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The lowdown on: soya allergy

The lowdown on: soya allergy

by FoodMaestro | 16 March 2016

Hannah Hunter (Specialist Allergy Dietitian, Guys Hospital) provides the lowdown on ‘soya allergy’.

Soya (or soy) is found in many food products, including many of our Easter favourites such as chocolate and hot cross buns.  Up to 60% of manufactured foods contain ingredients made from soya. In this edition we explain more about the different types of soya and how people with soya allergy can identify safe foods. 

What is soy allergy?

Allergic reactions to soya range from severe and life threatening to mild and can be IgE or non-IgE mediated, similar to cow’s milk protein allergy (see ‘The lowdown on: milk allergy’ for more information).

Soybeans belong to the legume family, along with peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, peas and beans. People who are allergic to one type of legume do not usually react to all other types, although this is possible. In children, soya allergy is often seen alongside cow’s milk allergy, which is one of the reasons soya formula is not recommended to babies with cow’s milk allergy.

In adults on the other hand, soya allergy is sometimes seen alongside peanut allergy but is more commonly seen in people with oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen food syndrome. This condition occurs when someone with an allergy to pollen (hay fever) develops itching in the mouth when eating some raw fruits, vegetables or nuts but tolerates cooked versions. The symptoms are usually mild but people with oral allergy syndrome who react to soya can have severe reactions to soya milk.

What should be avoided?

People with soya allergy generally need to avoid sources of soy protein, but many do tolerate soy flour and soy sauce. As soy lecithin and soya oil contain very little protein, they do not usually need to be avoided. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for individual advice about what to avoid.

Common foods that contain soy protein are soybeans, soya milks, soya cheese, tofu, edamame beans, and meat substitutes. Soya flour is commonly added to many bread products and soy sauce is used frequently in Asian dishes, sauces and flavourings. The emulsifier soy lecithin is used in many products such as chocolate, cakes, breads, and spreads. Soybean oil can be found in many products including sauces, snacks and pre-prepared meals.

Under EU food labelling laws soya needs to be clearly labelled as an ingredient and emphasised (usually in bold or underlined). FoodMaestro is useful for deciphering different types of soya on food labels. Set up your personal food profile to avoid either all forms of soya including those that may contain soya and/ or soya lecithin or simply exclude foods with soya as an ingredient:


Where can I get more information?

If you suspect that you or your child has soya allergy, then speak to your GP, Dietitian or hospital Consultant for further advice.

Other useful websites: