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Living with Dietary Restrictions: Soy

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Soy

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.

Living with Dietary Restrictions: SoyWhat is a soy allergy and how does it develop?

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)

Vegetable gum

Vegetable starch

MisoSoy sauceWorcestershire sauceTamari


Vegetable broth

Some cereals

Some infant formula

Baked goods


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. 

Milk; Image from MorgueFile

Living with Dietary Restrictions: Dairy Free

Milk; Image from MorgueFileThink about what you’re planning to have to eat today.  Does a dairy product make it onto the menu?  If you’re part of the 75% of the world’s population that is lactose intolerant to some extent or a lower 3% with a milk allergy, you may be giving a bit more thought to your daily dairy intake.   Read on to find the differences between an intolerance and an allergy, what is being done for sufferers and a few helpful and delicious dairy-free recipes.

What’s the difference between
lactose intolerance and a milk allergy?

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest the milk sugar, lactose, found in dairy products.

Milk Allergies are more focused on the proteins or caseins within milk products.

What products should be avoided?

For both you should avoid dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, milk, butter, chocolate, goat’s milk products and any product labeled as containing milk or milk ingredients.

What are some alternatives?

Most dairy-based product have an alternative that uses a soy or rice base although sometimes soy may also cause allergic reactions and intolerances.

Eating Non-Dairy on the Go

While it may take a bit of pre-planning using online allergen guides, many restaurants now have tasty options for those with dairy-free eating restriction.  There is also a handy databases like Allergy Eats and Allerdine which allow you to search for restaurants in your area that have special food safety measures for patrons with food allergies.

The most important tip when eating out (other than avoiding the obvious dairy products) is to be aware of cross-contamination.   This can happen through using the same frying oil, grills, woks or cutting boards for the dairy and non-dairy foods.  Another way to prevent cross-contamination is to bring along your own wet cloth to wipe down any surfaces just in case the allergens were left from the previous diner.

It’s also imperative that you open a dialogue between yourself and the wait staff and/or management.   While you may have already looked at the allergen guides, it’s always a wise idea to double check to confirm that the item you’re ordering is cooked and prepared separately and without any allergy/intolerance inducing elements.  Making these inferences every time and at every location is important since staff, preparation guidelines, etc. may change from visit to visit.

Places like Chipotle, Qdoba and Subway are some of the more obvious options since you’re able to add exactly what you want (be sure to watch out for cross contamination).   However, there are many options at your average sit-down restaurant like Denny’s, Chili’s, Red Lobster and Outback Steakhouse as well.  In fact, Outback not only gives suggestions on menu items, they also give advice on how to request the food be cooked and what extras should be left off to ensure a higher degree of safety.

And just in case you’re planning a trip to Disney with your dairy-free eater, not to worry, there are plenty of tasty options there too including tofu ice cream, waffles with fruit and dairy free whipped topping, rice milk and dairy free pasta.

Deliciously Dairy-free recipes to try at home

Gluten Free & Dairy Free Lasagna

Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins – Milk Free Recipes

How do you or your family members deal with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy?  Please share your story.

Article sources
1)     Dairy Free Living
2)     Kids Health
3)     Mayo Clinic
4)     National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)  
5)     PubMed Health