11 Aug
Coping with a Soy Allergy

Living with my soy allergy means being diligent about everything I put in my mouth. These days soy shows up in soup bases, spices, shortening, oil, mayonnaise, wax paper, wax on fresh vegetables, and even meat. Soy flour is popular, and most packaged food contains lecithin, usually from soy. This allergy also means checking the ingredients of every cosmetic, piece of clothing, vaccine, and anesthetic that I am about to use.

Soy has a long history, but it emerged as a common commercial food source in the 1960s. We didn’t have access to processed food, fast food, or manufactured food during my childhood. Most of our food was homegrown and preserved by canning or freezing. Our bread was baked at home or purchased from a local bakery, and our pies were made from lard, often rendered in a home kitchen. 

When I was a child, I often became ill after or during family reunions, but everyone chalked it up to excitement or too much rich food. This was the one time we enjoyed store-purchased treats. I wonder if I was bothered by soy, even back then. 

Soy is not a bad ingredient, but it is one of the eight most common allergens. Children often encounter it first in infant formula, and most of the children who develop an allergy to soy in infancy will outgrow it. It is difficult to avoid because it can be found within other ingredients and therefore not listed as soy. I am not leading a crusade against this ingredient, but I will support any restaurant that offers even one sandwich labelled as soy-free.  

I sympathize with restauranteurs. They already offer options for those who are gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan. Adding a soy-free option might push them over the edge. The truth is, many home cooks and professionals don’t realize the extent to which soy permeates their kitchens. Would they know to check the soup base, the shortening, and the bread? Would I even be able to trust their soy-free offering? 

I am an enthusiastic home cook, partly because eating out often ends badly for me. I almost always feel ill later in the evening. Some of you may remember that my husband, Gord, has had a long journey with Crohn’s disease. My blog titled Gordie and Me and Crohn’s - Makes Three celebrated twenty surgery-free years for him. In August of 2021, Gord celebrated being surgery-free for 25 years. I credit my home cooking for part of his success; however, he is also disciplined beyond reason. 

When we attend a banquet, I am sure the chefs roll their eyes. I tell them upon registration about my husband’s condition and then reluctantly mention my allergy. He usually receives a plain piece of poached chicken and a white bun. In my evening bag, I often bring a pickle and some Gord-friendly hot sauce. We learned to pack extras from a friend who always carries Frank’s Red Hot in her purse. I usually receive plain steamed vegetables, naked greens, plain meat, and some dessert berries. This is impressive because it means they know that the salad dressings, soups, some meats, and desserts all contain soy. Obviously, they take time to research my meal, and I am so grateful they will do this for one attendee. 

My wake-up call came in the late 1990s when I sipped a smoothie that contained powdered soy protein mixed into soy milk. It was delicious, but soon I became grumpy, itchy, and developed a sore throat. My lips began to blister, my tongue swelled, and I was barely able to swallow the antihistamine tablets my daughter brought me. Thank goodness she was in the house. That was as close to anaphylaxis as I have ever come, but it made me start to look at soy as the culprit. 

Around the same time, I began reacting to skincare products and cosmetics and soon found that the products which caused me swelling, itching, and runny eyes usually contained some form of soy. I gravitate to the wonderful clothing designs manufactured by Soyaconcept, but I itch as soon as I touch a garment on the rack. We owned a lululemon store, and they introduced a clothing line called OQOQO, made from natural, sustainable fabrics like soy and hemp. I tried wearing a pink linen suit with a comfortable knit yolk. After a few hours, I developed an angry rash from my waist to my hips. The yolk on the skirt was made from soy. I remade the skirt, replacing the yolk with a cotton and elastin fabric, and I wore the suit for years. 

With a new yolk, this suit became comfy enough to play with the kids on the floor. 

I knew I had a soy allergy, but for some reason, I went to an allergy specialist for confirmation. Despite my many previous reactions, I didn’t respond to the official scratch test. Putting more faith in medical science than my actual experiences, I began to think it might be something else. When I had another reaction to soy, my doctor confirmed that the scratch test isn’t always an accurate indicator of an allergy. 

I have learned to check the ingredients, even in familiar products, because manufacturers often change or tweak recipes without making an announcement. My Tim Hortons story is a good illustration. I am not sure when Tim Hortons began using soy flour, but I had stopped looking up Timbits because they had been a safe treat for me. I often ate two or three while sipping coffee on road trips. 

A few years ago, I noticed that I felt uncomfortable following my road trip coffees. Eating a few Cheetos seemed to calm things down. Putting my seat back sometimes relieved the pressure, but I would spend at least half an hour in the washroom when we reached our destination. I could function in a shopping mall or at a meeting, but I experienced a floaty feeling, almost dizzy. I decided I was a poor traveller, sensitive to altitude, and upset by crowded areas, but I never considered soy. 

My husband suggested we make one trip without snacks. This worked. I travelled well. On the next trip, we ate a few Cheetos. I still travelled well. That’s when I decided to download the ingredient listings from various fast-food places. I was astonished to discover that Timbits contain soy flour and soy lecithin. My McDonald’s lunch order also had to be changed. No more fries for me. 

I follow the adage, buyer beware. In March 2021, before having a medical procedure, I asked if the planned anesthetic contained soy. The anesthetist did a quick check and was surprised that it did. He found me an alternative. God bless him because I sailed through the procedure and didn’t feel ill afterward. I have also had two vitrectomies on my left eye and made sure, each time, that the medical team checked every formula that would be used on or in my eye. The COVID vaccine I received was soy-free, but my pharmacist gave me the national phone number for a database that provided total assurance.   

Although soy is bad for me, it is a marvellous ingredient for bakers. Adding between two and five percent soy flour to a recipe adds protein and improves the final product's texture, colour and crumb. It also lengthens the shelf life. 

Below is a partial list of ingredients that are soy-based or might contain soy. I usually eat at home, making my own broth, salad dressings, and carefully sourcing meat and vegetables. I am discovering that some restaurants welcome customers with allergies, but the onus is still on me to do the research. 

Some items to know about:

Soy milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt

Soya, soy, soybeans

Soy flour






Soy Sauce



Vegetable oil, vegetable gum, vegetable broth, vegetable starch

Glycine Max

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)

Textured vegetable protein (TVP)

Monoglycerides and diglycerides

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Artificial flavouring

Natural flavouring 



Comments (5)

  • The Boy
    August 12, 2021 at 09:55 am

    What a pair of restaurant customers we make......one with Crohn's and one with a soy allergy. You soon find favourite foods to eat without recourse and restaurants that go the extra mile for you. Sometimes you wonder why kids always want to eat the same things and not other foods. Maybe their bodies are telling them something. Hmmmmm.......

  • Wilma Poole
    August 12, 2021 at 07:37 am

    Great article Maureen and thanks for sharing. I am also very diligent about ingredients and find it almost impossible to find something that doesn't contain canola oil or corn which are GMO products....stay well....

  • Marion Murawsky
    August 11, 2021 at 04:33 pm

    Maureen, you have done so well to find the cause of your discomfort. You are so diligent. Not easy.

  • Rauncie Kinnaird
    August 11, 2021 at 04:28 pm

    I love this article. I often feel a chef might have to take a deep breath when I say I am celiac. I do sympathize with servers and chefs. I once asked a chef friend and he said he has no problem at all clearing an area of the kitchen UNLESS the person then orders something with the allergen for dessert. So be a good customer! Thank you for posting this. I also have found in researching soy that I think it is even harder than gluten free I was shocked to find soy in so many things. Stay well!

  • Patricia Coulter
    August 11, 2021 at 04:03 pm

    What a long and winding road you have been on! How interesting to see all the discoveries you have made and how this will help others!

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