Food and Ingredients to Avoid on a Soy-Free Diet

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Asian restaurants serve soy.. John Borthwick/Getty Images

It’s not easy to avoid soy if you have a soy allergy. After all, it is everywhere in our diet, from processed foods to Asian restaurants. Fortunately for people with soy allergies, the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires manufacturers to list soy ingredients on product labels in plain, easy-to-understand language. Here's a refresher on reading ingredients labels.

Two exceptions to FALCPA exist related to soy labeling: if a product contains refined soy oil, manufacturers do not have to provide a call-out such as "contains soy"; and/or if a product contains soy lecithin as a releasing agent.

Research shows that soy proteins are present in soybean oil and soy lecithin. However, it is not clear if there is enough soy protein in these ingredients to cause a reaction in most people with soy allergies. Some people are more sensitive to soy than others, so follow your doctor's advice about these ingredients.

In addition, FALCPA does not apply to "raw agricultural commodities" - fruits and vegetables in their natural state. It also does not cover eggs, milk, or meat, or other foods regulated by the USDA. Soy ingredients may be present in waxes or horticultural oils on fruits, or in raw or frozen chicken that has been processed in chicken broth.

Some statements on a food label may indicate cross-contamination with soy. These warnings are generally voluntary, so some manufacturers may not include this information, even if there is soy present in their facility.

  • "may contain soy"
  • "produced on shared equipment with soy"
  • "produced in a facility that also processes soy"

Other Names for Soy

Soy is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines, and may be identified by its name in other languages. Some of the names for soy are:

  • Bean curd
  • Bean sprouts
  • Edamame (fresh soybeans)
  • Kinako
  • Miso (fermented soybean paste)
  • Natto
  • Nimame
  • Okara
  • Shoyu
  • Soy sauce
  • Soya
  • Soybean (curds, granules)
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu (dofu, kori-dofu)
  • Yuba

Soy Ingredients

Ingredients on a label are not always easy to recognize as soy. These ingredients are created from soy that has been processed in some way:

  • Hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP)
  • Mono- and diglycerides
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Soy (albumin, cheese, fiber, grits, milk, nuts, sprouts, yogurt, ice cream, pasta)
  • Soy lecithin (see above)
  • Soy protein (concentrate, hydrolyzed, isolate)
  • Soybean oil (see above)
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)

Possible Soy Ingredients

These ingredients may or may not contain soy. Call the manufacturer of the product to find out the source of the ingredient.

  • Bulking agent
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP) or hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Gum arabic
  • Guar gum
  • Lecithin
  • Mixed tocopherols
  • Natural flavoring
  • Stabilizer
  • Thickener
  • Vegetable gum, starch, shortening, or oil
  • Vitamin E

Foods That Likely Contain Soy

These foods often contain soy. You should be extra cautious about eating these foods if you are unable to get a complete ingredient list.

  • Asian cuisine (Korean, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, etc.)
  • Baked goods and baking mixes
  • Bouillon cubes
  • Candy
  • Cereal
  • Chicken (raw or cooked) that is processed with chicken broth
  • Chicken broth
  • Chocolate
  • Deli meats
  • Energy bars, nutrition bars
  • Imitation dairy foods, such as soy milks, vegan cheese, or vegan ice cream
  • Infant formula
  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Meat products with fillers, for example, burgers or sausages
  • Nutrition supplements (vitamins)
  • Peanut butter and peanut butter substitutes
  • Protein powders
  • Sauces, gravies, and soups
  • Smoothies
  • Vegetable broth
  • Vegetarian meat substitutes: veggie burgers, imitation chicken patties, imitation lunch meats, imitation bacon bits, etc.

Cross-reactivity

Soy is a member of the legume family, as are other beans, peas, and peanuts. Most people with soy allergies can safely eat other legumes. Rarely, some people may have reactions to other beans or peanuts. Ask your doctor about allergy testing to determine if you are allergic to other legumes.

Soy in Your Environment

Be aware of hidden sources of soy that may be in your medicine cabinet, shower caddy, or around the house.

Resources:

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: www.foodallergy.org

Sicherer S. Food Allergies: A Complete Guide to Eating When Your Life Depends on It

Joneja JV. The Health Professional's Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances 

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