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Choosing a Healthy Soy Milk

Choosing a Healthy Soy Milk

Though recently surpassed in popularity by almond milk and oat milk, soy milk has been a popular plant-based beverage for decades in the US. While soy milk is a high protein plant-based milk alternative, is it really a healthy choice?

Whether labeled Soy Milk, Soymilk, Soy Plant-Based Beverage, or Soy Non-Dairy Beverage, there are many soy-based drink options available at local grocery stores and coffee shops.

Many soy-based beverages contain highly processed ingredients. This comprehensive guide details what to look for and what to avoid when choosing a healthy soymilk.

Healthy Soymilks:

  • Minimize added sugars
  • Are free of glyphosate residue (organic or non-GMO soybeans)
  • Avoid gums and other thickeners
  • Are free of carrageenan
  • Minimize sodium

Water will always be the first ingredient in soy milk.  The second and preferably only other ingredient will be organic or non-GMO soybeans.  However, most commercially available soymilks have relatively long ingredient lists. 

What to look for when choosing a healthy soy milk

1. Healthy Soy Milks Minimize Added Sugar

Healthy foods should contain little to no added sugar

Many soymilk brands contain high amounts of added sugar.  And watch out for vanilla flavored soy milk since they often contain more than a tablespoon of added sugar per cup serving!

Read more on recommended daily intake of added sugar and why you want to minimize added sugar consumption.

Recommendation:  If you want a sweetened soymilk, it is better to buy an unsweetened brand and add a small amount of your preferred sweetener.

2. Healthy Soy Milks Avoid Glyphosate Residue

healthy foods do not have glyphosate residue

The majority of soy (94% USA / 62% Canada) grown in North America is genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant (typically glyphosate, trade name Roundup®). (1) 

As a result, genetically engineered soy often contains glyphosate residue (read more about GMOs here).  In fact, when the USDA tested crops for glyphosate residue in 2011 they found 90% of all soy beans contained residual glyphosate.(2)

The safety of chronic, low-level exposure to glyphosate is not proven.  Therefore, it is advisable to consume organic or non-GMO soy to minimize possible glyphosate residue intake.

Recommendation: It is best to buy soymilk made with organic or non-GMO certified soybeans.

3. Healthy Soy Milks Avoid Gums and Other Thickeners

healthy foods should avoid gums and thickeners

Plant-based beverages often contain gums and other thickeners to prevent separation and improve a drink’s texture. However, these gums and thickeners are highly processed and can sometimes cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Typical gums and other thickeners in diary-free milks include gellan gum and locust bean gum.

Gellan Gum.  Gellan gum is a polysaccharide (polymer of sugar) and soluble dietary fiber. It is manufactured by bacterial fermentation of glucose or other carbon sources such as corn syrup, lactose, whey protein, or soybean extracts. (3-5)

Locust Bean Gum.  Locust Bean Gum a polysaccharide extracted from the seeds of the Carob Tree. Also called carob bean gum, locust Bean Gum is a soluble dietary fiber that is fermented by intestinal microflora. (4, 6)

Recommendation: It is best to avoid foods that contain gums and other thickeners, as they are often highly processed.  However, occasionally eating small amounts of these additives is probably fine, unless you experience gastrointestinal discomfort or are following a specific diet.

4. Healthy Soy Milks Do Not Contain Carrageenan

healthy foods should not contain carrageenan

Carrageenan is a thickener manufactured from red algae seaweed and is widely used in processed foods. (3)

Carrageenan is listed as a “generally regarded as safe” food additive by the FDA and WHO. However, there is growing research that links carrageenan to inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowl disease. (7)

In late 2016, the National Organic Standards Board voted to prohibit the use of carrageenan in organic products.(8)   However, in 2018 the USDA decided to not implement the recommendation and carrageenan is still allowed in organic products. (9)

Recommendation: Avoid any soymilk that contains carrageenan.

5. Healthy Soy Milks Have Minimal Sodium

healthy foods are not high in sodium

Sodium, from salt and other food additives, can be found in almost any processed food.  Soymilk is no exception.

Salt is often added to enhance the flavor of non-dairy beverages.  Additionally, gums and thickeners added to improve the texture of soy milk often contain sodium.

More than 90% of us consume too much sodium each day according to the Dietary Guidelines of America. (10)   Read more on the recommended daily intake of sodium and why you want to reduce your daily sodium intake.

Recommendation: If you are on a reduced salt diet, make sure you avoid soy milks with high levels of sodium.

Which popular soy-based beverages are healthy?

We evaluated popular soy milks based on the following criteria. (11 – 19)

Criteria used to evaluate soymilk

healthy soymilk evaluation criteria

All information below is for a 1 cup serving.

Types of added sugar are red.   Thickeners, gums and carrageenan are bold.

Healthy soymilk options

The healthiest soy milks contain only two simple ingredients: water and organic soybeans.

However, many store-bought soy milks are not a healthy choice.  They are thickened with highly processed gums and most are sweetened with excessive amounts of added sugar.

Examples of healthy soy milks:

Most soy milks found in the grocery store have a long list of ingredients.  However, there are a few store-bought soymilks with minimal ingredients and no added sugar.

Edensoy Unsweetened Organic Soymilk

Eden Foods Organic Unsweetened soymilk nutritional information

Edensoy Unsweetened Organic Soymilk Ingredients: Purified water, organic soybeans

Reasons to consider Edensoy Unsweetened Organic Soymilk:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Certified gluten free
  • Free of highly-processed gums, thickeners and emulsifiers

Now Foods Soy Milk Powder

Now Foods Organic Soy Milk Powder nutritional information

Now Foods Soy Milk Powder Ingredients: Organic soy milk powder

Reasons to consider Now Foods Soy Milk Powder:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Free of highly-processed gums, thickeners and emulsifiers

Pacific Foods Organic Unsweetened Soy Plant-Based Beverage

pacific foods organic unsweetened soy plant-based beverage nutritional information

Pacific Foods Organic Unsweetened Soy Plant-Based Beverage Ingredients: Water, organic soybeans

Reasons to consider Pacific Foods Organic Unsweetened Soy Plant-Based Beverage:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Certified gluten free
  • Free of highly-processed gums, thickeners and emulsifiers

West Soy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk

west soy organic unsweetened soymilk nutritional information

West Soy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk Ingredients: Filtered water, whole organic soybeans

Reasons to consider West Soy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Certified gluten free
  • Free of highly-processed gums, thickeners and emulsifiers

Soy milks that are okay:

A few of the soy-based beverages we evaluated fall into the “okay” category. 

If you are okay with consuming a small amount of gellan gum or simple sugars, some of these soymilk options might work for you.

However, if you are following a particular diet which avoids gums or thickeners, you will want to avoid these soy-based beverages.

365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Unsweetened Original Soymilk

365 by Whole Foods Market organic unsweetened original soymilk nutritional information

365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Unsweetened Original Soymilk Ingredients: Organic soymilk (filtered water, organic soybeans), calcium carbonate, sea salt, organic natural flavor, gellan gum, organic locust bean gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B2, vitamin B12

Reasons to consider 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Unsweetened Original Soymilk:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Unsweetened Original Soymilk:

  • Thickened with highly processed gums

Silk Organic Unsweet Soymilk

silk organic unsweet soymilk nutritional information

Silk Organic Unsweet Soymilk Ingredients: Organic soymilk (filtered water, organic soybeans), vitamin and mineral blend (calcium carbonate, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, sea salt, gellan gum, ascorbic acid, natural flavor

Reasons to consider Silk Organic Unsweet Soymilk:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Certified gluten free

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying Silk Organic Unsweet Soymilk:

  • Thickened with highly processed gums

Simple Truth Organic Unsweetened Soymilk

Simple Truth Organic Unsweetened Soymilk nutritional information

Simple Truth Organic Unsweetened Soymilk Ingredients: Organic soymilk (filtered water, organic soybeans), calcium carbonate, sea salt, organic natural flavors, gellan gum, organic locust bean gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B2, Vitamin B12

Reasons to consider Simple Truth Organic Unsweetened Soymilk:

  • No added sugar
  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying Simple Truth Organic Unsweetened Soymilk:

  • Thickened with highly processed gums

Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk

edensoy organic original soymilk nutritional information

Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk Ingredients: Purified water, organic soybeans, naturally malted organic wheat and barley extract, calcium carbonate, kombu seaweed, sea salt

Reasons to consider Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Free of highly-processed gums, thickeners and emulsifiers

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Contains 5 grams added sugar per serving

Edensoy Extra Organic Original Soymilk

edensoy organic original extra soymilk nutritional information

Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk Ingredients: Purified water, organic soybeans, naturally malted organic wheat and barley extract, calcium carbonate, kombu seaweed, sea salt, vitamin E, beta carotene, vitamin D2, vitamin B12

Reasons to consider Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Free of highly-processed gums, thickeners and emulsifiers

Reasons why you may want to think twice about buying Edensoy Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Contains 5 grams added sugar per serving

Soy milks to avoid:

Several store-bought soy milks are not healthy options.  They often contain too much added sugar or other additives that are best avoided in a healthy diet.

It is worth noting that not all soy-based milks categorized as “avoid” are equal. Some soy milk brands are free of additives, but contain more added sugar or sodium than can be considered a regular part of a healthy diet. Other soymilks contain highly processed thickeners and other undesirable ingredients.

The following soy-based beverages should be avoided or consumed only after thoughtful consideration. 

Great Value Organic Original Soymilk

great value organic original soymilk nutritional information

Great Value Organic Original Soymilk Ingredients: Organic soymilk (filtered water, organic soybeans), organic cane sugar, calcium carbonate, sea salt, natural flavor, gellan gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B2, vitamin B12

Reasons to consider Great Value Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Certified gluten free

Reasons to avoid Great Value Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Each one cup serving contains approximately 5 grams of added sugar. Added sugar is an estimate as Nutrition Facts label has not been updated with specific added sugar information.
  • Thickened with highly processed gums

Pacific Foods Organic Original Ultra Soy Plant-Based Beverage

pacific foods organic original ultra soy plant-based beverage nutritional information

Pacific Foods Organic Original Ultra Soy Plant-Based Beverage Ingredients: Water, organic soybeans, cane sugar, gellan gum, locust bean gum, natural flavor, vitamin B2, sea salt, tricalcium phosphate, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin B12, vitamin D2, vitamin E

Reasons to consider Pacific Foods Organic Original Ultra Soy Plant-Based Beverage:

  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free
  • Certified gluten free

Reasons to avoid Pacific Foods Organic Original Ultra Soy Plant-Based Beverage:

  • Each one cup serving contains 7 grams of added sugar
  • Thickened with highly processed gums

West Soy Organic Soymilk Original

west soy organic soymilk original nutritional information

West Soy Organic Soymilk Original Ingredients: Organic soymilk (filtered water, whole organic soybeans), filtered water, organic brown rice syrup, sea salt

Reasons to avoid West Soy Organic Soymilk Original:

  • Each one cup serving contains approximately 11 grams of added sugar, almost a tablespoon of sugar and more than 50% of the daily recommended serving of added sugar for women

365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Original Soymilk

365 by WFM organic original soymilk nutritional information

365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Original Soymilk Ingredients: Organic soymilk (filtered water, organic soybeans), organic cane sugar, calcium carbonate, sea salt, natural flavor, organic natural flavor, gellan gum, organic locust bean gum, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B2, vitamin B12

Reasons to consider 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Organic soybeans, so likely glyphosate free

Reasons to avoid 365 by Whole Foods Market Organic Original Soymilk:

  • Each one cup serving contains approximately 6 grams of added sugar
  • Thickened with highly processed gums

Simple Truth Organic Plain Soymilk

Simple Truth Organic Plain Soymilk nutritional information

Simple Truth Organic Plain Soymilk Ingredients: Filtered water, whole organic soybeans, organic sugar, calcium carbonate, natural flavors, sea salt, carrageenan, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B2, vitamin B12

Reasons to avoid Simple Truth Organic Plain Soymilk:

  • Thickened with carrageenan
  • Each one cup serving contains approximately 5 grams of added sugar

Soy Dream Original Enriched Soymilk

soy dream original enriched soymilk nutritional information

Soy Dream Original Enriched Soymilk Ingredients: Filtered water, organic whole soybeans, organic evaporated cane syrup, calcium carbonate, sea salt, carrageenan, vitamin E, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B12

Reasons to avoid Soy Dream Original Enriched Soymilk:

  • Thickened with carrageenan
  • Each one cup serving contains approximately 5 grams of added sugar

Pacific Foods Organic Barista Series Soy Plant-Based Beverage

pacific foods organic barista series soy plant-based beverage nutritional information

Pacific Foods Organic Barista Series Soy Plant-Based Beverage Ingredients: Organic soybase (water, whole organic soybeans), cane sugar, carrageenan, dipotassium phosphate, expeller-pressed canola oil, natural flavor, sea salt, sodium citrate

Reasons to avoid Pacific Foods Organic Barista Series Soy Plant-Based Beverage:

  • Thickened with carrageenan
  • Each one cup serving contains 6 grams of added sugar
  • One cup contains 240 mg sodium, the highest amount of all the evaluated soymilks

Common questions when choosing a healthy soy milk

Many additional questions can arise when trying to find a healthy soy milk.  Aside from a simple, clean ingredient list, there are few other things you may want to consider.

Is vanilla flavored soy milk healthy?

With only a few exceptions, vanilla flavored soy milk is most definitely NOT healthy.  When vanilla flavor is added to plant-based milks, excess sugar is also added.

Check out our comprehensive evaluation of vanilla flavored soy milk.

What about the vitamins in soy milk? 

Vitamins are added to the plant-based milks so the manufactures can claim that the plant-based beverage is a “good source” of these nutrients.

Commercial soy milks often contain vitamins including vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin E, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12 and calcium carbonate.

So, is it good to drink soy milk containing vitamins?  It won’t hurt you.  However, if you need to supplement your diet with specific vitamins, you are likely better off taking a high quality vitamin supplement.

What is the difference between shelf stable soy milk and refrigerated soy milk?

From an ingredient standpoint, there is very little difference between shelf stable and refrigerated soymilk. 

The biggest difference between a shelf stable soy milk and a refrigerated soy milk is how it is packaged. Shelf stable beverages are packaged in an aseptic (sterile) way so they can sit on a shelf without refrigeration until after they are opened.

What is dipotassium phosphate, and why is it in soymilk?

Dipotassium phosphate is a buffer, which helps keep a liquid at the correct acidity. It is added to soy milk help prevent curdling or separation when heated.

Many shelf stable soy milks contain dipotassium phosphate to protect the beverage during the aseptic packaging process.

Dipotassium phosphate is not considered potentially harmful and there is a reasonable amount of research available on its safety. (20)

However, if you are concerned about consuming phosphates in general, there are several soy milk options that avoid using this additive.

What is a Barista Blend Soy Milk?

Barista Blend soy milks are formulated to create an attractive foam on a cappuccino or latte.  Barista beverages tend to contain more fat and have minor formulation differences that help the plant-based beverage perform well in coffee drinks.

Just like any store-bought product, it is best to read the ingredients on something you are going to eat or drink.  You can always ask to see the soymilk carton before ordering your favorite coffee beverage.

What about antinutrients found in soy?

Soy contains compounds sometimes referred to as anti-nutrients. These compounds include trypsin inhibitors, lectins, phytic acids, and indigestible oligosaccharides.

Making soymilk from soybeans significantly reduces these anti-nutrient ingredients. Properly cooking soy significantly reduces the amount of anti-nutrients in soy-based foods.

Helpfully, some soymilk brands detail the steps they take to reduce anti-nutrients in their products. Eden Foods has a webpage that details the steps the company has taken to reduce and also measure the antinutrients in their soy-based products. (21)

Conclusions about choosing a healthy soy milk

When it comes to finding a healthy soy milk, simple clean ingredients are best.  Also, if you like a sweetened soymilk, consider buying the unsweetened version and adding a small amount of your preferred sweetener.

Check out these other product evaluations:

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References:

  1. Non-GMO Project, GMO acreage in 2018: Soy (link)
  2. USDA PDP Special Projects, Glyphosate, 2011 (link)
  3. Modeling for Gellan Gum Production by Sphingomonas paucimobilis ATCC 31461 in a Simplified Medium, Applied and Environmental Microbiology May 2006, 72 (5) 3367-3374 (link)
  4. Products, CPKelco Website (link)
  5. Re-evaluation of Gellan Gum as a Food Additive, EFSA Website, (link)
  6. Re-evaluation of Locust Bean Gum as a Food Additive, EFSA Website, (link)
  7. The Role of Carrageenan and Carboxymethylcellulose in the Development of Intestinal Inflammation, Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2017, 5: 96 (link)
  8. “Board Nixes Use of Carrageenan in Organic Food Production”, Food Safety News Website. 2016 (link)
  9. USDA Defies Advisors, Allows Carrageenan to Keep Organic Label, NPR Website, (link)
  10. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, Eighth Ed.  (link)
  11. West Soymilk Website (link)
  12. Now Foods Website (link)
  13. Pacific Foods Website (link)
  14. Eden Foods Website (link)
  15. Whole Foods Website (link)
  16. Silk Website (link)
  17. Kroger Website (link)
  18. Dream Website (link)
  19. Walmart Website (link)
  20. Is Disodium Phosphate Bad for You?, Healthline Website (link)
  21. Sorting out Soy Confusion, Eden Foods Website (link)