Posted in Tips and Tricks

Soy, Soy…Boy Oh Boy

Soy. It is something I rarely thought about prior to my Celiac days. I vaguely knew it had something to do with tofu, but aside from that I knew very little about it. Fast forward to my dairy-free/soy-free diagnosis and suddenly soy became a very important concept in my life. You see when you become dairy-free, things that are labeled vegan catch your eye…because even if you’re a carnivore like me, that designation means that there is no dairy and hence you can check one of your allergens off the list. Of course, you soon learn that vegan products more often than not contain soy (and sometimes gluten too) so as someone who has to avoid the magic trifecta (gluten, dairy, and soy), you are left standing in a gluten-free, vegan cafe where you can eat next to nothing, bewildered and wondering how eating out became this complicated. I feel you…virtual hug from me to you, my friend.

Now for those of you with immune systems that react to gluten, casein, and soy, there are rarely opportunities for me to say I have good news for you. I mean, many gluten-free items contain milk; everyone gets excited for you when something is lactose-free…but sadly for you that doesn’t mean much because there’s still casein (the milk protein your body reacts to) in there even when the lactose is removed; most dairy-free products replace the cow’s milk with soy milk or soy-containing butter substitute…in other words, it’s a landmine of missteps just waiting to be danced around. I can’t tell you the number of times over the past 5 years (I know, who can believe it’s been 5 years since dairy and soy were added to the mix??) that I have turned over a bag of gluten-free pretzels or a dairy-free chocolate bar (a rare find!) only to find the bold letters emblazoned on the package: CONTAINS SOY (As the physicist would say, tears on my pillow). HOWEVER, today I do have some potentially great news for some of you, and it all has to do with soy.
Note the warning: contains soy. Not safe, right?? (Hmmm…)
If you look carefully at the label of certain products containing the warning about soy, you might see that the only seemingly dangerous ingredient mentioned is something called soy lecithin. As someone who knows little about the process of soybean harvesting/refining, you (like me) probably put the package back on the shelf, perhaps with an exasperated sigh, and trudged onto the produce section where you know safe food is waiting. Well, what if I told you that many of you might actually be able to safely enjoy those delicious products you just put back on the shelf??
Soy again…
It was last summer when a nurse finally mentioned something to me about soy and soy lecithin being quite different. (Note: This wasn’t even a nurse taking care of me…we just happened to be working together at the Pregnancy Center where I volunteer and chatting about food restrictions over lunch. Divine intervention I tell you.)  She was the first to let me in on the well-kept secret: soy oil and soy lecithin, though derived from soybeans, rarely contain the protein in soy that causes the reaction in most immune systems (by the time they are processed). Well, you better believe I ran right to my trusty Google. Sure enough, I found countless articles to support what she had said here, here, here, etc. Since last summer (Thank you, University of Nebraska -Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Food Allergy Research and Resource program), there has even been an additional study which came out with these magic words:
Soy lecithin does contain trace levels of soy proteins and these have been found to include soy allergens. However, apparently, soy lecithin does not contain sufficient soy protein residues to provoke allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers. Many allergists do not even advise their soybean-allergic patients to avoid soybean lecithin when it is included as an ingredient on food products. From this practical standpoint, we can surmise that most soybean-allergic individuals do not react adversely to the ingestion of soybean lecithin.” 

Now, please note that this is true for MOST people who react to soy. There are of course people who are extra sensitive to soy for whom this may not be the case…so I would recommend what most of the articles suggest: consult your doctor/allergist. Fortunately, because my reaction to soy was always much less severe than my reactions to gluten or casein, my doctor gave me the clear to try it. Not only did I feel fine, but my bloodwork last August confirmed it: no reaction to soy lecithin! (Insert cheering and jumping here!) Bring on the KIND bars and the gluten-free pretzels!! (Not a moment too soon either since just a few weeks later I was pregnant and let me tell you, those KIND bars and pretzels were a lifesaver while trying to snack and teach 2nd grade at the same time- all while growing a little human.)
So, in summary, if you are a soy-allergic or soy-averse individual, I would encourage you to talk to your doctor. I would completely understand if your reaction is, “No thanks, I feel great now- why take the chance?”, especially if soy is your only culprit. However, if you’re a gluten, dairy, soy trifecta- I’m here to tell you that you’ll be amazed how much this small nugget of information can change your life. Granted, you have to be extra vigilant because some dairy-free products contain both soy lecithin AND soy protein (AKA the dangerous one) so don’t get lazy on your label-reading. And of course, soy lecithin is an additive with its own list of potential hazards (though it seems like everything is that way these days) so please read and make an informed decision that is best for you!
                                                           One of these is safe…
…the other is not!
I hope this news brightens someone’s day/month/summer as much as it did mine last August. (And I’m sorry it took me almost a year to share…I told you I have quite the backlog of half-written posts!) Now hopefully someday I can have some similar great news about casein or gluten! But until that day comes, I celebrate the mini-victories…with KIND bars and gluten-free, dairy-free (but soy lecithin- containing) chocolate pretzels.

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