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Once upon a time, soy was praised as one of the world’s healthiest, most nutrient-packed superfoods. Soy-rich foods and products like edamame, tofu, soy milk, and tempeh emerged as a total win for vegetarians, vegans, and low-cholesterol eaters alike. But over the years, questions have emerged as to whether or not soy is good for our bodies, prompting many consumers to avoid soy-based products entirely. Whether you’re hoping to omit soy from your diet, dealing with an allergy, or just looking for plant-based protein alternatives, here’s what you need to know about shopping soy-free.
What Is Soy?
Soy is a protein derived from the soybean, a legume that is native to Asia. While sometimes consumed whole in the form of edamame (prepared immature soybeans in pods), soy is widely used as a plant-based protein and a primary ingredient in milk alternatives aka soy milk and tofu (a curd made from soy milk). It’s also fermented into tempeh, soy sauce, and miso, a traditional Japanese seasoning.
Benefits of Avoiding Soy
The benefits of consuming soy are hard to argue—it’s rich in many vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Yet some experts have questioned if it may be doing more harm than good. That’s because soy contains isoflavones, compounds that act like estrogen in the body. Because of the presence of isoflavones, there’s some concern that soy may adversely affect the breast, thyroid, or uterus in postmenopausal women. However, research examining soy’s potential link to harmful effects has been limited to animal studies. In the meantime, many people are opting to buy soy-free products until the science is more conclusive one way or the other.
Tips for Eating Soy-Free
Whether you have an allergy or concerned about soy as a potentially harmful ingredient, shopping soy-free is easy with a few handy tips.
- Read labels carefully. Hydrolyzed soy protein (HSP), monoglycerides and diglycerides, MSG (or monosodium glutamate), and textured vegetable protein (TVP) all contain soy.
- Know where hidden soy lurks. Asian foods, candy, cereal, baked goods, nutritional supplements, broths, and imitation dairy products all may include soy unless otherwise noted or labeled “soy-free.”
- Remember that it goes beyond what you eat. Soy can also be found in cosmetics including lip glosses and balms, as well as some pet foods. So be sure to look closely at labels for everything you purchase.
Top Soy-Free Brands
Stock up on these soy-free favorites.
This Paleo-friendly brand was created by Mark Sisson, one of the founders of the Paleo movement, and is known for marinades, condiments, dressings, and protein powders that are free of preservatives, added sugar, and soy.
Spread on creamy goodness without preservatives, soy, or added sugar. This avocado-based may has a kick of zesty lime juice and chipotle to spice up sandwiches, salads, or dips.
Dairy-free baking mixes and pantry must-haves (like pancake mixes, crackers, and frostings) are this Chicago-based company’s specialty. But everything Simple Mills makes is also free of soy, gluten, and GMOs.
Addictively crunchy, these nutrient-rich crackers are made from a blend of almond flour, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds and deliver 3 grams of protein per serving.
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