Food allergies send 30,000 Americans to the ER each year, according to the FDA. If you have a soy allergy, maintaining a soy-free diet is crucial to keeping yourself healthy. Fortunately, United States food laws, and a little diligence, make it possible to eat a wide variety of foods without risking contact with soy.
Shopping for a Soy-Free Diet and US Food Label Laws
According to the FDA, eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies. Soy is one of those eight foods. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 requires foods which contain soy, or any ingredients derived from soy, to display the warning “contains soy.” This means even though many processed foods contain soy, reading labels carefully will enable you to avoid it.
Eggs, poultry, and meat are naturally soy-free. However, be careful when purchasing breaded, fried, or pre-seasoned items, as the added ingredients may contain soy. Your best bet is to stick to “single-ingredient” foods, such as whole cuts of meat and eggs sold in the shell.
If you do not consume animal products, be aware that both tofu and tempeh—popular vegetarian proteins—are soy-based, according to the Mayo Clinic. Vegetarian meat substitutes may contain soy. For example, two popular brands of vegetarian hamburgers both list “soy lecithin” as an ingredient. Instead, stick to naturally soy-free vegetarian proteins, such as nuts, beans, and lentils. If you buy items with added seasonings, such as canned baked beans, always read labels to ensure you aren't getting something with soy in it.
Whole produce items, such as whole apples and potatoes, do not naturally contain soy. Just as is the case with meats, however, soy may be present in any breading, sauces, or added seasonings. You can usually avoid soy by buying fresh, in-season produce and frozen produce with no added ingredients. As an added bonus, these foods are healthier than more heavily-processed foods. As always, make sure to read labels.
Soy flour is often used in baked goods and crackers, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. You can avoid soy by making your own baked goods from scratch, or, if you don't have the time or inclination to do that, by carefully inspecting ingredient lists. Make sure to read labels every time you buy. Ingredient lists change, and sometimes that turns previously safe items into unsafe ones.
Milk and cheese are naturally soy-free, but as always, check labels if the product you purchase has any other ingredients. For example, a milk-based smoothie may contain soy lecithin, an emulsifier. If you cannot or choose not to consume dairy products, look for rice or almond-based milks, available in health food stores and some supermarkets.
Food and Drug Administration: Food Allergies: What You Need to Know
Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: Soy Allergy
Mayo Clinic: Soy Allergy