For many, when the word soy comes up in conversation the first things that come to mind are sauce and vegetarian. The first is an obvious staple in most Asian cuisine and the second is often associated with the tofu that is regularly a staple in the vegetarian diet. However, those choosing to enjoy Asian and Vegetarian cuisine aren’t the only people eating soy products. On a daily basis virtually everyone enjoys some type of food that involves an element of soy. While this may simply be a revelation for the typical person, for those with a soy allergy it can really put a crimp into the average meal. Although soy products are almost impossible to avoid, it is thankfully one that occurs less often than the other top eight food allergies (milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish and wheat). According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, “It is estimated that approximately 0.4 percent of American children, or about 298,410 under the age of 18, are allergic to soy, which is a member of the legume family.” Still while this isn’t necessarily the most common of food allergies, it is still vital to know what the risks are and the many products that should be avoided.
Just like many other allergies, reactions to soy come from the body seeing the proteins of the food as something that shouldn’t be in the body. In order to get rid of this foreign object, the body develops a reaction to fight it off and get rid of it. While doctors do know that proteins are what causes the allergic reactions they still are 100% sure exactly which particular protein causes it. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says, “Researchers are still not completely certain which component of soy causes the reactions, but so far 15 allergenic proteins have been found in soy.” With all that said unlike other legumes (peanuts, tree nuts, beans, etc.), soy usually brings on much more mild symptoms, although anaphylaxis can still happen in rare cases.
As with most allergies, soy allergies most often develop and/or become evident early in life. These allergies come into being in infancy so often mostly due to formula. The Mayo Clinic states, “Soy allergy in infants often begins with the introduction of a soy-based formula. Soy allergy may develop when a child is switched to a soy-based formula after an allergic reaction to a milk-based formula.” However, this early introduction isn’t necessarily the only reason for the sensitivity to develop. Other factors like family history (others with the allergy) and reactions to other food items can put a person more at risk for developing this intolerance as well.
What should be avoided?
Today soy is found in almost everything, especially processed food. This makes the list of items to avoid virtually endless. This means it is still extremely important to know what to keep an eye out for, read labels carefully and make decisions using this information. WebMD provides the handy chart below to know what base items to look out for.
|Soy Products||Soy-Containing Ingredients||Soy-Containing Food|
|Soy flourSoy nutsSoy milkSoy sprouts
Soybean granules or curds
|Soy proteinTextured vegetable protein (TPV)Hydrolyzed plant proteinHydrolyzed soy protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
Natural and artificial flavoring (may be soy based)
|MisoSoy sauceWorcestershire sauceTamari
Some infant formula
Due to the items on this list, it is very important to avoid most Asian cuisine because of the use of broths, soy sauce, vegetable starch and even tofu. Since soy is a legume it may also be necessary to avoid other members of that family like peanuts, beans, lentils, peas and licorice. However, soy allergies don’t always mean reactions will occur with any legumes. It’s important to discuss with your doctor which you may need to avoid and which may be safe to consume. Finally, a somewhat hidden item to be aware of is food that has been injected. Often meats and other food items are injected with salt water or broth to enhance flavor and moisture which seems harmless but if broth is used it could cause an outbreak. If you believe an item could be injected with broth, don’t hesitate to further investigate or request a substitution.
Soy alternatives and eating on the go
Being allergic to soy and its inclusion in a plethora of processed foods can make it seem like the only foods available are those made at home with only food fresh from your garden. While eating this way can be a great healthy option, it’s also not always possible. Luckily there are great foods made outside the home that are also perfectly safe for those with soy sensitivities. The Your Not-So-Professional Personal Chef blog has compiled an extensive list of great alternatives that don’t contain soy. Among this list are items like Earth Balance Soy-Free Natural Buttery Spread (also great for those with dairy allergies), Kitchen Basic’s Stock (beef, vegetable, seafood and turkey), some Frito Lay products and even many non-microwavable popcorn like Popcorn, Indiana. The Allergy Free and Sugar Free Snacks site also recommends vegetables and fruits that are either frozen or packed in their own juice.
The choices don’t just stop at in-home food products for those with soy allergies though. Eating out, while a bit difficult, can still be possible when you’re careful, aware and do the research. However, you may not always have the opportunity to look into restaurants. If you run into this, it’s helpful to know that there are many convenient establishments like Zaxby’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts and even Baskin Robins that have soy-free options and are always willing to cater to those with the allergy while also providing plenty of choices for fellow diners.
Along with knowing which places are safe to dine at with a food allergy it is also extremely important to talk to your wait staff to ensure that they are aware of your food needs. With this, if your wait staff is attentive to these needs it’s important to treat them with similar respect by both commending them and tipping well. Eating With Food Allergies recommends this and adds that, “If you do, you’ll probably get to know the chef and restaurant staff and you’ll find that they are even more willing to take good care of you.”
Delicious soy-free recipes to try at home
Chicken Goat-Cheese Quesadillas from Women’s Health
Caramel Banana Crepes from Prevention
How do you or your family members deal with being Soy-Free? Please share your story.