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Individuals who have an intolerance to dairy products typically seek out alternatives to enjoy the foods and beverages they like. For example, those who cannot enjoy regular milk in their cereal or coffee often turn to soy milk to fill the void. However, those who understand the health benefits of soy may choose soy milk over other options whether they can tolerate dairy or not.
Soy milk is made by soaking, grinding and boiling soybeans in water. A traditional beverage in parts of Asia for years, soy milk has only recently gained popularity in North America, where people turn to soy milk as a dairy alternative or because they are vegetarians or vegans who prefer a plant-based beverage alternative. But soy milk has nutritional attributes anyone can benefit from.
* Improves cholesterol levels: One of the foremost benefits of soy milk is its role in lowering cholesterol and helping prevent heart disease. Research indicates a diet with significant soy proteins reduces total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides. In 1993, in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers from Erdman & Potter reported a 12 percent drop in cholesterol when 20 to 25 grams of soy protein and fiber were included in a person's diet. Soybeans also contain soluble fiber that helps prevent the absorption and metabolism of cholesterol. And unlike dairy milk, which is high in saturated fat, soy milk is comprised of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
* Strengthens blood vessels: There is evidence that the antioxidants and essential fatty acids in soy can protect blood vessels from lesions and hemorrhages by binding to the walls of the blood vessels.
* Forms healthy bones: Soy products are naturally high in calcium or may be fortified with calcium. Soy also contains magnesium and boron, which are also important for the strength of bones. In addition, soy foods contain isoflavones, which may inhibit the breakdown of bones. A 2005 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that intake of soy food was associated with a significantly lower risk of fracture, particularly among early post-menopausal women.
* Aids in weight loss: Cow's milk has about 12 grams of sugar per cup, but soy milk has just seven grams of sugar per cup. Soy milk also has fewer calories than other milks and the fatty acids in soy milk can inhibit intestinal absorption of fat.
* Helps prevent certain cancers: Of all the data supporting soy's role in cancer prevention, information on prostate cancer is the most promising. It is believed soy milk is a rich source of phytoestrogen, which can inhibit testosterone in men and reduce their risk of prostate cancer.
* Estrogen replacement: The same phytoestrogen that inhibits testosterone in men is an effective estrogen replacement for women. This can help postmenopausal women who have declining natural estrogen levels that may contribute to mood swings, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Although there are many health benefits of soybeans, there are some risks. Different processing methods may result in unhealthy byproducts. Unfermented soy has a high amount of phytic acid, which may lead to lower absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. However, many people feel the benefits of soy outweigh the risks. For the best health benefits, look for soy products that are produced with nongenetically modified soy crops.