Allergy and intolerance to soybeans is one of the more common food allergies, especially among babies and young children.
If your infant or child gets an upset stomach, diarrhea, or nausea after eating soy, they are not alone. Symptoms can range from mild, with complaints of tummy aches, to severe, such as trouble breathing or anaphylaxis, a whole-body allergic reaction that can restrict breathing, or in severe cases, cause death.
How can you reduce your child’s symptoms?
The only way to prevent these uncomfortable or dangerous symptoms is to avoid eating soy altogether. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as staying away from soymilk. When most people think of soy, Asian food products may come to mind, such as:
- Soy sauce
- Tofu, the cheese made from soy milk
- Miso soup, made with fermented soybean paste
- Tamari, a naturally aged and fermented soy sauce, that is used in many veggie slaws and other salads
However, since becoming a major crop in the United States, soy is no longer restricted to the Asian food aisle, and has instead found its way into the majority of processed and “natural” foods that may be in your pantry!
What other foods might contain soy?
Soybeans, in the form of textured vegetable protein (TVP), are used to make imitation meat products, such as:
- Imitation crab
- Veggie burgers
- Veggie sausages
TVP is also used as a filler and texturizer in “natural” products, which helps food manufacturers lower costs, reduce fat content and add juiciness.
It might surprise you to learn that soy can also be hiding in:
- Canned tuna
- Ground meats used for hamburgers, meatballs, and tacos
- The high-end turkey breast (lunch meat) at your deli counter
What are different forms of soy to keep an eye out for?
Other uses of soy, in the form of soybean oil, soy protein isolates, and soy lecithin are used in a wide variety of common, kid-loving processed foods, including some brands of:
- Peanut butter
- Boxed cereals
- Chewing gum
- Ice cream
- Pizza toppings
- Hamburger buns
- Hot dogs
- Spaghetti or pasta
- Canned soups
Soy is also used in a variety of mom-loving processed “diet” foods, such as:
- Low-calorie salad dressings
- Low-fat baked goods and crackers
Soy has even made its way into spices including garlic and seasoning salts, as well as condiments like some brands of ketchup and steak sauce.
What does it mean to have a soy allergy?
Like all allergies, people who are allergic to soy are allergic to the protein found in soy, so, in theory, soybean oil (which is 100% fat and has no protein) should not pose a threat. But, if your child has a severe allergy, you may want to consult with a doctor and take special precautions to avoid soybean oil, since the absence of protein in the oil depends completely on the good manufacturing practices of the food manufacturer.
For those children who are severely allergic and at increased risk of developing dangerous symptoms associated with a soy protein allergy, it is imperative to be aware of the risk of cross contamination. Cross contamination occurs when a soy free food accidentally comes in contact with soy in the manufacturing plant or in the kitchen where the food is prepared. Keeping an allergen-safe kitchen (with separate knives and cutting boards for the preparation of soy versus soy-free foods, for example) will help your child avoid the risk of cross-contamination. Carefully reading labels and looking for the warning that a food is “made on equipment shared with soy” will also help protect your child.
There are a few important steps you can take to make sure that your soy-allergic child is safely avoiding soy while still enjoying food:
- Read ingredient labels carefully! Soy can be found in so many foods under the names “soybean oil,” “soy protein isolate,” “textured vegetable protein” and “soy lecithin”
- If a food doesn’t have a label, play it safe, and avoid it.
- When eating out, plan ahead. Call the restaurant before going, and speak to a manager about the ingredients used in the menu (such as soybean oil, which, in some cases, can be used to prepare 100% of the foods on the menu) or try to download an ingredients list or allergens list from the restaurant’s website (where applicable). If soy is used in the majority of the foods at the restaurant, you should stay away since there would be a high likelihood of cross contamination in the kitchen.
- Once you find brands of foods that are soy-free, stock up! You want to make sure your kitchen is full of healthy and safe options for your child, so that she will always have lots of food options and never feel deprived or bored.
- Always keep a positive attitude around your child when it comes to food. Focus on the foods your child CAN have and not the ones that are restricted. Have the whole family enjoy eating the same foods your child can so that she does not feel singled out.