Caroline Shannon-Karasik’s AfterGlo

Coping with soy allergies

 By: Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Last week, I chatted about lactose intolerance and how various dairy products – like milk, yogurt and cheese – can cause problems for people who cannot properly digest them. Well, once the paper hit stands, I started receiving emails about other food allergy concerns.

The number one mention? Soy.

The problem, people said over and over again, with soy allergies is simple, “It’s in everything!” wrote Mara from Pittsburgh, Pa. She wasn’t far off, of course, and researchers say the reason soy is in so many products is because it is an affordable ingredient that companies regularly add to their products.

“Because it’s the third most subsidized farm commodity in the U.S., [soy] is a low-cost, versatile food ingredient with functional and nutritional properties that can be substituted for or used in other food products to make them heartier or enhance their value,” said Tracy Stuckrath, president and chief connecting officer at Thrive! Meetings & Events – a boutique event marketing company that educates the hospitality industry on how to accommodate different dietary needs. “From improving texture and reducing crumbling in baked goods to enhancing nutritional value of pastas, cereals and dairy-type products … soy protein has become a go-to food ingredient across a range of food products.”

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), soy is one of the most common foods that cause allergic reactions. Soy milk, flour, grits, meal, sauce and oil are just a few of the soy-based food additives that can cause a host of symptoms for those who are allergic, including eczema, hives, asthma, digestive symptoms and anaphylactic shock.

The problem, experts say, is soy is an expensive filler that is common to many packaged foods and prepared foods, such as peanut butter, chewing gum, canned tuna, baked goods and a range of meat, poultry and fish products. Body lotion, shampoo, soap, printer ink and certain medications are also a few common products that often contain soy additives. And “soy” goes by a range of names – a problem that can be avoided by closely reading labels. The AAFA lists the following as ingredient terms that might imply soy is present in a food:

• Glycine max

• Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)

• Lecithin

• Miso

• Mono-diglyceride

• Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

• Natto

• Tempeh

• Tofu

• Vegetable oil

• Vitamin E (contains soybean oil)

“This is a particularly difficult allergy, and it can take over a person’s life in ways many would never understand,” said Mireille Schwartz, founder and chief executive officer of the Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board. “Finding the balance between remaining vigilant, yet enjoying your [life], takes practice with your medical condition. Your life depends on a food allergy action plan, yes, but your life also depends on the quality and enjoyment of this time.”

Schwartz and other experts say dealing with soy allergies can be made easier by choosing whole, unprocessed foods when putting together a meal. When I’m working with clients who have soy allergies (or any food allergy for that matter), I always advise them to stash snacks, like pre-cut veggies, fresh fruit or soy-free snack bars, in a purse or book bag to avoid instances where hunger strikes and safe foods are not available to consume.

A general rule of thumb is to avoid processed foods, but a simple call to a manufacturer or visit to a company’s website can help better identify the ingredients in particular products. Keeping a list on hand of the various names for soy will also help avoid label confusion.

Most of all, Schwartz said, try not to let soy allergies get in the way of a fun, healthful life.

“Count your food allergy successes as you go so you feel a background ‘buzz’ of happiness,” she said. “That helps motivate you to keep on keeping yourself healthy!”

Make these gluten-free and vegan Chocolate Cherry Cereal Clusters and take them as an on-the-go snack! (Be sure to check labels for added soy ingredients.)

Chocolate Cherry Cereal Clusters

Makes 24 clusters


2 cups brown rice cereal
2 cups gluten-free oats
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 tablespoon vegan butter
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/2 cup vegan, gluten-free
chocolate chips



Lightly brush two 12-cup mini muffin trays with safflower oil (or use cooking spray) and set aside. Measure brown rice cereal, oats and sea salt into a medium bowl and set aside. Place brown rice syrup and butter into a small saucepan and warm over low heat until butter is melted, stirring constantly. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir. Fold in dried cherries and chocolate chips. Spoon mixture into muffin cups and press into cups using the back of a spoon. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach who specializes in digestive health. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at


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