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Soy milk does contain phytoestrogens (an estrogen-like hormone found in plants such as whole grains, potatoes, dried beans, and apples), but there's no scientific evidence to date that drinking soy milk is harmful to children or adults. People have been drinking soy milk since the 1960s without ill effect. Many brands of soy milk highlight the fact that they contain isoflavones, phytoestrogens that may lower blood cholesterol levels in adults.
Soy milk in moderation (1 to 2 cups a day) is a good alternative for children over a year old who won't drink milk, are lactose intolerant, or are allergic to cow's milk. However, some children are allergic to the protein in soy. Although most children eventually outgrow a soy allergy, it may persist into adulthood.
If your child has a reaction to soy, talk to your child's doctor. If soy milk is appropriate, just be sure to buy the vitamin-fortified, whole-fat variety to make sure your child is getting the necessary nutrients.
Also make sure your child's diet contains other calcium-rich (or calcium-fortified) foods because soy milk contains phytates, naturally occurring substances found in whole grain foods, legumes, and nuts that can reduce the absorption of calcium and other minerals. While the label on a container of fortified soy milk may say that an 8-ounce glass contains 200 to 300 mg of calcium, the phytates can keep your child from absorbing the full amount.
Studies have found that the body absorbs only about 75 percent of the calcium from soy milk. So include calcium-rich foods – such as broccoli, kale, lime-processed tortillas, yogurt, and cheese – in your child's diet. Other options include calcium-fortified juice, cereal, waffles, and breakfast bars.