Dairy Substitutes: Soy or Almond Milk

soy milk

For a variety of reasons, more people are making the switch from dairy milk (cow’s milk) to either soy or almond milk. Ironically, neither almond nor soy milk is technically milk as they are not obtained from the mammary glands of an animal. Almond and soy milk are both considered plant- based dairy substitutes. Is there a benefit for someone with diabetes to switch their milk type from dairy milk to these dairy substitutes?

What are Some Reasons People Switch to Dairy Substitutes like Almond and Soy Milk?

              Allergies: People who are allergic to milk (lactose, casein, whey allergies) avoid cow’s milk and yogurt due to their allergies. Both unsweetened almond and soy milk can take the place of milk in a 1:1 replacement ratio in recipes and can be used as beverages or in cereals.

             Cholesterol: Cow’s milk: whole, low fat, 1% or 2% milk contains cholesterol. Those consciously restricting cholesterol may prefer to use soy or almond milk as these dairy replacements are cholesterol- free.

            Blood Sugar Impact: For those with diabetes, neither unsweetened soy nor almond milk has a significant impact on blood sugar. Although soy milk is derived from a legume, it contains far more protein than carbohydrate and is processed in the body like protein. There is no significant rise in blood sugar or insulin release from the ingestion of unsweetened soy milk. Soy milk has as much protein as cow’s milk.

           Hormones and Antibiotics: Some people are switching to dairy substitutes because cow’s milk may contain hormones or antibiotics that may be the cow’s feed source.

Is Soy Milk Really a Nutritious Food?

 Soy milk is made by soaking soybeans in water and grinding the beans and water until it becomes a smooth beverage blend of oil, water, and digestible protein. Soy milk is low in fat and contains no cholesterol. People drink cow’s milk for its high protein content. Growing children and pregnant women are advised to drink milk for its health benefits, especially high quality protein and calcium. Most people don’t realize that calcium is not inherent in milk and is added through a process called fortification.

Cow’s milk is also fortified with Vitamin D. Soy has the highest level of protein of any legume and contains an amino acid balance close enough to human needs that it is considered a complete protein. So both cow’s milk and soy milk are said to contain high biological value protein. One cup (8 ounces) of soy milk contains 7-10 grams of high quality protein. One cup (8 ounces) of dairy milk contains 8 grams of high quality protein. Soy milk is a good source of iron.  It can be fortified with calcium (as is cow’s milk) and some brands contain more calcium than cow’s milk.

How Does Soy Milk Taste?

Although there are flavored versions of soy milk including chocolate and vanilla, most of these flavored milks contain added sweeteners and carbohydrate grams. For those with diabetes, these sweetened soy milks contain carbohydrate grams that will need to be considered in the meal plan. Unsweetened soy milk’s taste is described as beany; after all, soy beans are a legume. Some people jokingly refer to soy milk as bean juice.

Is Soy Really Heart Healthy?

The FDA recognizes soy milk’s high quality protein as having a role in decreasing LDL cholesterol and has approved a “heart-healthy” claim on soy food packaging. Those soy products that contain at least 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving can claim on the label to reduce the risk of heart disease, when consumed as part of a healthy diet. Soy helps lower cholesterol and may work in other ways to benefit blood vessels and the heart. So far, of all the potential health benefits related to soy, the one related to heart health has the most solid evidence.

What are some health conditions that may be adversely affected by the consumption of soy milk?

 Keep in mind that the negative health consequences linked to soy consumption are not related to a normal intake of soy. They are based on the equivalent of a very high intake of soy. Normal soy consumption does not appear to be problematic. If vegans are concerned that their main protein source is soy, they can get protein from non- soy sources including grains, legumes, nuts and nut butters, and enriched cereals.

          -Testosterone levels and infertility

Soy contains a type of protein called isoflavone. A high intake of isoflavone has been linked to decreased sperm concentration and testosterone levels in male monkeys. Abnormally high intake of isoflavones is not recommended but normal use of soy milk is considered acceptable.

          -Breast Cancer: Soy milk contains phytoestrogen, a plant hormone similar to estrogen. Soy milk’s phytoestrogen is known as soy sterol. Although there have been articles and news reports linking phytoestrogens to hormone related cancers like breast and prostate cancers, there is no conclusive research. Research is inconclusive as some studies conclude that soy increases the risk of breast cancer while more recent research suggests soy milk consumption may actually decrease breast cancer rates for some population groups.  Some oncologists recommend limiting soy intake if there is a personal or family history of breast cancer. Phytoestrogens may reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen (a breast cancer medication) and research at the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends those taking tamoxifen should avoid soy. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic reviewed all the evidence and concluded that soy has not been shown to fuel breast cancer cells. “If breast cancer patients enjoy soy products,” they concluded, “it seems reasonable for them to continue to use them.”

          -Thyroid issues

Isoflavones (a protein in soy milk) may lower iodine levels which can decrease functioning of the thyroid gland. Soy milk may also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb thyroid medication (American Thyroid Association) and may cause issues if there is iodine deficiency. (In the US, most people consume iodized salt which balances out any iodine lost from soy consumption).Soy allergies: Soy allergies are common and manifest in hives, swelling, diarrhea, and/or vomiting.

About Almond Milk


The use of almond milk dates back to medieval times. During religious fast days, when people were to avoid eating meat, almond milk was used as a substitute for milk; an animal based product. Almond milk is the white liquid made by soaking, blending, and straining almonds.

Almond milk is processed like healthy fat and likewise does not have a major impact on blood sugar or insulin. It is derived from almonds and has the benefit of monounsaturated fatty acids. Dairy milk and yogurts are processed like carbohydrate and their carbohydrate grams do impact blood sugar and insulin.


Is Almond Milk a Nutritious Food?

For those with diabetes, almond milk is considered to be a very low carbohydrate product. It is also low in calories. Although it is lower in protein than soy milk or cow’s milk, it is high in iron and a great source of calcium, and Vitamins D and E. Almond milk contains nearly 50% more calcium than cow’s milk. Most almond milk manufacturers fortify their milk with additional calcium. Almond milk also provides magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, and zinc. Almond milk contains unsaturated fats that provide a composition of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It is thought that these fatty acids may reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and protect against cardiovascular and neurological disease

How Does Almond Milk Taste?

Unlike the distinct flavor of soy milk, almond milk has a mild, nutty flavor that most people enjoy.  Many people prefer the taste of almond milk to soy milk or cow’s milk.

Allergies: Avoid almond milk if you have a peach or tree nut allergy.

Almond milk comes unsweetened, sweetened and flavored. Those with diabetes should use the unsweetened versions to keep carbohydrate content down.

If you are a person with diabetes who is vegan, vegetarian, has a milk allergy, or is trying to lower cholesterol or minimize the intake of hormones and antibiotics in food; using soy or almond milk may be a great option. Both have little impact on blood sugar. Make sure to purchase the unflavored, unsweetened versions so you don’t have to account for carbohydrate grams.

If you dislike or are allergic to dairy based milk, you have options:  almond milk or soy milk to name just two.  They have different nutritional benefits (soy is high in protein, almond milk has essential fatty acids. They each have different nutritional benefits.;  Almond milk is high in iron.  Soy milk has high quality protein.  Both are a big deal when you can’t or decide not to drink cow’s milk.





About Diane Kress

Author of The New York Times Bestseller; The Metabolism Miracle, The Metabolism Miracle Cookbook, and The Diabetes Miracle. and The Metabolism Miracle, Revised Edition. Owner, developer, and administrator of The Metabolism Miracle's support site: www.Miracle-Ville.com. Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, www.themetabolismmiracle.com www.thediabetesmiracle.com www.miracle-ville.com Email: dietquestions@ymail.com
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