April 2024 Issue

Soyfoods: Soy in the Dairy Aisle
By Michelle Dudash, RDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 26 No. 4 P. 12

Alternative dairy options continue to prove their nutritional equivalencies.

From cheese to yogurt alternatives to refrigerated beverages, soyfoods have made their way into the dairy aisle in US grocery stores within the last few decades. Meanwhile, soyfoods have been enjoyed in Asian countries for centuries. But as consumers become more aware of health and environmental concerns, they will continue to increasingly seek plant-based alternatives globally and boost soyfoods sales.1

The global soyfoods market size hit $47.1 billion in 2022, according to a 2023 report and is expected to reach $62.4 billion by 2028, which demonstrates a growth rate of 4.7% from 2023 to 2028.2

Soyfoods’ History in the Dairy Aisle
As soyfoods continue to soar in popularity, consumers may not have stopped to think about how they’re made and how long they’ve been around. At their core, soyfoods are made with simple ingredients. To make commercial soymilk, dried soybeans are soaked, ground, precooked, blended, deodorized (to remove any beany flavor), filtered, and sterilized.3

Soymilk dates back to as early as the 1300s in China, where the earliest document mentions doufujiang (soymilk).4 In the 1920s, companies in China began making, bottling, and selling soymilk. Japan’s first commercial soymilk was sold in bottles in 1954, and by 1980, Japan sold all soymilk in aseptic cartons.

Meanwhile, in the United States, soymilk became popular in the 1980s and appeared commercially in shelf-stable, aseptic packages. In 1996, refrigerated soymilk disrupted the dairy case, being displayed in traditional milk cartons.

In addition, commercially fermented soy yogurt debuted in 1911 in Paris, and it would be decades later, in 1977, that soy yogurt first appeared in US grocery stores.5 While the Chinese produced the first nondairy cheeselike products with fermented tofu during the 1500s, according to mentions in documents, the first soy cheese that embodied more cheese flavor characteristics was introduced in France in 1910 and in the United States in 1934.6

Nutritional Content of Soyfoods
Made from nutritionally rich soybeans, soyfoods in the dairy aisle offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and phytonutrients. Soymilk and soy yogurt provide a complete source of plant-based protein, making them quality sources of protein7; however, soy cheese tends to be lower in protein, averaging 1 to 2 g protein per serving.8

Soymilk naturally contains about 7 g protein per 1-cup serving; is an excellent source of biotin; a good source of iron, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, and magnesium; and also contains calcium, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. The fortification of soymilk often includes adding calcium and vitamins A, B2, B12, and D.9

Nutritionally, flavored soy yogurt is similar to dairy yogurt in terms of calories, fat, and protein, whereas soy cheese may vary widely in protein.

Perhaps the most unique benefit of soyfoods is the relationship between soy protein and heart health, especially soy protein that contains intact isoflavones. While the evidence to support some claims about isoflavones varies, such as reducing bone turnover rate, one appears solid: the relationship between soy protein and coronary heart disease risk. In 1999, the FDA approved the health claim that 25 g of soy protein per day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.10 And fortified soymilk and soy yogurt, specifically, are given special status in the dairy aisle.

Dietary Guidelines on Soymilk and Soy Yogurt
While soymilk is 100% plant-based, the USDA places fortified soymilk (soy beverage) and soy yogurt in the dairy group because they’re nutritionally comparable to their dairy counterparts and are used similarly in meals.7 In fact, soymilk is the only plant-based milk recognized by the USDA that counts toward dairy servings because fortified soymilk is nutritionally similar to cow’s milk and consumed in the same manner.11

Given that nearly 90% of Americans are falling short of consuming the recommended number of dairy group servings, soymilk and soy yogurt may help as a strategy to increase this percentage.12

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Culinary Applications
Ounce-for-ounce, soyfoods (instead of dairy) can be easily incorporated into many favorite recipes. Here’s a breakdown of different soyfood substitutes in the dairy category.

From smoothies to pancakes to baked goods, soymilk is a versatile ingredient that can seamlessly replace dairy milk.

• Plant-protein powered smoothies: Soymilk offers mouthfeel, viscosity, and some fat, providing a creamy, frothy smoothie. Use 6 to 8 oz of soymilk per serving in smoothies in addition to fruits, ice, and protein powder (optional).

• Plant-powered oatmeal: Use soymilk in place of water when cooking oats to give it a nutritional boost, along with creaminess. Oatmeal cooked with any type of milk instead of water may boil over sooner, so keep a close eye on it once things start heating up.

• All the coffee drinks: Ordering or making a coffee drink with soymilk is easy and yields creamy, foamy results, like in lattes and cappuccinos.

Soy Cheese
Soy cheese can be used in all sorts of ways as manufacturers continue to improve on innovations in taste, texture, and meltability.

“A key benefit of soy cheese is that it’s a good option for those who are avoiding dairy and makes an easy swap for cheese in recipes,” says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. “Soy cheese also tends to be lower in saturated fat compared with regular cheese.”

However, Sheth says, consumers should carefully examine the ingredients in soy cheese. “It’s important to practice moderation when it comes to vegan cheese, as it’s often made from coconut oil and may not provide much in terms of protein.”

One of Sheth’s favorite soy cheese brands is Tofutti Better Than Ricotta, which she adds to pasta dishes like lasagna. Sheth also enjoys Field Roast Chao Creamery Plant-Based Slices, a plant-based cheese made with coconut oil and fermented tofu.

Sheth isn’t afraid to take matters into her own hands and make soy cheese herself. She prepares a “queso” dip by blending silken tofu with nutritional yeast, oil, and spices. “I also use shredded tofu mixed with herbs and spices to make vegan quesadillas,” and she makes tofu feta cubes by marinating cubed firm or extra firm tofu with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, herbs, and spices.

Nobell Foods is developing a new kind of soy cheese and has announced that it’s working with farmers to raise special soybean plants that have been bred to recreate the genetic code for the casein protein used in dairy cheese, which is what gives cheese its pull and melt characteristics.

Soy Yogurt
In addition to enjoying soy yogurt straight from the spoon or adding it to smoothies and overnight oats, soy yogurt works well in nutritious desserts, too.

On her plant-based recipe blog Healthy Grocery Girl, Megan Roosevelt, RDN, host of the online cooking show for kids, Fun With Food, uses soy yogurt to make chia pudding, freezer pops, berry yogurt bites, and fruity yogurt bark for a boost of protein and to enhance the creamy texture.

Sheth likes making savory sauces with plain soy yogurt, including tzatziki and raita, a cooling East Indian condiment and side dish.

Potential Added Sugars in Soymilk
Like any plant-based milk, encourage clients to read labels if they’re trying to avoid added sugars. “When shopping for soymilk, I generally recommend buying unsweetened beverages, so look for unsweetened or unsweetened vanilla to avoid added sugars,” Roosevelt says. Roosevelt’s favorite soymilk is Edensoy, because “The unsweetened variety is organic and made with just two simple ingredients: purified water and organic soybeans.”

Try It, You Might Like It
Perhaps the easiest way for clients to begin incorporating soyfoods into their meals is to mix soymilk into their favorite recipes. Clients probably won’t notice the difference but can still reap the benefits of this plant-based protein.

“There’s a wide array when it comes to soyfoods, which can be a valuable asset to a healthful diet,” Sheth says. “Pay attention to the nutrition labels and be creative when using these products.”

Soyfood swaps may take the palate some time to get used to, as with any dietary change, but clients can experiment with different brands and recipes and eventually find those they can enjoy. n

— Michelle Dudash, RDN, is a Cordon Bleu–certified chef, author of Clean Eating Kitchen: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook, and creator of Spicekick Seasoning Mix, a line of gluten-free, no-added-sugar seasoning mixes. Follow her at @michelledudash.

* Michelle Dudash, RDN, reports the following relevant disclosure: She
created content for U.S. Soy in 2023.


1. Soy food market: industry size, share, competition, trends, growth opportunities and forecasts by region – insights and outlook by product, 2024-2031. Research and Markets website. https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/5801943/soy-food-market-industry-size-share#tag-pos-3. Published January 2024.

2. Soy food market: global industry trends, share, size, growth, opportunity and forecast 2023-2028. Research and Markets website. https://www.researchandmarkets.com/report/soy-product#tag-pos-12030%3a+Cargill%2c+Eden+Foods+and+Archer+Daniels+Midland+Unique+Offerings+Capture+Market+Share+in+the+Soy+Foods+Industry&utm_exec=shbe20prd. Published September 2023.

3. Soy milk processing line. Fruit Processing Machine website. https://fruitprocessingmachine.com/portfolio-items/soybean-milk-processing-line/

4. Shurtleff W. Aoyagi A. History of soymilk and other non-dairy milks (1226-2013). SoyInfo Center website. https://www.soyinfocenter.com/books/166. Published August 29, 2013.

5. Shurtleff W. Aoyagi A. History of soy yogurt, soy acidophilus milk and other cultured soymilks (1918-2012). SoyInfo Center website. https://www.soyinfocenter.com/books/156. Published September 29, 2012.

6. Shurtleff W. Aoyagi A. History of cheese, cream cheese and sour cream alternatives (with or without soy) (1896-2013). SoyInfo Center website. https://www.soyinfocenter.com/books/169. Published October 22, 2013.

7. U.S. Soybean Export Council website. Soy Nutritional Content. https://ussec.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Nutrional-content-soy.pdf. Published October 2015. Accessed January 22, 2024.

8. Craig WJ, Mangels AR, Brothers CJ. Nutritional profiles of non-dairy plant-based cheese alternatives. Nutrients. 2022;14(6):1247.

9. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Soymilk (all flavors), unsweetened, with added calcium, vitamins A and D. FoodData Central website. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/175215/nutrients. Accessed January 5, 2024. Updated 2019.

10. Erdman JW Jr. Soy protein and cardiovascular disease: a statement for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee of the AHA. Circulation. 2000;102:2555-2559.

11. What food group is soy (soy beverage) in? U.S. Department of Agriculture AskUSDA website. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-food-group-is-soymilk-soy-beverage-in-What-about-tofu-tempeh-and-other-soy-products. Updated November 30, 2023.

12. U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Published December 2020.