This is an article written for the Food Empowerment Project’s Food Chain newsletter Issue #11 (not yet published).
Soybeans and their products are often common ingredients in plant-based diets. Soyfoods include edamame, tofu, tempeh, soymilk, soy meats, soy ice cream, soy-based mayonnaise, miso, soy sauce, and many others. Soy is also one of the richest sources of protein in the plant kingdom. Because soy is so common, people with soy allergies sometimes wonder how they can possibly be vegan.
A true soy allergy can result in hives, itching, swelling, wheezing, and digestive upset. In very rare cases, a soy allergy can be life threatening and require immediate medical attention.
Soy allergies occur in 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 people. Soy allergies are often developed in infancy and many children grow out of the allergy as they age. In comparison to other typical food allergies, soy allergies tend to be slightly less prevalent and also less intense (on average).
If you think you might have a non-severe soy allergy, one way to test it is to stop eating soy for 3-4 weeks, and then try a small amount of soy and see what happens in the next 24 hours. If you think you have a severe soy allergy, you should not try soy without supervision by a medical doctor.
The good news is that although soy is very common in plant-based diets, it is not necessary. Many vegans have existed without soy. Other than soy, the best sources of protein are other legumes. Legumes include garbanzo beans (chick peas) which are used to make hummus and falafel, pinto beans used in most refried beans and burritos, black beans, lentils, split peas, green peas, black eyed-peas, and peanuts. Quinoa, seitan, and pistachios are also high sources of protein for vegans. If you eat a few servings of these foods each day, you should be getting plenty of protein.
And remember that in addition to soymilk, there is rice and almond milk, and in addition to soy ice cream there is rice, almond, and coconut ice-cream. Check labels as some might contain some soy. Daiya cheese, one of the most popular non-dairy cheeses that melts when heated, contains no soy. Field Roast meats also contain no soy.
Cordle CT. Soy protein allergy: incidence and relative severity. J Nutr. 2004 May;134(5):1213S-1219S. | link
Soy Allergy. MayoClinic.com. Accessed 12/12/2012. | link
Tyler, Steve. Estimating Prevalence Of Soy Protein Allergy. SoyConnection.com Accessed 12/11/2012. | link