Soybean allergy is one of the more common food allergies, especially among babies and children. Approximately 0.4 percent of children are allergic to soy. Studies indicate that an allergy to soy generally occurs early in childhood and often is outgrown by age three. Research indicates that the majority of children with soy allergy will outgrow the allergy by the age of 10.1
Allergic reactions to soy are typically mild; however, although rare, severe reactions can occur (read more about anaphylaxis). Therefore it is advised that people with soy allergy have quick access to an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen®, Auvi-Q® or Twinject®) at all times. To prevent a reaction, strict avoidance of soy and soy products is essential. Always read ingredient labels to identify soy ingredients.
Soybeans are a member of the legume family, which include plant species that bear seed pods that split upon ripening. Some examples of other legumes include beans, peas, lentils and peanut. People with a soy allergy are not necessarily allergic to other legumes. If you are allergic to soy, you do not have a greater chance of being allergic to another legume (including peanut) than you would to any other food.
In the United States, soybeans are widely used in processed food products. Soybeans alone are not a major food in the diet, but because soy is used in so many products, eliminating all those foods can result in an unbalanced diet. Consult with a dietitian to help you plan for proper nutrition.
The federal Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that all packaged food products sold in the U.S. that contain soy as an ingredient must list the word “Soy” on the label.
Read all product labels carefully before purchasing and consuming any item. Ingredients in packaged food products may change without warning, so check ingredient statements carefully every time you shop. If you have questions, call the manufacturer.
As of this time, the use of advisory labels (such as “May Contain”) on packaged foods is voluntary, and there are no guidelines for their use. However, the FDA has begun to develop a long-term strategy to help manufacturers use these statements in a clear and consistent manner, so that consumers with food allergies and their caregivers can be informed as to the potential presence of the eight major allergens.
Avoid foods that contain soy or any of these ingredients:
- Soy (soy albumin, soy cheese, soy fiber, soy flour, soy grits, soy ice cream, soy milk, soy nuts, soy sprouts, soy yogurt)
- Soybean (curd, granules)
- Soy protein (concentrate, hydrolyzed, isolate)
- Soy sauce
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
Soy is sometimes found in the following:
- Asian cuisine
- Vegetable gum
- Vegetable starch
- Vegetable broth
Some Unexpected Sources of Soy*
- Soybeans and soy products are found in many foods, including baked goods, canned tuna and meat, cereals, cookies, crackers, high-protein energy bars and snacks, infant formulas, low-fat peanut butter, processed meats, sauces, and canned broths and soups.
*Note: This list highlights examples of where soy has been unexpectedly found (e.g., on a food label for a specific product, in a restaurant meal, in creative cookery). This list does not imply that soy is always present in these foods; it is intended to serve as a reminder to always read the label and ask questions about ingredients before eating a food that you have not prepared yourself.
Keep the following in mind:
The FDA exempts highly refined soybean oil from being labeled as an allergen. Studies show most individuals with a soy allergy can safely eat soy oil that has been highly refined (not cold-pressed, expeller-pressed or extruded soybean oil). If you are allergic to soy, ask your doctor whether or not you should avoid soy oil.
- Asian cuisines are considered high-risk for people with soy allergy due to the common use of soy as an ingredient and the possibility of cross-contact, even if a soy-free item is ordered.
Download our PDF on how to read a label for a soy-free diet.
 Savage JH, Kaeding AJ, Matsui EC, Wood RA. The natural history of soy allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol, 2010;125:683-86.