Soy Free Diet by Sue Kira

by sue

Soy Free Diet

by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist


Soy, soya, soy protein and soya bean are words used to describe a legume, commonly used in the bean form, or as soy milk or tofu. Fermented forms of soy include soya sauce, miso, tempeh and natto. Soy has also been used to make soy oil and products like textured vegetable protein (TVP) as a meat type replacement.

Soy products are a great protein for many, including vegans and vegetarians or those who want to have more plant protein in their diet, but unfortunately, soy is a common allergen for many people.

It is estimated that up to 5% of the population may have an allergy to soy products and possibly even more are sensitive (but not allergic) to these products. Many people find that soy protein is difficult to digest as it commonly creates gas and bloating, among other symptoms.

Reactions and symptoms related to soy allergy or intolerance

Babies and young children can get very severe reactions such as gastroenteropathy, eosinophilic esophagitis, and soy protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, often from drinking soy-based baby formula.

Intolerances and sensitivities for any age group can produce symptoms such as skin reactions like: eczema, rashes, or hives; digestive upsets like diarrhea, nausea or vomiting; nervous system reactions like headaches or migraines; or respiratory reactions like mucus congestion, runny nose, sinus, itching mouth, lips or tongue.

The best way to see if you have a soy allergy is with an elimination diet which initially eliminates the common allergens, and then slowly re-introduces foods to see which ones you have problems with. For more information, go to the Elimination Diet article.

Intolerance to soy products can vary from person to person. Some can tolerate small amounts of soy, say as soy lecithin in chocolate, or soya sauce or soy oil in Asian foods, but may react to larger quantities found in soy milk, soy cheese or tofu. Others are highly sensitive to minute traces, but this is rarer.

Generally, those who are intolerant to dairy or gluten, commonly also have problems with soy foods.

Another problem for some is ‘cross-reactivity’ whereby an allergy to soy can also lead to reactions to other beans, peas and legumes, and even pollen from the Birch tree can cause issues.

Hidden sources of soy in foods

Common foods most people are aware of that contain soy are soy milk, soya sauce, soy cheese, soy ice-cream, tofu, tempeh, soya flour, miso, soy oil, soy margarine and natto.

There are also many foods, possibly up to 60% of processed foods, that also contain soy in various forms such as soy isolate, textured vegetable protein, soya lecithin and several others.

Soy can be hidden in many breads, biscuits, cakes, pastas and pizzas, as well as snack bars, crisps, sweet and sour sauce, Teriyaki sauce, Worcester sauce, mayonnaises, sandwich spreads, seasoned salts, spice blends, gravy powders, dairy substitutes, ice-creams, packet and canned soups, frozen desserts, sausages, hotdogs…and the list goes on.

You really need to read all packet consumables and know your codes to avoid soy in processed foods.

The easy way to avoid soy is to have all foods made fresh from scratch and know your ingredients.

Soy Substitutes

When you need to go soy free as well as gluten and dairy free, often the first thoughts are, ‘How do I get all the nutrients needed?’ For many, the answer lies in good wholesome meats, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

However, there’s a problem for vegetarians and vegans, as many of their protein options include soy (and gluten and dairy) as textured vegetable protein in veggie burgers, patties, nuggets, and other similar foods. But all is not lost…

Apart from vegetarian meat substitutes, other foods free of soy that can be difficult to find are Asian sauces and substitute dairy and soy milk. Here are some alternatives to soy products:

Sauces and flavourings
Coconut teriyaki, coconut aminos (like soy sauce), flavourings like ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sesame seeds (tahini), sea vegetables or kelp salt (instead of seasoned salts that may contain ‘textured vegetable protein’ made from soy)

Soy milk alternatives
Coconut or almond milks (or other nut milks), coconut or almond milk ice-creams and yoghurts

Vegetarian meat substitutes
Good quality protein, B vitamins, calcium and fibre can also be found in grains like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, lentils and various nuts and seeds.

Raw cacao with cocoa butter and maple syrup or similar sweetener (instead of other chocolates that may contain soy lecithin).


Before you commence a new diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.

During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.


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