Expert Q&A

Soy milk: Healthy for children?

I don’t like cow’s milk so I drink soy milk instead. My one-year-old son is ready to wean off of formula. Can I give him soy milk?

-Karin from Oklahoma

For most toddlers, cow’s milk is a better choice than soy. Cow’s milk is more nutrient dense and naturally contains more vitamins, minerals, fat, and protein than soy milk. However, there are many situations in which children cannot tolerate cow’s milk or their parents choose not to give it to them. In this case, it is necessary to find an alternative. If you are aware of the nutritional shortcomings of some soy milks and choose fortified varieties to compensate for deficiencies, soy milk can be used to nourish your son. Here are the main nutrients to keep in mind when making your decision:

  • Fat. Soy milk is low in fat. It is not recommended that you limit a child's fat intake until he is 2 years old. Therefore, if you choose to give your son soy milk, make sure he is eating other high-fat—but still healthy—foods that can make up for the fat he is missing in his milk.
  • Protein. Cow’s milk contains about 25% more protein than soy milk; it is also a higher quality protein. If you choose soy milk, make sure he is eating other protein sources such as meats, cheeses, beans, eggs, etc.
  • Calcium and vitamin D. Cow’s milk naturally contains a readily absorbable form of calcium. Both calcium and vitamin D are absolutely essential for your son’s growth and development. Soy milk does not naturally contain calcium or vitamin D. However, both nutrients are often added to it. Make sure you buy soy milk that contains 300milligrams of calcium and 2.5 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D per 8-ounce serving.

Ultimately, the answer to your question is individual and is dependent on the nutritional needs and restrictions of your son, as well as his taste preferences. If you dislike cow’s milk but otherwise have no other aversion to using it, it may be easier to give your son cow’s milk. This way, you won’t have to worry about potential nutrient deficiencies. However, children have been raised successfully on both types of milk.

For more information on the differences between soy milk and cows milk see the following page from TheDietChannel: Soy milk vs cow;s milk: which is better?

Erica Lesperance, RD, LD
Contributing Expert

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