Cow’s Milk vs. Soy Milk: Calcium and Other Myths

Cow’s Milk vs. Soy Milk: Calcium and Other Myths

Lately, the dairy industry has been waging war against soy milk, suing the manufacturers of soy beverages for using the word milk and claiming that the dairy industry alone has a right to use it. This is ironic, because I believe a case could be made that the dairy industry should not be allowed to use the word milk unless they specifically state that they are referring to “cow’s milk.” For truth in labeling, shouldn’t every cow’s milk carton say on it, “Cow’s milk”? Isn’t that actually what it is?

Suzanne Havala is the primary author of the American Dietetic Association’s (ADA) 1988 and 1993 position papers on vegetarian diets. She reminds us, “Milk is species specific. Each species’ milk is tailor-made for its own kind. So how on Earth did people start drinking milk from cows? Even adult cows don’t drink cow’s milk. And if we drink cow’s milk, why stop there? Why not drink dog’s milk? Or bear’s milk?” 

Bear’s milk aside for the moment, in 2000 the National Milk Producers Federation tried to keep soy beverages from being sold alongside cow’s milk in the grocery aisles. A spokesperson for the National Milk Producers Federation made it clear why the industry was upset. “It is,” he said, “a clear attempt to compete with dairy products.”

Heaven forbid.

Comparing Milk to Milk... Soy That Is

Meanwhile, the dairy industry is spending ever more hundreds of millions of dollars on ads and other forms of promotion, telling us things about cow’s milk and soy milk that, well — let’s just say they don’t mind stretching the truth a little.

For example, here’s what the Dairy Bureau tells us about the nutritional comparison between cow’s milk and soy milk: “Unfortified soy beverages contain only half of the phosphorus, 40 percent of the riboflavin, 10 percent of the vitamin A, (and) 3 percent of the calcium . . . found in a serving of cow’s milk.”

Let’s look at this carefully for a moment.

Only half the phosphorus? Brenda Davis is a registered dietitian and Chair of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Practice Group. She is not impressed by the dairy industry claims. “We get plenty of phosphorus in the diet,” she says, “and possibly even too much. Providing only half the phosphorus of cow’s milk is an advantage, not a disadvantage.” 

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Details the Dairy Industry Doesn't Care For You to Know

Only 40 percent of the riboflavin? It’s true that unfortified soy milks contain only about half as much of this nutrient as cow’s milk, but riboflavin is plentiful in nutritional yeast and green leafy vegetables, and is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, so getting enough riboflavin isn’t a problem for people who eat a variety of healthy foods.

In fact, vegans (who consume no dairy products) consume as much, or nearly as much, of this vitamin as lacto-ovo vegetarians and non-vegetarians. A mere teaspoon of Red Star Nutritional Yeast powder contains as much riboflavin (1.6 mg) as an entire quart of cow’s milk.

Only 10 percent of the vitamin A? Too much vitamin A is toxic, so this could be a good thing. Vitamin A deficiency is quite rare among North Americans and Europeans who eat plant-based diets. Furthermore, vitamin A is high in cow’s milk only because it’s added to it, and there is no reason it could not be added to non-dairy beverages if there was some advantage to doing so.

Cow's Milk & Soy Milk: Calcium and Other Myths

Cow’s Milk vs. Soy Milk: Calcium and Other Myths Only 3 percent of the calcium provided by cow’s milk? Where does the dairy industry come up with this stuff? All of the most popular soy beverages sold in the United States provide vastly more calcium than the 3 percent claimed by the Dairy Bureau. Soymoo provides 116 percent as much calcium as cow’s milk; Westsoy Plus provides 100 percent as much; Vitasoy Enriched provides 100 percent as much; Pacific Soy Enriched provides 100 percent as much; and Edensoy Extra provides 67 percent as much. Even those soy beverages that have not been enriched provide two to nine times as much calcium as claimed by the Dairy Bureau.

Meanwhile, there are a few more things the dairy industry isn’t telling you about the nutritional comparison between cow’s milk and soy milk.

For example:

• Cow’s milk provides more than nine times as much saturated fat as soy beverages, so is far more likely to contribute to heart disease.

• Soy beverages provide more than 10 times as much essential fatty acids as cow’s milk, so provide a far healthier quality of fat.

• Soy beverages are cholesterol-free, while cow’s milk contains 34 mg of cholesterol per cup, which again means that cow’s milk is far worse for your heart and cardiovascular system.

• Soy beverages lower both total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, while cow’s milk raises both total and LDL cholesterol levels, providing yet more reasons soy milk is better for your health.

• Soy beverages, unlike cow’s milk, provide substantial amounts of substances known as “phytoestrogens” which lower both heart disease and cancer risk.

• Men who consume one to two servings of soy milk per day are 70 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who don’t.

When Is a Milk Not Classified as a Milk?

The dairy industry has fought long and hard to keep soy beverages from being included in the milk group in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But in 2000, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, despite being stacked with members who had received grants from the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board and had been “visiting professors” with the National Dairy Council, recommended that soy beverages be included as an option in the milk group.


  • Antibiotics allowed in U.S. cow’s milk: 80

  • Antibiotics found in soy milk: None

  • Children with chronic constipation so intractable that it can’t be treated successfully by laxatives, who are cured by switching from cow’s milk to soymilk: 44 percent

  • Average American’s estimate when asked what percentage of adults worldwide do not drink milk: 1 percent

  • Actual number of adults worldwide who do not drink milk: 65 percent

This article was excerpted with permission from the book:

Cow’s Milk vs. Soy Milk: Calcium and Other Myths The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World
by John Robbins.(10th anniversary edition)

Reprinted with permission of Conari Press, and imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. ©2001,2011. The Food Revolution is available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher at 1-800-423-7087 or

For more info and/or to order this book on Amazon, click here.

About the Author

Cow’s Milk vs. Soy Milk: Calcium and Other Myths John Robbins is the author of Diet for a New America, The Food Revolution, and the widely acclaimed Reclaiming Our Health. His life and work have been featured on the PBS special, Diet for a New America. Groomed to follow in the footsteps of his father, founder of the Baskin-Robbins empire, he chose a different, more authentic path for himself. John is considered to be one of the most eloquent and powerful spokespersons in the world for a sane, ethical and sustainable future. Visit his website

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