on soybean crops. These pesticides may contaminate the water supply and can make drinking water more toxic.

What are other vegan alternatives to cow’s milk?

halved coconut on blue wooden tabletop with glass of coconut milk
Coconut milk is an option for a lactose-free beverage.

Today, consumers can choose from a variety of nondairy milk alternatives. Aside from almond and soy milk, other vegan foods that people can make into naturally lactose-free beverages include:

  • rice
  • cashews
  • coconuts
  • hemp seeds
  • oats
  • flaxseed
  • hazelnuts
  • macadamia nuts

Summary

Almond and soy milk are two popular vegan alternatives to dairy milk. They have different nutritional profiles and benefits for people’s health.

Soy milk contains added vitamins and minerals. In many ways, soy milk mimics dairy milk in the best way among the alternatives, but not everyone enjoys its taste.

People can choose between a range of soy milk and almond milk products online, or find them in many local supermarkets.

Making homemade plant-based milk varieties can offer a sustainable alternative if a person uses pesticide-free ingredients.

People using plant-based milk products should be aware of the missing calories, macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are abundant in cow’s milk and be sure to make up these nutrients in other areas of the diet.

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