Soy Protein: Hidden Ingredient, Hidden Danger

Almost all of the food processed in the US contains soy and/or soy protein. Soy protein (concentrated soy) is used to extend meat, emulsify food, and as a thickener. These uses have transformed the food industry. Food that never contained soy protein — smoothies, ice cream, frozen potatoes, and baked goods — may contain it now.

Most companies list soy protein on labels, but done don’t. In March 2005 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued an allergy alert for “undeclared soy protein” in a specific brand of cheesecake. All eight flavors of cheesecake contained soy protein, yet it wasn’t listed on any of the labels.

“Consumption of these products may cause serious or life-threatening reaction in persons with allergies to soy protein,’ the alert said.

Soy protein is often a hidden ingredient. That’s because soy protein has many names: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, isolated soy protein, soy protein concentrate, textured soy protein, vegetable protein, soy meal, soy flour, textured soy flour, and tofu. Even if you weren’t allergic to soy protein before, you may be allergic to it now.

Have you felt uncomfortable after eating fast food? Have you had stomach pain after eating at a restaurant? Have you had “indigestion” after eating food prepred with a sauce or rice mix? The symptoms of soy protein allergy include colitis (inflammation of the colon), stomach bloating, and severe stomach pain. These symptoms can last 24 hours or more.

Few adults are allergic to soy, according to The Cleveland Clinic, but times are changing. More people are allergic to soy protein due to the number of products that contain it. You wouldn’t be the first person to see a doctor because you’re worried about ulcers and find that you’re allergic to soy beans.

If you can’t eat soy beans you may not be able to eat similar foods. The Center for Food and Environmental Illness says soy beans are a member of the legume family, so you may have “cross reactions” with peas, garbanzo beans, lima beans, black beans, lentils, peanuts, and even wheat. What can you do?

You can become a food label detective. Before you put a product in the grocery care read every word on every label. Shopping will take more time, but that’s a fair tade-off to avoid getting ill. Recipes change, so continue to read labels even of products have been safe in the past.

Keep an ongoing list of foods to avoid. Do this on a computer, if possible, because your list will grow from dozens of items to hundreds in a few weeks. Bring the list with you when you go shopping. When you eat out, don’t be afraid to ask the server if there’s soy protein in a recipe.

For the only way to “treat” soy protein allergy is to avoid the foods that contain it. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make meals from scratch. Set asde a few hours each weekend (or when it’s convient) for meal preparation. Make a large batch of soup, for example, and freeze most of it. You may also wish to freeze individual dinners and servings in foil pans.

Last, always have a gas-reducing product on hand, such as Beano or Gax X. Your doctor can help, but the final responsibility for soy protein allergy rests with you. Though this requires vigilance, your health and wellbeing are worth it.

Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson. To learn more about her work please go to

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