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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reading Labels: Soy

As a little girl, I was always bringing home injured wild animals I found while climbing around the woods or around my grandparent's lake front property. My mom was not very excited when I brought home a robin or swallow that got kicked out of its nest, and all things considered she was pretty understanding when I showed up with three baby ducks that lost their mom. She even made little diapers for them when they ran around the house. We always had a few dogs adopted from the pound and everyone thought I was aspiring to be a veterinarian. Because I loved animals so much, veganism appealed to me BUT I thought it would be impossible without soy.

Annie: our puppy rescued from a last chance shelter fair

Like many people, I thought that a large portion of each meal had to be protein and the only real vegan source of protein was soy. I would need to incorporate a soy product into every meal. I was so wrong! Proteins are just a large, complex series of amino acids. Our bodies actually have to work pretty hard to break those chains down, making them harder to assimilate. Vegetables and fruits have smaller amino chains that are easier to break down. Legumes and grains aren't your only non-soy vegan option for protein. Think of protein as a bucket of amino acids. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables (especially leafy greens), nuts, and seeds will get you the amino acids you need to fill that bucket.

One of my favorite raw vegan meals: lettuce wraps with assorted sprouts and guacamole

For the last few decades, soy has been touted as some kind of super health food. I personally believe that to be a bit of a joke. The history of soy is something I find quite interesting. In short, soy was considered strictly a rotation crop until it was discovered that fermentation made it edible. I believe that in its fermented forms (tempeh, tamari, miso), it can still be beneficial in moderation. Now it's a highly processed or non-processed component that is found in many "health" foods. It contains phytochemicals that mimic hormones, and can cause health problems in its unrefined or over-refined states. If it's not treated properly, the proteins are completely useless and pass through us like they never happened. Unless processing includes fermentation, soy is not a food. There is also an issue with genetic modification (GMO), but that's a whole new rant.

Reading Labels

Soy is a fairly inexpensive crop and has found its way into many processed foods. Remembering that it is considered a health food, it is in many protein shakes, protein bars, and an added "boost" in several health food products. It is commonly used as a diary alternative in vegan milks, cheese, and ice creams. It is used as a texture component in candies, cakes, and ice creams. Frying and cooking oils as well as salad dressings usually use soy for the oil.

Other names for soy:

* Miso
* Tofu
* Teriyaki
* Tamari
* Edemamme
* Mono-diglyceride
* Kinako
* Kouridofu
* Natto
* Nimame
* Okara
* Soya, Soja
* Yuba
* Hydrolyzed Soy Protein

Hidden Soy Ingredients (high likelihood of being soy):

* Vegetable Oil
* Vegetable Protein
* Lecithin (may or may not cause a reaction)
* monosodium glutamate (MSG)
* hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein
* baking mixes
* baby formula
* Thickening Agents
* Soups
* Baked Goods (Doughnuts, pastas, breads, crackers etc.)
* Natural or Artificial sweeteners or flavors
* Sauces
* Salad Dressings
* Marinades, gravvy, broths, buillion cubes, stocks (vegan or not)
* Simulated meat products (imitation crab, bacon bits, "tofurky", etc.)
* processed, cured, canned, or prepared meats for those non-vegans out there

Soy is a prolific ingredient that should not be taken lightly. It is in most all salad dressings, marinades, sauces, spreads, spice rubs, and is in some diet sodas and most beverage mixes (hot chocolate, apple cider, chai tea mixes, etc.). It is almost impossible to avoid in bakeries and restaurants, and most servers and even chefs may not know what all they are using that contains soy. I was in a restaurant the other day that tried to assure me I could have a dish because it contained tamari instead of soy. Tamari is soy. I'm glad I knew that!


"Soy." The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. December 11, 2009

"Soy - one of the nine most common food allergens." Developed in consultation with Allergy/Asthma Information Association, Anaphylaxis Canada, Association québécoise des allergies alimentaires, Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and Health Canada September 17, 2009. December 11, 2009


  1. I avoid soy for the most part because I feel better without it. But after reading a bit more about vegan nutrition, I think it's good to have out there as an option. It can be easy to overdo it though. It takes creative thinking to make things without relying on it.

  2. It's not necessary though, thankfully. I'm very allergic and am glad nutrition panel testing is showing that I'm doing well without. Fortunately a lot of people out there are providing others with vegan soy free options - especially the raw vegans.