The milk components lactose and casein enhance the apparent absorption of magnesium and possibly also of calcium, whereas phytate, which occurs in soya-bean products, has an inhibitory effect. This implies that soya-bean beverage v. cow's milk could lower bioavailability of Mg and Ca. This hypothesis was tested in two experiments with growing rats. Feeding soya-bean beverage v. cow's milk consistently lowered body-weight gain, enhanced bone turnover, as measured by increased plasma alkaline phosphatase (EC 220.127.116.11) activity and increased urinary hydroxyproline excretion, and decreased Mg and Ca concentrations in the femur. Because the mineral compositions of the soya-bean beverage and the cow's milk were different, the intake of Mg was higher in rats fed on soya-bean beverage, whereas that of Ca was higher in rats fed on cow's milk. Supplementation of the soya-bean beverage either with phosphorus and Ca or with P, Ca and methionine, to concentrations identical to those in milk, restored growth and bone mineralization. When using diets carefully balanced for Mg, Ca, P, sodium, potassium and methionine, soya-bean beverage v. cow's milk in the diets decreased apparent absorption and urinary excretion of Mg and Ca. Hydrolysis of lactose in milk decreased absorption and urinary excretion of Mg; it did not significantly affect Ca absorption but lowered urinary Ca excretion. The present study shows that soya-bean beverage v. milk depresses Mg and Ca bioavailability, as would be predicted on the basis of reported effects of their purified components.