For a long time, soy-based foods (like tofu, seitan, and soy milks) have been synonymous with vegan and vegetarian diets. Today, soy is in a lot of everyday grocery products and processed foods. People who are trying to avoid soy are having a harder time getting away from it.
A few of us here at CCSA can relate to this struggle. Our colleagues come from a variety of dietary backgrounds including soy free, dairy free, gluten free, and meat free (or all of the above!). So, we have a lot of great advice for you from veteran restrictive dieters. Today, we focus on soy alternatives.
Non-meat eaters are often asked how they get their recommended daily protein. “Well, if you can’t eat meat, and you can’t eat soy, where do you get your protein?” The short answer: lots of places! We’ve provided a detailed list at the end of this post.
Soy in the American Diet
Everything in moderation, everything in moderation, everything in moderation.
According to researchers and cultural experts, the way we consume soy in the United States (U.S.) is different than the way people in Asian countries (who have been eating soy for many centuries) consume soy, that is, the U.S. consumes much more and it is typically not in a fermented state (like tempeh and fermented tofu). It is usually found in processed foods as soy lecithin that has been a subject of debate regarding whether it’s good or bad for us.
“Soy consumption in the U.S. has skyrocketed since the early 1990s, with soy food sales climbing from $300 million in 1992 to over $4 billion in 2008” (Scientific American, 2008). Today, that number has steadily grown to around $4.5 billion. When a favorable article comes out about the properties of a “superfood,” the general reaction is to buy a lot of it, which is great for the food companies, but what is it doing to our health?
Some studies show that women have more to worry about than men when it comes to the overconsumption of soy products. Soy contains isoflavones, a phytoestrogen compound that lightly mimics estrogen in the body, and enough of it can cause problems with the reproductive system, which is quite sensitive to changes in hormone levels. Some cases have shown women delaying or shutting down their menstrual cycles by consuming 60 grams of soy or more per day.
Studies have implicated estrogen in promoting the growth of breast cancer, and drugs like Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen hormone therapy, are being used to block estrogen from fueling cancer growth. Soy is not recommended for women battling breast cancer, since soy may disrupt anti-estrogen treatment.
There are many studies that suggest a diet high in soy doesn’t increase the chances of developing breast cancer and may even reduce that risk. There is more on this subject in our Thai Sweet Potato Chowder recipe post.
Given the conflicting research and the ubiquitous presence of soy in food products, it would be wise to remember the adage “everything in moderation.” It is a good thing then that there are, in fact, many alternatives to soy. Along with the list we provide below, check out this interesting article that aims to help those of us with a soy allergy. Also, this article identifies some hidden soy in a list at the bottom of the page. There are a lot of good tips in there on how to avoid soy. And because there are times when we look at an ingredients list and have a hard time making the names of some of the ingredients, here are the alternative names for soy that can be found in ingredient lists.
Here’s our soy-less product list:
Seitan takes some getting used to if you’re not familiar with tofu and tempeh as meat substitutes yet, but baked or pan fried with the right spices, this yummy wheat protein will make your tummy very happy.
Fields Roast makes vital wheat gluten meats without soy! They use lots of herbs and spices to make their meat substitute products very tasty and quite close to the real thing. Their cheese, however, is not soy free.
DIY Meat Substitutes
For those of you crafty types, here are some recipes for creating your own soy-less meat substitutes.
Coconut aminos are made from coconut sap and are a delicious soy sauce replacement. The vitamin-rich liquid is actually derived from the blossoms of the coconut tree versus the meat of the coconut.
Amy’s Kitchen is a wonderful company that is very sensitive to the dietary restriction of their customers. They offer soy-free meals, like soy-free macaroni and cheese, for instance. Be sure to check out their options in the frozen aisle.
Nut milks are a great soy milk alternative and source of protein. They’re also so delicious! Some of the most popular nut milks include almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk (depending on your definition of a coconut), and hazelnut milk (yum). There is also the non-nut milk, rice milk.
Soy lecithin is a common ingredient in chocolate and many other products usually present in small amounts. It is an emulsifier and viscosity adjuster that provides more consistency from batch to batch; however, it is an optional ingredient. While hard to find, there are chocolate bars and chips available that do not have soy lecithin. You will likely have to specially order these online. A chocolatier blogger has a mouth-watering list of these.
Protein bars are a great way to get a quick boost. You can easily search for the ones that do not contain soy, dairy, or gluten, but be wary of the sugar content in each type of protein bar.