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Soy-Free Diet


Allergy to soy is one of the most common causes of food allergy in infants, young children, and adults. A soy-free diet removes soybeans and all products derived from soybeans. Most people who are allergic to soy are allergic to the protein in soy. Soy oil and soy lecithin pose little risk of causing an allergic reaction in most, although not all soy-allergic people because processing removes almost all the protein.

What are the symptoms?

Soy allergy symptoms may include any of the common symptoms of food allergies, including skin rashes or hives, gastrointestinal distress, breathing problems, or many other possible symptoms. In severe cases, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis may occur, though such a severe reaction to soy is quite rare.

What do I need to avoid?

To avoid soy and soy products ask about ingredients at restaurants and others’ homes, read food labels, and become familiar with the technical or scientific terms for soy. The following list is not complete. Consult with a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet.

  • Green soybeans (edamame)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Infant formulas, soy-based
  • Lecithin (extracted from soy oil, though safe for a majority of soy-allergic people)
  • Meat alternatives (meat analogs)
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Non-dairy soy frozen dessert
  • Oyster sauce (most brands contain soy protein)
  • Soy cheese
  • Soy fiber
  • Okara
  • Soy bran
  • Soy isolate fiber (also known as structured protein fiber [SPF])
  • Soy flour (used in most muffins, some doughnuts, many breads, and other bakery goods)
  • Soy grits
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolates (isolated soy protein)
  • Soy protein, textured
  • Textured soy flour (TSF)
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Tuna (canned, “packed in water”—read the fine print: most contain vegetable broth, which is made from soybeans)
  • Soy sauce (tamari, shoyu, teriyaki sauce)
  • Soy yogurt
  • Soy beans, whole
  • Soy milk and beverages
  • Soy nut butter
  • Soy nuts
  • Soy oil (though safe for a majority of soy-allergic people)
  • Sprouts, soy
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu and tofu products
  • Vegetable broth (frequently contains hydrolyzed vegetable protein from soy)
  • Whipped toppings, soy-based
  • Yuba

Best bets

Many soy-free alternatives to meat are available today. The Internet is a good place to get recipes and learn how to cook with these foods. Some helpful resources are listed below.

Vegetable and grain alternatives Some manufactured vegetarian products, such as “veggie” burgers, are made with vegetables and grains instead of soy protein. However, it is important to read labels to be sure no soy has been added to the product. These products may contain any combination of vegetables and grains, such as oats, rice, wheat, chickpeas, mushrooms, potatoes, corn, lima beans, green beans, peas, carrots, nuts, and others.

Gluten and seitan Wheat gluten is made when wheat flour is mixed with water and kneaded, and then is processed to remove the starch and bran. The result is a high-protein, low-fat food. Wheat gluten and seitan (a form of wheat gluten) can be used in sandwiches, soups, and stir frys, as “steaks,” and as a meat replacement in many other dishes. These products can be found in the refrigerated section of most health food stores, near the tofu.

Soy-free milk If you are not a vegan, allergic to milk protein, or lactose intolerant, cow’s milk is always an option. Low-lactose whey milk may be suitable for some lactose-intolerant individuals, but not for those with allergies. Some people are allergic to both soy and cow’s milk protein. Rice milk and almond milk are two dairy-free /soy-free milk alternatives.

Are there any groups or books?

American Academy of Pediatrics Guide to Your Child’s Allergies and Asthma: Breathing Easy and Bringing Up Healthy, Active Children by Michael J. Welch, MD. New York: Villard Books, 2000.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

Food Allergy Network

Interational Food Information Council Foundation

Veggies Unite


Crevel RW, Kerkhoff MA, Koning MM. Allergenicity of refined vegetable oils. Food Chem Toxicol. 2000;38:385–93.

Foucard T, Malmheden Yman I. A study on severe food reactions in Sweden--is soy protein an underestimated cause of food anaphylaxis? Allergy1999;54:261–5.

Lee, EJ; Heiner, DC. Allergy to cow milk. Pediatrics in Review1986;7:195–20.

Porras O, Carlsson B, Fallstrom SP, Hanson LA. Detection of soy protein in soy lecithin, margarine and, occasionally, soy oil. Int Arch Allergy Appl Immunol 1985;78:30–2

Vidal C, Perez-Carral C, Chomon B. Unsuspected sources of soybean exposure. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1997;79:350–2.

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