No soy, no problem
By: Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Last week, I talked a bit about the health journey I am currently taking to dig deeper into my digestive issues, including those related to dairy, corn, sulfates and other culprits.
But an allergy or intolerance we didn’t discuss is one many people deal with on a daily basis – soy. And here’s the thing about soy (and something I often hear from my readers and clients): “It’s in everything!”
The truth is, researchers say the reason soy is in so many food and personal care items is because it’s an affordable ingredient many 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 (thrivemeetings.com). “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 inexpensive 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:
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Vitamin E (contains soybean oil)
It’s also important to know the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance. A food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body and can cause anaphylaxis. On the other hand, an intolerance typically leads to digestive upset, skin irritations, migraines and other reactions that, while painful, are not immediately life threatening. If you are in fact dealing with a soy allergy, it’s important to have an action plan to ensure your safety.
“This is a particularly difficult allergy, and it can take over a person’s life in ways that 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.”
Schwartz and other experts agree a healthy life with a soy allergy or an intolerance can be made easier by choosing whole, unprocessed foods when putting together a meal. My go-to for combating “hangry” (hungry + angry = hangry) moments? Stow snacks – like pre-cut veggies, fresh fruit or soy-free snack bars – in a purse or bag to avoid food emergencies.
Another 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 troubles with soy get in the way of leading a fun, healthy 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!”
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the author of The Gluten-Free Revolution and a certified health coach. She is also the author of the popular gluten-free blog, sincerelycaroline.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.