Milk – the quintessential drink for everyone assumes even more importance for a woman who is expecting. With so many variations in milk nowadays, it becomes confusing to decide. Soya milk is one such health drink, deemed for its benefits, and an absolute blessing for people practicing veganism. But then pregnancy is a different ball game altogether. Sure, you love soya milk and have been drinking it since like forever, but when pregnant, you can’t help but wonder whether soy milk is safe during pregnancy? Are there any side effects of drinking soy milk during pregnancy? What are the benefits? What alternatives do I have?
Health becomes a huge priority for a woman who gets pregnant, and rightly so. Everything she eats, drinks, or physical action she performs is for the healthy development of the baby. And if you are also wondering whether soy milk during pregnancy is the right choice or not, let us tell you about the benefits, side-effects, and other health effects of soy milk so that you make an informed decision.
But first, let’s start with knowing what soy milk is all about.
What is soy milk?
Soy milk is a plant based liquid obtained by soyabeans. The soyabeans are first soaked, then grinded with water, boiled and filtered to get a drink having the same consistency and creaminess as milk. The natural byproduct is tofu, which again is quite a common replacement of whole-milk’s byproduct – cottage cheese. Soy milk has as many proteins as cow’s milk, and tastes almost similar. It is a stable emulsion of oil, water, and proteins.
Since soy milk is a plant-derivative, vegan people and people who are lactose intolerant drink it in place of regular dairy milk. Soyabeans and soy milk are a good source of proteins, and when fortified, it can offer calcium and potassium as well.
Nutritional composition of soy milk
Being a plant derivative, soy milk does not have any cholesterol and unsaturated fats. A cup of soy milk contains about 4.3 grams of fat, 8 grams of proteins and 287 mg of potassium (fortified). You also get 6% of your daily required value of calcium from a cup of soy milk. It is also lower in calories than whole milk, with 1.5 grams of dietary fiber. (1)
Benefits of drinking soy milk during pregnancy
Since soy milk is nutritionally rich in proteins and is a blessing for anyone who is lactose intolerant, it is quite a common beverage in whole of Europe and North America. It is also getting increasingly popular in India as well with a few brands advertising the same in the media. But when you are pregnant, you want to consume only those food items that benefit you and the baby. So let us know what soy milk offers us during this delicate stage of pregnancy –
Proteins are our building blocks, and every cell of your baby needs proteins. Pregnant women are advised to have an intake of 70-100 grams of proteins per day. With soy milk, you get 8 grams of proteins in every cup. This is especially important for women who practice veganism and/or are vegetarian. Moreover, soy milk is a low-fat beverage with higher proteins unlike meats that are high in fat content.
Carbohydrates are vital to support the energy needs of your growing baby and to keep you up and running. With soy milk as your go-to beverage during the gestation period, you are likely not to run short on your energy levels.
3. Folic acid
Pregnant women are advised to take folic acid supplements. Folic acid is crucial for the nervous system development of the baby and to avert birth defects. Soy milk naturally contains folic acid thus aiding in the healthy development of the fetus. 2
Fibre helps prevent constipation and promotes better digestion. It also provides important vitamin B group nutrients, keeps your weight gain in check and maintain optimum sugar levels. Pregnant women are advised to eat a diet that contains a good amount of fibre, and soy milk is no exception.
Healthy fats are help your body absorb certain nutrients from food that your body cannot do otherwise. Fatty acids too come from fats and your body cannot make them on its own. Fatty acids are crucial for the development of your growing baby’s eyes and brain, both before and after birth. Soy milk aids in providing healthy fats that aid the growth and development of your baby.
6. Vitamin D
Fortified soy milk contains vitamin D, which plays a pivotal role in bone metabolism through regulation of calcium and phosphate equilibrium. The risks of premature and pre-term birth, pre-eclampsia and low birthweight can all be reduced by having optimum levels of vitamin D in your pregnancy diet.
A cup of soy milk fortified with calcium can give you about 25 mg of it. Calcium is indispensable to build strong teeth and bones so make sure you include enough calcium in your diet.
8. Prevents breast cancer
Soy contains phytoestrogens that can help to prevent the occurrence of breast cancer.
Side effects of drinking soy milk
At a first glance, soy milk seems like the perfect beverage and dairy milk replacement for pregnant women. But then, this post would not be complete if we do not go ahead and tell you about the side-effects of drinking soy milk during pregnancy.
1. Lower cholesterol levels
While zero cholesterol levels in soy milk is good news to many, good cholesterol Ievels are absolutely necessary for production of pregnancy hormones estrogen and progesterone. Optimum cholesterol levels are thus crucial to carry a pregnancy to term.
2. Risks with isoflavones
Soy contains high levels of phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogens in the body. There is a good chance that soy milk disrupts your hormones levels, but studies on the subject have had conflicting conclusions. Yet, it is always better to play safe and this is one of the main reasons soy milk is not advised for children and infants. The levels of phytoestrogens is way too much then their bodies can handle.
3. Risk of physical abnormalities
Certain experiments on animals have established a relationship of soy milk with birth defects. Again, there has been no conclusive studies, but since the inconclusive results are quite bothersome, soy milk consumption during pregnancy could well be moderated.
Regular consumption of soy milk could trigger allergic reactions in many women. Common allergy indicators are rashes, vomiting and nausea, difficulty in breathing, inflammation and swelling and other skin eruptions. Should you notice any of these, reach your doctor immediately.
5. Risks of phytic acids
Phytic acid gets neutralised when soy is fermented, like in the case of miso and tempeh, but in soy milk and tofu. And that’s why when you consume too much of soy milk, there is a good possibility that the absorption of essential minerals like calcium, phosphorus and zinc gets affected. You’d not want that to happen, pregnant or not.
Drinking soy milk during pregnancy – safe or not?
Now that we know how soy milk is obtained and its nutritional composition, let us know whether it is safe for pregnant women. Being heavily advertised, soy milk is a good option in limitation for them who cannot drink regular milk and still want the benefits of drinking milk. For the rest of us, drinking fresh diary milk is the best way to get maximum nutrients like proteins, vitamins and fats and be healthy. If you do decide to include soy milk in your pregnancy diet, take your doctor’s opinion and opt for unflavoured variants.
How much soy milk is safe to drink during pregnancy?
Since soy milk does offer some great benefits especially for moms who are vegetarians, vegans or lactose intolerant, or may just do not like to have milk, it is altogether not a bad idea to include it in your pregnancy diet. However, to limit the negative effects of soy milk during pregnancy, you must exercise caution and moderation. Have no more than 2 cups a day, and in case you notice any allergic reactions, reach out your doctor immediately.
Note that these two servings be inclusive of any other soy product that you may be consuming during a given day.
If you really want to include soy in your diet, opt for tempeh and miso which are fermented soy products are nutritionally a better deal.
Is soy milk bad for fertility?
Due to the presence of isoflavones, the plant derived estrogen, women trying to get pregnant should be careful with the amount of soy they consume. Soy in large quantities when trying to conceive could pose fertility problems by disrupting menstrual cycles and decreasing FSH and leutinizing hormone levels. Another point to note is that most birth control pills contain a type of estrogen (commonly ethinyl estradiol), which could potentially pose a problem for women who are trying to get pregnant.
Conflicting as it may sound, a study in Harvard School of Public Health, has concluded that women who consumed soy in their diets had better success with assisted reproductive techniques, particularly IVF. So if you are trying to get pregnant with IVF, maybe soy milk and tofu are your go to friends.3