Published on June 27th, 20146
Soy Milk vs. Soy Infant Formula: What Vegan and Other Health-Conscious Parents Need to Know
Vegan parents who cannot breast feed often choose organic soy milk, believing it to be less toxic than commercially available infant formulas. By choosing organic, they also avoid GMOs.
While this sounds like a good idea, their good intentions can lead to tragic results because soy milk is seriously deficient as a baby formula. Soy milk is “grossly lacking in the nutrients needed for infants” wrote the FDA in a 1990 warning to Eden Foods and advised Eden and other manufacturers to put warning labels on soy milks so they would not be used as formula substitutes. This occurred back in 1990 after a two-month old girl in California was hospitalized with severe malnutrition. Her parents had fed her EdenSoy brand soy milk instead of infant formula. Because of this and a similar incident in Arkansas involving the SoyMoo brand of soy milk, the FDA issued a warning on June 13, 1990. Since then, most brands of soy milk — but not EdenSoy — include warning labels in tiny print on their packages.
The FDA told manufacturers to put warning labels on packages of soy milk for a very good reason. Soy milk can put an infant’s life in jeopardy. The myth that soy is a health food has led many parents — particularly vegans who use no animal products — to believe that soy milk is a complete and nourishing food not only for adults but for babies and children. It is not, and severe vitamin, mineral, fatty acid and amino acid deficiencies will occur. That’s why supplements such as the amino acid methionine are required by law to be added to soy infant formula.
Sadly, there have been deaths as well as hospitalizations of vegan babies on soy milk. In May 2007, vegan parents in Atlanta were found guilty of the death of their six month old baby. To supplement the mother’s inadequate supply of breast milk the parents had fed their son soy milk and apple juice. The baby was only 3 1/2 pounds when he died of starvation in April 2004. Previously a New York couple were convicted of murder and a Florida couple of manslaughter. New cases continue to appear in the news, along with a lot of commentary from vegans about how the unfortunate families in question have been denied their rights or just needed guidance from a vegan doctor or nutritionist as to how to properly supplement the soy milk.
In fact, soy milk cannot easily be turned into anything close to a balanced infant formula. Indeed, it’s so difficult that soy infant formula can easily lead to overt malnutrition if the product is improperly formulated or manufactured. This has led to numerous emergency recalls over the years — far more than occurs with dairy formula — and with far more serious consequences. The reason is simple: With cow’s milk, the basic components (proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals) are similar to those in human milk and have evolved to perform similar functions such as the building of mammalian brain, bone, muscle and other tissues, and the provision of metabolic energy. There are differences, of course between people and cows and human milk and cow’s milk, but if formulators of dairy-based formulas overlook them in ignorance, the likelihood is strong they will be at least partly compensated for by similar factors from the cow’s milk.
In contrast, soybeans and other plant species did not evolve for for the benefit of human infants. Accordingly, turning soy milk into formula requires massive supplementation, without which serious malnutrition will occur. The most famous case occurred in Fall 2003 when an improperly formulated soy formula caused the deaths of three babies and brain damage to at least four other babies in Israel. The infants were using Remedia brand formula that was seriously deficient in vitamin B1 because its manufacturer had failed to add it. Soy milk does not contain added B1 or other of the essential supplements needed to nourish growing babies.
The deaths of the three Israeli infants from the improperly manufactured soy formula in 2003 led the Israeli Health Ministry to form a 13-member committee of pediatricians, oncologists, toxicologists and other health experts to investigate soy formula and soy foods. The committee not only confirmed serious risks from improperly manufactured soy formula such as the Remedia product but from all soy formulas. In July 2005, the Ministry issued a health advisory, in which it warned that babies should not receive soy formula (except as a last resort) and that children up to age 18 should not eat soy foods or drink soy milk more than once per day to a maximum of three times per week. The Ministry was concerned about many health issues, including adverse effects on fertility and increased cancer risk.
The Israeli warning — as well as subsequent warnings from the French Food Agency, German Institute of Risk Assessment and British Dietetic Association — is why I’m not going to suggest vegans switch from organic soy milk to one of the organic soy formulas that is now available in the marketplace. Instead, I strongly recommend a homemade formula using one of the recipes for infant formula in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell. These recipes are also available for free in the Children’s Health section of the WAPF website www.westonaprice.org
In my experience this advice is not appreciated by vegans. Many tell me they will not even consider an infant formula based on raw cow or goat’s milk. Still more say the very thought of preparing a meat-based formula — a nourishing solution for babies that cannot tolerate dairy products — revolting. Many repeat the mantra “My baby is not a little calf.” To which I reply, “Well, your baby’s a whole lot more like a little calf than a soybean.”
Organic soy formula is now available at health food stores. Risky as it is, it’s safer than soy milk. Vegans can also find vegan formulas online based on carrot juice, green juices, almond milk and other vegan products online. These serve vegan ideology well, but will ill serve babies, putting them at risk for severe malnutrition and life-long health challenges.
Mother Nature designed breast milk for babies. Like it or not, that’s an animal product.