Soy allergies 101 – everything you need to know to stay safe with a soy allergy. Includes soy allergy and cross reactions, a list of symptoms, and what you need to avoid to not have a reaction.
Soy allergies are one of the most common allergies and it is included in the top 9 allergens affecting the world, with up to 0.5% of all children having an allergy to soy. If this is developed as a child, most children will outgrow it by adulthood. If you develop a soy allergy as an adult, you will probably have it for the rest of your life.
Soy is a sneaky allergy in that it is pervasive in so many elements of our modern life. Soy is used to bind and thicken food products, body care and beauty products, and even is found in the ink our printers use.
Soy is often found in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, seasoning packets, frying oils, store bought breads, cereals, and so much more.
Super allergic people may find that they can have a reaction to eating the meat and eggs of animals that are fed a soy based diet.
While living with a soy allergy can seem overwhelming and difficult, it isn’t insurmountable. Pinky promise.
What is a soy allergy?
An allergy occurs when the body is exposed to the soy protein and develops a strong IgE antibody response. This is the body’s own antibodies working to protect the body from something it sees as a threat, in this case a dairy protein. The body responds by triggering the immune system that has different effects on the body (see symptom list below) that can range from mild to life-threatening.
Most children and adults will develop an allergic reaction either immediately, a few minutes, and up to a few hours after consuming soy. Remember, some people are so allergic to certain foods that even touching the food or smelling the food can cause a reaction.
A list of possible reactions includes:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
- Asthma attacks
- Eczema on the skin
- Hives, itching rash on the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramping and/or pain of the stomach or bowels
- Anaphylactic reaction (see below)
Anaphylactic Reaction to Soy
For some people, a life threatening reaction known as an anaphylactic reaction may occur after consuming, touching, or smelling soy or soy by-products. If this happens, please call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Signs and symptoms of this include:
- Swelling or tightening of the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Change of normal coloring of the skin in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and nail beds)
- Light skin, check for signs of dark blue tints in the mucous membranes
- Medium skin, check for signs of a gray-green tint in the mucous membranes
- Dark skin, check for signs of a gray or white tint in the mucous membranes
how to manage soy allergies
The best way to manage your soy allergy is to avoid any and all forms of soy and soy by-products.
If after some time you feel you would like to test and see if you are still allergic to soy, consult your doctor and ask about doing a challenge test to gauge your reaction under the supervision of your doctor.
Being Your Own Allergy Advocate
And if you are certain something is wrong, don’t give up! My primary care physician was unconvinced I had developed a new allergy in my late 20s. He was ready to prescribe an anti-acid medication, assuming I was eating too much fast food.
However, I was adamant in my knowing that something was wrong and went to a new allergy specialist. I had my blood checked and my IgE levels were off the charts! As a result, we did an elimination diet and saw immediate improvements in my health.
After 6 weeks of the elimination diet, I reintroduced certain foods and saw immediate and severe reactions to new foods. Be your own advocate at the doctor’s office, and make sure you take someone with you to help navigate if you need.
Soy Allergy Safety in School and Work
If your child has a soy allergy, make sure to let both the school and their individual teachers know of their allergy. Any medication they might need, including an EpiPen if the reaction is severe, needs to be kept at the school in case of emergencies.
In elementary school, when they have assigned seating, it is easier to maintain a clean workspace for your child. As they go through middle and high school and beyond, make sure to have them wipe down the desk before they use it as there could be oils on the desk after someone ate a granola bar, for example.
In a work environment, you should inform your coworkers of your allergy and ask them to not eat soy around you or your workspace, especially if your allergy is severe and anaphylactic. Making sure to wipe down surfaces is again important.
How to Read a Food Label with a Soy Allergy
Learning how to read food labels is one of the most important things you can do after developing a soy allergy. Always make sure that you read the entire label and not just quickly scan for soy as ingredients can hide under different names.
Sometimes companies will place advisory statements on their label to say things such as, “May Contain” or “Produced in the same facility as…”. These are not required by law but are placed there at the discretion of the company. Talk with your doctor about if you should avoid these food labels as well.
In general, I tend to avoid any and all food products that list my own allergies on these advisory statements. You never know if one day cleaning the machines, an allergen was totally washed away or not. I err on the side of caution with my health and suggest you do the same.
What you can eat with a soy allergy
When you discover you have a soy allergy, you may find yourself cooking at home more. A healthy diet includes simple whole foods, things like meats, vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, and grains.
Soy free options are more numerous than ever before and can be found all throughout the grocery stores, both niche health food stores and large chain stores. Living with allergies has gotten a lot more convenient since I was a kid!
want to know the best things to swap for different recipes? make sure you check out my food swap guide!
What to Avoid with a Soy Allergy
When looking at a food label, make sure that the ingredient list does not contain any of the following items. The list of foods to avoid is long, and while I’ve done my best to include them all here, I am sure there are more being made and discovered each day. If you know of an allergy name that I’ve missed, write it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to add it to the list!
- Bean curd
- Edamame (soybeans in pods)
- Glycine Soja
- Hydrogenated Soybean oil
- Hydrolyzed soy protein
- Kinako (roasted soybean flour)
- Koya dofu (freeze dried tofu)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Okara (soy pulp)
- Soy albumin
- Soy concentrate
- Soy fiber
- Soy formula
- Soy grits
- Soy milk
- Soy miso
- Soy nuts
- Soy nut butter
- Soy protein, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate
- Soy sauce
- Soy sprouts
- Soya flour
- Soybean granules
- Soybean curd
- Soybean flour
- Soy lecithin**
- Soybean paste
- Teriyaki sauce
- Textured soy flour (TSF)
- Textured soy protein (TSP)
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- Yaki-dofu (grilled tofu)
- Yuba (bean curd)
Soy is usually made from and/or contains soy in the following:
- Artificial flavoring
- Asian foods (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc.)
- Baked goods
- Citric acid (can be derived from fruit, corn, or soy)
- Guar Gum (sometimes up to 10% soy)
- Gum arabic
- Glycerol monosteaate
- Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Natural flavoring
- Protein concentrate
- Protein isolates
- Vegetable broth
- Vegetable gum
- Vegetable starch
- Vegetable Shortening (like Crisco or other solid white shortenings in a can)
Next, there are products that more than likely contain soy as an emulsifier, such as:
- All commercial bakery items (breads, cookies, cakes, donuts, etc.)
- Cake Mixes
- Cookie Mixes (any baking mix really)
- Breakfast cereals
- Canned tuna
- Processed deli meats
- Hot dogs
- Imitation crab and bacon
- Canned soups
- Dried soup mixes
- Frozen vegetables with sauces
- Sauces: teriyaki, Worcestershire, soy, shoy, tamari, sweet and sour, etc.
- Bouillon cubes
- “dairy free” creamers
- Heavy creams
- Ice creams
- Peanut butter
- Baby formula
- Baby foods
- Spices (sometimes they add soy for anti-caking or smoothing agents)
- Salad dressings
- Potato chips (fried in soy oil)
- Popcorn (fried in soy oil)
- Soft drinks
- Energy drinks
- Energy bars
- Candies and chocolate
- Chewing gum
- Cooking sprays
- Microwavable meals
Soy Allergies and Cross Reactivity with Other Allergens
Soy is a type of legume and as such it can cause cross reactivity with other foods. This means that while your body is not technically allergic it reacts in the same manner since the foods are so similar in structure.
Some examples of cross reactive allergens for soy are: Peanuts, legumes, birch trees, lupines, and milk.
If you think you are allergic or having a cross-reactive reaction to these foods, please consult your doctor.
What You Can Eat with a Soy Allergy
After developing a new allergy, how you eat both at home and out and about is very likely going to change. Cooking at home is going to be the safest option for you and your family as you can ensure no allergens come into contact with the food and no cross contamination can occur. Make sure your diet is filled with simple whole foods, such as meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.
Living with allergies has gotten so much better in the past few years thanks to the requirements of labeling all food in grocery stores, as well as the sheer quantity of allergy free alternatives available in most stores.
The main challenge when being allergic to soy is where it is used as a binding and thickening agent. Look for products and foods that do not contain these items.
Some of the best swaps for soy allergies are other grains. Since soy has a large cross reactivity with other nuts and legumes, you might want to avoid those until you know for sure what is safe and what isn’t. Rice milks and rice based products as well as oat milk are good places to start.
If allergic to soy and peanuts, look for sunflower seed butter as a safe alternative for sandwiches and cookies.
Pumpkin seeds and roasted chickpeas can also serve as a quick snack that offers the same crunchy feel, salty taste, and has less fat which makes it even healthier!
Soy sauce in Asian cooking can be replaced with a soy free coconut amino acids sauce, available at most grocery stores, and for sure available on Amazon. It works just as well in all recipes!
Check out these popular soy free recipes!
Dining Out with Soy Allergies
Perhaps the biggest change to your life with a soy allergy will come from the options available to you when dining out. No longer can you just go grab a quick bite to eat, nor will you be able to freely eat at a friend’s house.
The best way to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting sick at restaurants is to research ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus online, which gives me a chance to figure out if this restaurant would be a safe option. Even if the menu says “allergy friendly” you still should research, because it is really difficult to ensure that a chef or kitchen will wipe off any surfaces, open new bags of ingredients, or even use a different set of gloves when preparing food.
For soy allergies in particular it is important to ask the restaurant what oil they use to fry their food. Often places will use soy or vegetable oil which includes soy in the blend. You also need to ask if there are any items that go into the fryer that contain soy as you don’t want to have the risk of cross contamination via the oil.
To that effect, some places I have found to be generally safe include:
Other Hidden Sources of Soy Not In Food
Beyond food, there are places that soy can hide, making you sick even though you don’t eat soy anymore! While you won’t be eating these things, you should be aware that a reaction can occur from touching or smelling soy. These hidden soy places include:
- Medications (make sure you talk to your doctor before stopping medications and ask about switching to a different medication!)
- Vitamin E oil is usually made from soybeans
- Inks (newspapers, magazines, books)
- Pet food
- Cleaning products
- Air fresheners
- Pre-seasoned cast iron cookware (seasoned with soy oil)
- Fabrics and yarns
Make sure you check these places and use the list above to make sure that you and your family are safe from these hidden soy sources!