A Soy-Free Diet Is More Than Checking for "Soy"

Learn the Foods to Avoid With a Soy Allergy

Asian restaurants serve soy. John Borthwick/Getty Images

It seems simple at first to say that if you have a food allergy you should just avoid that food and you will be fine. Well, while that sounds easy, it is not that simple. This is especially true when it comes to a soy allergy. There are many forms of soy found in our foods and it can be difficult to navigate when it comes to labels and dining out.

As a soy allergy remains among the most common food allergies, it is important that we have a better understanding of its presence in our daily lives.

Let's look at how soy is used in food and the things you need to avoid with a soy allergy.


Soy is an ingredient that has found its way into many different products, including processed foods. Many people include it in their diet, whether they know it or not. And, if you opt for a vegetarian lifestyle, chances are you consume a large amount of soy. 

Soy is also commonplace in many restaurants. Asian restaurants, in particular, use a lot of soy ingredients in their menus, but it can be found in any restaurant. It's easy to overlook if you are not familiar about what to ask when dining out.

Due to the trends in eating, for those with soy allergies, it is important to take a closer look at safe options. 

Food Labels

To begin with, it is important for those with a soy allergy to understand the guidelines developed by the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). FALCPA requires manufacturers to list soy ingredients on product labels in plain, easy-to-understand language.

However, the FALCPA does not require a manufacturer whose product contains refined soy oil and/or soy lecithin as a releasing agent to mention “contains soy” on their label. This is contradictory to the research that shows that soy proteins are present in soybean oil and soy lecithin.

This caveat may be due to the fact that studies are not conclusive that there is enough soy protein in these ingredients to cause a reaction in most people with soy allergies.

As some people are more sensitive to soy than others, this can be problematic and cause an allergic reaction.

In addition, the FALCPA guidelines do not apply to "raw agricultural commodities" such as fruits and vegetables in their natural state. It also does not cover eggs, milk, or meat, or other foods regulated by the USDA. 

This is yet another place where soy ingredients may actually be present. It may be used in waxes or horticultural oils on fruits or found in raw or frozen chicken that's processed into chicken broth. This can put those with a soy allergy at risk for an allergic reaction despite believing they read the labels and were informed. 

Some manufacturers do include statements on a food label that may indicate cross-contamination with soy. These statements might read: “may contain soy,” “produced on shared equipment with soy,” or “produced in a facility that also processes soy.” In general, these warnings are voluntary. On the other hand, some manufacturers may not include this information, even if there is soy present in their facility.

Asian Cuisine

Soy is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines but may be difficult to recognize on a menu. It is important to know that the following items contain soy and should be avoided if you have a soy allergy.

  • 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-Based Ingredients

It is not always easy to recognize the presence of soy on a label, as other words are used in its place. These processed ingredients are soy-based:

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

    Possible Soy Ingredients

    There are a number of ingredients that may or may not contain soy. It is important to contact 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

    You might be surprised to learn that a number of common foods often contain some form of soy. It is important to be extra cautious about eating these 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 milk, vegan cheese, or vegan ice cream
    • Infant formula
    • Margarine
    • Mayonnaise
    • Meat products with fillers like 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.


    Soy is a member of the legume family, which includes other beans, peas, and peanuts. Most people with soy allergies can safely eat other legumes. However, it is definitely something to approach with caution as a reaction can occur.

    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 as well. Soy can actually be found in things like lip balm, cosmetics, and even in pet food. A careful review of these products can help you avoid an unexpected reaction. 


    The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. Soy Allergy. FoodAllergy.org.

    Sicherer S. Food Allergies: A Complete Guide to Eating When Your Life Depends on It. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press; 2013.

    Joneja JV. The Health Professional's Guide to Food Allergies and Intolerances. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2013.

    Reviewed by: Marlo Mittler, MS RD

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