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Diseases & Conditions

Soy Allergy

Who gets soy allergy?

Although soy allergy occurs most often in infants and children, it can appear at any age and can be caused by foods that had been previously eaten without any problems. Many infants can lose their allergy as they grow older.

Soybeans are legumes. Other foods in the legume family include peanut, navy beans, kidney beans, lima beans, string beans, pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, peas, black-eyed peas, and licorice. Some people with soy allergy may have a reaction after eating other legumes. If you have soy allergy, you should talk with your doctor about what other legumes you might need to avoid.

What are the symptoms?

Allergic reactions to foods usually begin within minutes to a few hours after eating the food. The severity of symptoms can vary widely from one person to another. Mildly allergic persons may have itching and a few hives, while severely allergic persons may experience severe, life-threatening symptoms such as breathing problems or swelling of the throat. The symptoms of food allergy may include any or several of the following:

  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Eczema
  • Tingling or swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat
  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Anaphylaxis: sudden, severe, potentially fatal, systemic allergic reaction that can involve several areas of the body

How do I avoid exposure?

If you have soy allergy, strict avoidance of soy is the only way to prevent a reaction. Avoiding products made with soy is difficult because soy is contained in many processed food products The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires food manufacturers to list common food allergens on food labels in plain terms to make it easier to identify the food allergens. Food labels must clearly list eight allergens which account for almost 90 percent of all food allergies: cow’s milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.

The common allergens are listed either within the ingredient list or after the list. For example, if a product contains natto, a food made with fermented soybean, the product's label should list the term “soy” either after the term natto, or state “contains soy” after the list of ingredients. The FDA currently does not require manufacturers to state if the food was processed in a facility that also processes the 8 common food allergens.

Anyone allergic to soy should avoid the following ingredients and foods:

  • Soy: in all forms, including soy flour, soy fiber, soy albumin
  • Soy milk
  • Soybean (curd and granules)
  • Soy protein and hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Soya
  • Soy nuts and soy sprouts
  • Soy sauce and shoyu sauce
  • Tofu and textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Edamame
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Tempeh
  • Tamari

Other things to consider if you have soy allergy:

  • Certain foods may contain soy protein such as Asian cuisine or foods that contain natural and artificial flavoring, vegetable broth, vegetable gum, or vegetable starch.
  • Studies have shown that most people with soy allergy can safely eat foods containing soy lecithin and soybean oil.

How can I be prepared?

  • Always know what you are eating and drinking.
  • Always check the label ingredients before you use a product, even if the food was safe the last time you ate it. Manufacturers can change recipes and a soy containing food may be added to the recipe.
  • Teach children with soy allergy not to accept food from classmates or friends.
  • When dining out, ask detailed questions about ingredients and how the food was prepared.
  • Wear a medical alert bracelet with information about your allergy or carry an alert card with you.
  • Talk with your doctor about how to prepare for a reaction. Mild reactions may be treated with oral antihistamines. Your doctor may prescribe self-injectable epinephrine to carry with you at all times in case you have a severe reaction.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/28/2012…#11320

Reading a Food Label for a Soy-free Diet

All FDA-regulated manufactured food products that contain as an ingredient a “major food allergen” (milk, wheat, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, and soy) are required by U.S. law to list that allergen on the product label. For tree nuts, fish, and crustacean shellfish, the specific type of nut or fish must be listed. (Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, effective 1/2006.)

This guide provides information on how you can select soy-free foods by properly reading Nutrition Facts food labels. A Registered Dietitian can provide detailed nutrition education to help you develop a personal action plan.

A soy-free diet is indicated for soy protein allergy. Here is a list of terms commonly used on ingredient labels that indicate the presence of soy.

Avoid foods that contain these ingredients:
  • Edamame
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Sobee
  • Shoyu sauce
  • Soy albumin, flour grits, nuts, sprouts, fiber, milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Soya
  • Soybean (granules, curd)
  • Soy protein (concentrate, hydrolyzed, and isolate)
  • Soy sauce
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Tofu
Ingredients on the label are listed from largest to smallest amount (by weight). This means a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient.

The following ingredients MAY contain soy protein. The source of these ingredients should be verified before consuming the product:

  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Natural flavoring
  • Protein, protein extender, protein filler
  • Vegetable broth
  • Vegetable gum
  • Vegetable starch

Allowed ingredients*:

  • Soy lecithin
  • Soy oil
  • Refined soybean oil (not cold-pressed, expeller-pressed, or extruded)

*Studies show that most people with soy allergies can safely eat foods containing these ingredients.

In the U.S., soybeans are widely used in processed food products.

Common and unexpected sources of soy:
  • Baby food
  • Baked goods (cookies, crackers)
  • Canned broths and soups
  • Canned fish, tuna, chicken and meats
  • Chocolates (cream centers)
  • Cooking oils
  • High-protein bars, cereals, granola, snacks
  • Ice cream
  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Meat products
  • Powdered meal replacers
  • Reduced-fat peanut butter
  • Sauces (soy, Asian, Worcestershire, gravy)
  • Shortenings

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/13/2015...#10225

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