Health Claims Buoy Soymilk Sales

Growing evidence of healthful effects, together with improved tastes and textures, lend triple-digit growth to booming beverage category.

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By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

Most Americans strive to be healthy, but they also want their wellness journey to be an easy one with convenient food choices and great taste.

Consumers warm up
to refrigerated soymilk


American consumers are paying closer attention to food labels, according to the 10th Annual Consumer Attitudes Nutrition Survey, conducted for the Chesterfield, Mo.-based United Soybean Board. Total fat remains the most noted item on the “Nutrition Facts” label at 17%, followed by calories (14%), and saturated fat (13%).

General health is the biggest reason consumers review nutrition labels (43%), however the urge to lose weight is not far behind at 21%. Fortunately, consumers do recognize foods that may help fight obesity and increase the healthiness of their diet. In fact, 62% of Americans believe that eating soy-based foods may play a role in reducing obesity. Even more Americans, 74%, perceive soy products as healthy.

This perception has encouraged 34 percent of those consumers aware of soy’s health benefits to seek out products that specifically contain soy. Soy products are consumed regularly (once a week or more) by 28% of Americans. With soy-based foods such as soy burgers, soymilk, and soy protein bars increasing in popularity, consumers are expanding their consumption of many different soy products across the board.
So it’s no surprise that one of the fastest-growing categories in the beverage marketplace is refrigerated soymilk. With sales up over 100% per year for the past three years, and with dollar sales spurting up from $100 million in 1995 to nearly $600 million in 2002, soymilk comprises 87.3% of non-dairy beverage sales in mainstream markets, according to the Chesterfield, Mo.-based United Soybean Board.


Derived from the soybean, which has been used as a food source in Asian countries for thousands of years, soymilk’s “sudden” success can be attributed to more nutrition-conscious consumers, growing numbers of vegetarians and flexitarians, established appeal to the lactose-intolerant, and, perhaps most important, greatly improved flavor and texture profiles.

Also known as soy beverage or soy drink, soymilk is high in protein. In fact, a cup of plain soymilk contains 7 grams. It also has 10 mg of calcium, helping earn its “milk” title, and many calcium-fortified soymilks contain between 200 and 300 mg of calcium per serving. Soyfoods are high in both oxalates and phytate, two compounds that inhibit calcium absorption, but the calcium from soyfoods is very well absorbed and has a fractional absorption rate equal to that of dairy milk.

Low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free, soymilk is a smart choice for anyone seeking to limit their cholesterol, fat or sodium intake, and for those who want to reduce or eliminate lactose from their diets. It also contains fiber (dairy milk has none) thiamine, iron, phosphorus, copper, potassium and magnesium and little sodium. Along with those attributes, some brands fortify soymilk with important vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B-12.

A healthy prescription

Most doctors agree that a diet that includes 25 grams of soy protein per day is an easy and effective way to improve overall health. Soy foods’ widely reported health benefits include heart health, bone health, assistance in managing diabetes, protection against many types of cancer, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Many also claim that it supports kidney health, which helps your body clear itself of toxins caused by poor diet and pollution. Soy is also a natural source of potassium, iron, and vitamin B-12.

It’s also a good source of isoflavones, estrogen-like compounds that seem to have a myriad of health benefits. Women are urged to eat more soy products to alleviate annoying symptoms of menopause. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which some doctors believe can supplement dwindling natural estrogen and alleviate hot flashes, dry skin and fuzzy memory, among other unpleasant conditions.

But women generally watch calories, so reduced-fat and fat-free soymilk varieties have been developed. Among them, Minneapolis-based General Mills’ 8th Continent Light contains seven grams of Solae brand soy protein per serving, 50% fewer carbs and 25% fewer calories than skim milk.

“Both 8th Continent and 8th Continent Light contain as much calcium as cow’s milk, and each serving provides vitamins D, A, B-12 and riboflavin – nutrients important for good health,” says Elizabeth Somer, nutritionist and author of Nutrition for Women.Researchers at Colorado State University have found that soy products are a great choice for men as well. Soy may stave off baldness, prostate cancer and improve troubled skin because of equol, a bold but enigmatic molecule created in the intestine when soy is digested. The equol molecule chemically binds itself to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the male hormone that causes male-pattern baldness, acne and excess body hair and that stimulates prostate growth. Meanwhile, Penn State University sports physicians found that athletes who drank a "soy carbohydrate beverage" after weight training and aerobics had a lower risk of muscle damage.

ABCs of soymilk

A growing number of children avoid dairy products because of digestive conditions, food allergies and family religious and cultural beliefs. Fortified soymilk can fill this nutrient gap.

“As of May 19th, legislation was passed in both the Senate Agriculture Committee and the House to make it easier for children who do not drink milk to enjoy a nutritious soymilk beverage as part of their school meals,” says Gerry Amantea, president of the Washington-based Soyfoods Association of North America and vice president for technical affairs of the Hain Celestial Group, Boulder, Colo.

White Wave Inc., Boulder, Colo., a subsidiary of Dean Foods, has introduced Very Vanilla Silk Soymilk, the first refrigerated soymilk formulated especially for kids. Each cup contains 35 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, and is fortified with vitamins A, B2, B12, C, D and E, phosphorus, magnesium, to help kids make the most of their ABCs.

“Our nation is experiencing a disturbing trend of increasing obesity and poor eating habits among children,” says Steve Demos, White Wave president and founder. “As a socially responsible company, we feel it is our duty to provide foods that will improve the health of the next generation. We developed Very Vanilla because it’s healthy, but also because it’s something that kids will generally enjoy.”

From bean to cup

Soymilk generally comes from water soaked and ground whole soybeans that are cooked and filtered to a protein-rich soy pulp. After cooling, the soymilk resembles dairy milk. To give the soymilk the "mouth feel" of dairy milk, many commercial brands add seaweed and malted cereal extract to boost thickness and a mild sweetness. The touch of sweetness is intended to mimic the sweetness that comes from the lactose in dairy milk.

Besides whole soybeans, manufacturers also hydrate full-fat soy flour or they use soy protein solids (such as soy concentrate). Soymilk is available as a refrigerated milk substitute, creamer, an instant powder, in coffee drinks and nutritional milks and it can be used to make soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy sour cream and soy frozen desserts.

Vegans, the lactose-intolerant and those who wish to add the health benefits of soy to their diets needn’t limit their options to drinking a glass. Soymilk can be used in almost any way that cow's milk is used. It can be poured over hot or cold breakfast cereal, used to make cholesterol-free cream sauces that are low in saturated fat, made into pancake and waffle batter, shakes, puddings, cream soups and in desserts.

Whole latte love

For those who would like to add soy to their diet, soy-based espresso drinks are a great way to accomplish this. Cow’s milk is substituted with soymilk in a variety of recipes, because soymilk can be steamed and frothed with great ease. Just check out the varieties available at your local Starbucks. At home, the barista need only fill a frothing pitcher with soymilk and proceed as usual; although it’s notable that soymilk should not be re-steamed.

From the simple – vanilla -- to the sublime – chocolate -- soymilk is available in exotic flavors as well. White Wave Silk comes in Mocha and Chai, and Kikkoman has introduced Green Tea and Tropical Delight (a combination of soymilk and apple, pineapple, peach, orange mixed with the juice of carrots, celery and spinach). And those on a high-protein diet will be delighted to hear that researchers at the University of Kentucky found that soy protein reduces abdominal fat and promotes more rapid weight loss.

General Mills’ 8th Continent Light is among the latest low-fat and low-calorie soymilk offerings—it contains seven grams of Solae brand soy protein per serving, 50% fewer carbs and 25% fewer calories than skim milk.

Formulated especially for kids’ palates, White Wave’s Very Vanilla fortified soymilk is intended to fill the nutrient gap for children who avoid dairy products because of digestive conditions, food allergies and family religious and cultural beliefs.


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