Going Soy-Free: Foods to Avoid

Common and hidden sources of soy

Bowls of beans, nuts, quinoa, and flaxseed

 Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

Going soy-free means avoiding foods that are well-known for containing soy, like soy sauce, soybeans, and tofu. But soy can be found in a host of other foods that are far less obvious, such as processed foods, dairy substitutes, breaded foods, and cereals.

Foods that contain soy don't always have the word "soy" on the product label. This can make shopping or dining out more difficult if you have a soy allergy or want to eliminate soy from your diet for other reasons. Vegetarians and vegans may be especially challenged.

This article lists common and uncommon sources of soy (including non-food sources) and the best alternatives if you are soy-free. It also describes some of the hidden sources of soy and how to recognize them on product labels.

Common Food Sources of Soy

Soy is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines but may be difficult to recognize on a menu. It is important to know that the following items contain soy and should be avoided if you have a soy allergy:

  • Bean sprouts
  • Edamame beans
  • Kinako
  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Nimame
  • Okara
  • Shoyu
  • Soy sauce
  • Soya
  • Soybean curds
  • Soybean granules
  • Tamari
  • Tempeh
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Tofu
  • Yuba

Soy-Based Ingredients

It is not always easy to recognize the presence of soy on a label, as other words are used in their place. These processed ingredients are soy-based:

There are other ingredients that may or may not contain soy. It is important to contact the manufacturer of the product to find out the source of the ingredient. These include:

  • Bulking agents
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Gum arabic
  • Guar gum
  • Lecithin
  • Mixed tocopherols
  • "Natural flavoring"
  • Stabilizer
  • Thickener
  • Vegetable gum, starch, shortening, or oil
  • Vitamin E

Foods That May Contain Soy

You might be surprised to learn that a number of common foods often contain some form of soy. It is important to be extra cautious about eating these if you are unable to get a complete ingredient list:

  • Asian foods
  • Baked goods and baking mixes
  • Bouillon cubes
  • Candy
  • Cereal
  • Chicken broth
  • Chicken (raw or cooked) processed with chicken broth
  • Chocolate
  • Deli meats made with hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Energy bars or nutrition bars
  • Hamburger meat with soy protein fillers
  • Hamburger buns made with added soy flour
  • Imitation dairy foods
  • Infant formula
  • Margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Nutrition supplement
  • Peanut butter and peanut butter substitutes
  • Protein powders made with soy protein powder
  • Sauces, gravies, and soups
  • Sausages and hot dogs made with soy protein fillers
  • Smoothies
  • Vegetable broth
  • Vegetarian meat substitutes

Beyond the Kitchen

Be aware of hidden sources of soy that may be in your medicine cabinet, shower caddy, or around the house. Soy can be found in things like lip balm and cosmetics. A careful review of these products can help you avoid an unexpected reaction.

Allergy Cross-Reactivity

Food cross-reactivity occurs when the reactive substance in one food is similar to a component found in another food. For example, some people with peanut allergies may also be allergic to soy protein. People with soy allergies may cross-react with peanuts or other legumes, such as beans or peas.

While a soy allergy tends to be less severe than other food allergens, cross-reactivity to peanuts can increase the severity. Some studies have reported fatal reactions in people with severe peanut allergies.

With that said, most people with soy allergy can safely tolerate other legumes because the legume family has over 30 species.

Even so, don’t assume that you are allergic to the broad category of beans and legumes just because you have a soy or peanut allergy. Unnecessarily restricting these foods could lead to a nutritional deficiency.

Soy Allergy in Infants

Soy protein may cause a digestive disorder in childhood called food-protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). Infants can get a similar set of symptoms from cow’s milk protein, known as cow’s milk protein-induced enterocolitis.

Between 10% and 14% of babies who are allergic to cow’s milk will develop a reaction when given a soy-based infant formula, according to a 2018 study published by the World Allergy Organization Journal.

There are specialized infant formulas, called "hydrolyzed" and "elemental" formulas, that can be used for infant nutrition when soy- and milk-based formulas are not tolerated. This is a specialized area of nutrition that requires talking with a healthcare provider and/or a pediatric registered dietitian for recommendations.

Current Recommendations

Based on the current body of research, experts suggest that infants with a cow’s milk allergy should be given an extensively hydrolyzed cow’s milk protein formula (in which the milk proteins are broken down) instead of soy formula.

Protein Alternatives for a Soy-Free Diet

If you have a soy allergy, you must avoid tofu and tempeh, which are found in most textured vegetable protein meat substitutes and many vegetarian convenience foods.

Instead, you can choose from these eight high-protein foods (all of which are vegetarian-diet friendly):

  • Milk and eggs: Lacto-ovo-vegetarians use these as a rich source of protein and vitamin B-12. The caveat is that milk and eggs are also common allergens, and some people may be sensitive to them along with soy.
  • Beans: One cup of cooked black beans provides 15 grams of protein. You can enjoy many varieties of this inexpensive source of protein, iron, folate, and magnesium.
  • Nuts: Nuts are common allergens and so they can't be enjoyed by everyone. However, they are rich in protein and nutrients such as vitamin E and phosphorus.
  • Seitan: This is a plant-based meat substitute made from wheat flour gluten. You just need to check that it isn't made with any added soy.
  • Quinoa: This ancient Incan grain contains all of the amino acids to make it a complete protein. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein and is high in fiber, magnesium, and phosphorus.
  • Flaxseed: Ground flaxseed is an easy way to add protein and fiber to a smoothie, and you can bake it into baked goods.
  • Oat bran: The bran is removed from processed instant oats, but you can add it back in for a protein boost or as a rich source of dietary fiber for baked goods.

What to Know About Product Labeling

The Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires manufacturers to list soy ingredients on product labels in plain, easy-to-understand language.

However, the FALCPA does not require a manufacturer whose product contains refined soy oil and/or soy lecithin as a releasing agent to include “contains soy” on their label. This is due to the fact that studies have yet to show that there is enough soy protein in these ingredients to cause an allergic reaction in most people.

This doesn't mean that someone with an extreme sensitivity to soy might not still react to soy even in these trace amounts.

Also, the guidelines do not apply to "raw agricultural commodities" such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk, meat, or other foods in their natural state. All of these are possible sources of soy, including soy-based waxes or horticultural oils used on fruits and processed chickens.

Some manufacturers may include statements on a food label indicating a potential for soy cross-contamination. These include statements like “may contain soy,” “produced on shared equipment with soy,” or “produced in a facility that also processes soy.”

Even so, these warnings are voluntary and not required under FALCP regulations.


Following a soy-free eating plan requires more effort than just avoiding well-known foods containing soy because a host of other foods and ingredients can also contain soy, even if the word "soy" doesn't appear on the product label.

If you need to follow a soy-free diet and could use some help determining which foods to include and which to avoid (and still get the nutrition your body needs), talk with a registered dietitian for more guidance.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jill Castle, MS, RD
Jill Castle, MS, RD, is a childhood nutrition expert, published book author, consultant, and public speaker who helps parents nourish healthy kids.