Nutrition Hotline

by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

This issue’s Nutrition Hotline addresses how to keep soymilk costs down, whether the calcium in fruit juices is vegan, how to find fortified cereals made without GMOs, and what vegans can do to lower cholesterol levels quickly.

QUESTION: “I’m raising three vegan children (5, 3, and almost 1), and we go through a lot of soymilk. The price is astronomical. I’ve considered making my own to save money, but from what I can gather, the ‘enriched’ (with calcium, riboflavin, and vitamin D) soymilks we buy have these ingredients added after processing the beans, so they wouldn’t be in my homemade variety. I feel like I have no choice but to spend hundreds of dollars each month on commercial soymilk to get the calcium, etc., into the kids. I can get the oldest child to eat her green leafies and garbanzos (Calcium-givers, right?) but not the younger ones.... Is there an alternative?”
D in Ohio, via e-mail

ANSWER: For many vegetarians, enriched soymilk is a convenient way to get some key nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, as well as protein and riboflavin. For kids with erratic tastes, it may be easier to persuade them to drink a couple of glasses of fortified soymilk (300 milligrams of calcium/cup) than to eat several servings of collard greens or kale (300 milligrams of calcium in 1-1/4 cups of collards or 3 cups of kale) daily. That’s not to say soymilk is the only source of calcium or any of the other nutrients. Calcium can also be found in green leafy vegetables like kale and collard greens, calcium-fortified fruit juices and breakfast cereals, and some tofu. (Read labels.) Vitamin D is added to some brands of orange juice, and our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to summer sun. Vitamin B12 is found in Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast and in some breakfast cereals. Vitamin and mineral supplements offer another option.

If your children really like soymilk, making your own is one way to reduce the cost. There are commercial soymilk makers that simplify the task. Homemade soymilk won’t have the vitamins and minerals that are added to enriched soymilk; therefore, you must either make sure that your children’s diets contain adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 or use supplements to ensure they get adequate amounts of these nutrients.

If you prefer using commercial soymilks, there are a few ways that you can reduce the cost. Generally, the aseptically packaged products are less expensive than those that require refrigeration. Some stores have their own brand of fortified soymilk that is often much less expensive than ‘name’ brands are. Buying clubs, food co-ops, natural foods stores, and grocery stores do have sales on soymilk. When they do, I stock up and buy enough soymilk to last for several months. Sometimes these sales can reduce the cost of soymilk by 50 percent or more. It helps if your family is willing to drink whichever brand of soymilk is on sale. You may also be able to get a discount for buying soymilk by the case.

In addition, take a look at the amount of soymilk that your kids drink. Many eating plans for vegan children call for 2 or 3 cups of soymilk daily. If your kids are using more than that, perhaps other beverages can be used to replace some of the soymilk.

QUESTION: “While I found Preventing Osteoporosis: Building Strong Bones Over a Lifetime (VJ Issue 2, 2005) very useful, I am still in the dark about whether the added calcium in fruit juices is from vegan sources, and my scrutiny of labels and various books has not enlightened me....

“One other suggestion — there were some cereals listed with high calcium content, but they were all mainstream. If there are any alternatives for those of us who prefer non-GMO sources, that too would be a big help. Thank you for raising public awareness about these issues.”
DC, via e-mail

ANSWER: We contacted Minute Maid and Tropicana for information about the source of the added calcium in their orange juices. Minute Maid said, “The source of the calcium in Minute Maid Brand products is a combination of tricalcium phosphate and calcium lactate. Calcium lactate is a food grade material prepared by neutralizing lactic acid with lime (mineral). Tricalcium phosphate is a food grade material refined from phosphate rock. The rock is mixed with sulfuric acid to form a mixture of calcium sulphate (gypsum) and phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is neutralized with lime resulting in tricalcium phosphate. Lactic acid is derived from fermentation of sugars or starches.” Tropicana said, “The source of the calcium in our products is calcium hydroxide. This form of calcium is not derived from an animal source. It is actually derived from limestone.” As far as we can tell, the calcium added to these products is not animal-derived.

We also looked into calcium-fortified cereals that contain organic ingredients, and we found several. They range from 10 percent (100 milligrams) of the Daily Value for calcium in a 1-cup serving for Cascadian Farm’s Clifford Crunch to 40 percent (400 milligrams) of the calcium Daily Value in a 1-cup serving of Optimum Slim cereal from Nature’s Path. Organic cereals that appear to be vegan and contain calcium include Nature’s Path’s Optimum Power (250 milligrams/cup), Health Valley’s Slender cereal (300 milligrams/cup), and Nature’s Path’s Optimum Slim cereal (400 milligrams/cup).

QUESTION: “My latest cholesterol is 207. I consider myself a vegan, meaning without making myself and my life miserable, I adhere to the vegan diet 95 percent. I am on an extended road trip, so doing any exhaustive research is out of the question. Is there any info you can share with me as to how to change my diet immediately to lower the cholesterol? I do have a liking for the ‘junk food’ sold at health food stores. They are only a little improvement from the general grocery store, I know....”
LY, via e-mail

ANSWER: You’re right to be concerned about your blood cholesterol levels. There are steps you can take to improve your diet. However, many factors, including genetics, can lead to high blood cholesterol levels. Therefore, it is important to discuss your concerns with your health care provider so that you can work together to develop a treatment plan.

A starting place for dietary change is the Vegetarian Resource Group’s brochure, Heart Healthy Diets: The Vegetarian Way (available at You’ll find lots of ideas for reducing the amount of saturated fat and trans fat and increasing the amount of fiber in your diet; these changes can often lead to a lower cholesterol level.

Many studies have shown that people who eat a large amount of fruits and vegetables have a reduced risk of heart disease. Fruits and some vegetables can make a very convenient snack when you’re on the road. Consider replacing some or all of the ‘junk food’ with fresh fruit and vegetables like carrots, cherry tomatoes, and other easy-to-prepare vegetables.

Whole grains are also associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Look for products containing whole wheat flour, brown rice, and other whole grains. Just because a product contains whole grains does not make it a heart-healthy product, however. Unfortunately, some manufacturers continue to make whole grain products that are high in saturated and trans fats, so check the product’s nutrition label.

If you are overweight, weight reduction can also help to lower blood cholesterol levels. In any case, a session or two with a registered dietitian who could review your eating habits and food preferences and make suggestions for fine-tuning your diet would be helpful.