We’ve all heard it before: milk grows strong bones. But, could dairy alternatives have the same osteogenic benefits as “moo juice?" A new study published in The FASEB Journal has linked a heavy soy diet in childhood with overall better bone quality as an adult. Eating soy regularly as a child may in fact have the same bone benefits as cows milk, the study suggested.

Researchers examined a group of very young female rats to reach these findings about the advantages of soy for bones. An experimental group was fed a soy protein isolate diet for 30 days beginning at just 24 days old, and then they were switched to a regular standard rodent diet until 6 months of age. Finally, both groups of rats were altered to mimic postmenopausal bone loss in women. After comparing the two groups, scientists found that the female rats who were fed soy had stronger bones in adulthood.

Though results of an animal study can't be directly applied to humans, the research indicates further studies may be warranted.

"Appropriate early-life nutrition can optimize peak bone mass," researcher Jin-Ran Chen, M.D. said, in a news release. "Consumption of soy foods has a variety of health benefits, including amelioration of bone loss during adulthood."

These findings may be heartening for lactose intolerant children. The dairy alternative contains no cholesterol and is better tolerated, with no associated bloating or breakouts.

"The centuries-old mantra that children need milk to 'grow strong bones' remains true, but here we have evidence that the protein components of soy 'milk' have key osteogenic effects," said Thoru Pederson, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "This finding could ultimately have major pediatric health impacts throughout various parts of the world."

Source: Chen JR, Lazarenko OP, Blackburn ML, Shankar K. Dietary Factors During Early Life Program Bone Formation In Female Rats. FASEB Journal. 2016.

Read more:

Got Milk? The Skinny On Dairy Milk Vs. Organic Soy Milk, And The One I Chose For My Health

Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month: Eat Your Way To Strong Bones With These 4 Foods