When Your Child Has a Food Allergy: Soy

When a child has a soy allergy, exposure to even a small amount of soy can cause a life-threatening reaction. For that reason, your child must avoid soy in any form. This sheet tells you more about your child’s soy allergy. You’ll learn what foods to avoid, what to look for on food labels, and how to eat safely in restaurants.

Soy allergy: Foods to avoid

Soy foods such as tofu may not play a large part in your child’s everyday diet. But soy is used as a filler, binder, or flavoring in hundreds of products. Foods to avoid include:

  • Any breads, cakes, rolls, crackers, or breading that contain soy flour

  • Candy, such as chocolate chips, that contains soy lecithin

  • Canned tuna fish that contains soy

  • Cold-pressed or expeller-pressed soy oil (ask your child’s doctor whether refined soy oil is safe)

  • Any commercial soups that contain soy flour

  • Commercially prepared meats, such as hamburger, that use soy as an extender

  • Edamame (fresh soybeans cooked in the pod)

  • Some fruit drink and hot cocoa mixes (check the labels)

  • Generic vegetable oil. Please note: The risk for an allergic reaction to soy lecithin and soy oils is low, but a reaction can occur. Studies show that most people who have an allergy to soy may eat products that contain soy lecithin and soy oils. This is because these substances are fat-based, and people with allergies react to the protein portion of the food. 

  • Granola, energy, or breakfast bars made with soy

  • Ice cream that contains soy flavoring

  • Imitation bacon bits

  • Luncheon meats that contain soy, such as pork sausage

  • Some medications (ask your doctor or pharmacist which medications may contain soy)

  • Miso (fermented soybean paste)

  • Oyster sauce or fish sauce (nam plah or nuoc mam)

  • Salad dressings, mayonnaise, prepared sauces, and gravies containing soy products

  • Soybeans

  • Soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, and soy ice cream

  • Soy nut butter and peanut butter that contains soy

  • Soy nuts (toasted soybeans used as a snack)

  • Soy protein, soy flour, and soy grits

  • Soy sauces: teriyaki, tamari, and shoyu

  • Soybean sprouts

  • Tempeh

  • Tofu (soybean curd), okara (soybean pulp), and tempeh and natto (fermented soybean products)

  • Vegetable shortening and margarine and other butter substitutes

  • Vegetarian products and meat substitutes such as soy-based hamburgers and tofu hot dogs

  • Worcestershire sauce

What to look for on labels

Soy appears in some form in many packaged and prepared foods you’d never expect to contain it. When in doubt, call the manufacturer’s toll-free number on the label. Be alert for these ingredients:

  • Hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein

  • Lecithin (ask your child’s doctor if this is safe)

  • Mono- and diglycerides (these emulsifiers made from soy oil can appear in foods ranging from instant mashed potatoes to chewing gum and ice cream)

  • Monosodium glutamate, also called MSG (may be derived from soy protein)

  • Natural and artificial flavoring (often soy-based)

  • Textured vegetable protein (TPV)

  • Vegetable broth

  • Vegetable gum and vegetable starch (often made from soy)

  • Vitamin E, which contains soybean oil

Many soaps and cosmetics contain soy oil and soy products, so read the labels carefully. Ask your child’s doctor whether soy-based inks are a concern.

Eating out safely

Because soy products are so common, take extra care in restaurants.

  • Take care with Asian cuisines such as Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese. They use many soy-based foods, including oyster sauce, soy sauce, and tofu.

  • Be careful in buffets and salad bars, where cross contact (safe foods coming in contact with soy) is likely.

  • Ask questions about ingredients. Don’t rely on menu descriptions, especially in restaurants that use prepared foods.

  • Ask for sauces and dressings on the side—many contain soy flavorings.

  • Carry a “chef card.” This card explains your child’s food allergy to restaurant workers. You can make your own card or print one from a website on the Internet.

Soy allergies in infants

Soy allergies in infants can show up shortly after birth. It may be a cause of loose stools, colic, and poor growth. Breastfeeding only for your baby's first 6 months is best. But if you are unable to breastfeed, your baby's health care provider may prescribe special formula. 

If your child has ANY of the symptoms listed below, act quickly!

If one has been prescribed, use an injectable epinephrine (such as EpiPen) right away. Then call 911 or emergency services.

  • Trouble breathing or cough that won’t stop

  • Swelling of the mouth or face

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Vomiting or severe diarrhea