NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles about recovering from soy. For answers to frequently asked questions, visit Dr. Daniel’s website www.wholesoystory.com as well as our Soy FAQ page. Dr. Daniel offers private coaching, nutritional counseling and small, evening and weekend teleseminar classes on soy recovery and other health issues. For further information, call Dr. Daniel at 505-266-3252 or email her at wholenutritionist (at) earthlink.net.
Hidden soy exists in thousands of everyday foods and cosmetics as well as products such as cardboards, paints, cars, biodiesel fuels, fabric softeners, mattresses and even books printed with soy ink. This is a nightmare for people who are allergic to soy and a challenge for those who are sensitive to it or who just want to avoid it. When New Trends printed The Whole Soy Story: the Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food in 2005, we went “green” and boasted on the copyright page “Printed with soy ink, an appropriate use of soy.” Soon after, we learned, to our dismay, that people who are highly allergic to soy cannot read the book!
Books printed with soy ink don’t yet require warning labels but luckily foods now do. In January 2006, help for consumers came with the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. The law requires food manufacturers to clearly state whether a product contains any of the top eight allergens—milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy protein—and to put the warning in plain English. That means companies have to spell it out S-O-Y and not hide behind confusing and little-understood terms like “hydrolyzed plant protein” or “textured vegetable protein.”
That’s good enough for people who simply prefer to avoid soy. For highly allergic people, the new labeling law is not enough. Soy oil, lecithin and vitamin E (often added as a preservative) do not fall under the labeling requirement. (The FDA reasons that such products are free of soy protein, which is only true when they are manufactured under perfect conditions.) Animal products too may unexpectedly contain “hidden” soy. Some will appear on labels such as “extenders” added to ground meat, “plasticizers” used to hold patties, meat balls and hot dogs together or soy oil pumped into pre-basted turkeys. But labeling won’t help the increasing numbers of people who are starting to react to the flesh of fish, poultry, lamb or cattle that were fattened on soy feed and to eggs laid by soy fed chickens.
Inaccurate labeling is yet another problem. Both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency recall hundreds of products each year, usually because of undeclared allergens. Three factors are usually to blame: omissions or errors on labels, cross contamination of manufacturing equipment and mistakes made by suppliers of ingredients. With the new labeling law, some health food store companies have voluntarily taken the precaution of stating clearly on their labels whether a food product was produced in a “facility that also processes soy.” Likewise, some supplement companies may indicate that a probiotic was grown on a culture containing dairy and soy, even though soy is not officially an ingredient and is extremely unlikely to appear in the final product. Such companies, however, are the exception and not the rule.
Nothing to Eat
Since The Whole Soy Story came out, hundreds of allergic people have told me that they live lives of angry desperation. Trips to the supermarket or health food store mean hours of poring over food labels and finding little or nothing to eat. Making matters worse, many react to soy dust in the bulk bins and/or smells in the cleaning product and cosmetic aisles. Some of these people use up tremendous amounts of energy venting in letters to the FDA and to food manufacturers. Their entire lives revolve around fear of soy and the frustration of trying to completely avoid it. What they want is for the government to outlaw soy entirely, so they can be happy again.
Why Avoidance Isn’t Enough
The mistake most of these highly allergic people make is to put all their energy into avoiding soy. Vigilance is essential, of course, especially for those who might go into anaphylactic shock. But the downside is an increasingly limited diet that can precipitate additional food allergies. Think how many of the soy allergies develop in the first place. A baby, child or adult reacts to commercial dairy products only to be switched to soy infant formula or soy milk. Or, parents of an autistic child will go on a gluten-free and casein-free diet and end up using soy flours, soy protein and soy milk. The overuse of soy then leads to soy-related digestive disorders, allergies, thyroid damage and other health problems. Every week I get letters from people wanting “protein powders,” “energy bars” and other convenience foods free of whey and soy protein. The food industry’s latest answer is pea protein, but people who take pea protein every day will likely develop allergies or sensitivities to it as well. In any case, 100 percent soy avoidance is well nigh impossible.
A better solution is to reduce—or even eliminate—the sensitivity and reactivity. This is not always easy, but is possible using the combination of right diet and high-quality soy-free supplements. To get started, here are four tips.
Tip # 1: If It Has A Label, Don’t Buy It!
Live by this rule and you’ll eliminate the frustration of poring over food labels at supermarkets. Basing their diet on readymade food products without any soy or other bad ingredients is the reason people with allergies think there’s nothing they can eat. With the time saved, put your energy into preparing real foods, whole foods and slow foods. Eat a variety of them. This is the best way to avoid soy and will give your body the nourishment it needs for soy recovery.
Tip #2: Bone Up
People with allergies and food sensitivities almost always suffer from impaired digestion and a “leaky gut.” Heal both with homemade bone broths rich in gelatin, cartilage and collagen. (Canned, packaged, restaurant or deli soups won’t do the trick as they are almost never made properly.) Directions can be found in Nourishing Traditions and Eat Fat/Lose Fat. Both books contain broth-based recipes but feel free to use any of your old favorite soup or stew recipes after including the three key ingredients of bones, water and vinegar. Chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and fish broths are all good. In addition to making homemade soups and stews, use bone broth as the liquid when cooking rice and other grains to improve nutritional content and digestibility. Bone broth provides good levels of absorbable calcium for people who cannot tolerate dairy, even raw dairy.
Tip #3: Support Yourself with Coconut
The number one question I hear from readers is, “I can’t drink milk so what do you recommend instead of soy milk?” Most people choose rice milk, a beverage that is high in sugar and low in nutritional value. The best non-dairy, soy free alternative is a homemade coconut tonic made with coconut milk (full fat, not “lite”), water, dolomite, vanilla and a little maple syrup or stevia for a sweetener. Thanks to the dolomite, it’s rich in calcium and magnesium (see recipe below). Use coconut oil liberally as well. Coconut supports the immune system, always a weakness in people with allergies.
Coconut Milk Tonic
1 can whole coconut milk 3/4 cup filtered water
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon KAL brand dolomite powder
Mix all ingredients and heat gently. Serve in a mug. Note: Coconut Milk Tonic contains the same calories, fat and calcium as whole milk. However, this recipe should not be used as a substitute for raw milk in our recipes for baby formula. The tonic is still missing many compounds and nutrients found in raw milk. However, Coconut Milk Tonic can be used as a substitute for milk in a diet containing a variety of whole foods.
Tip #4: Bring In the Wee Beasties
Improve your intestinal flora and fauna with unpasteurized cultured vegetables, kombucha and other fermented foods and beverages. The problem is that few people do it. Those who get past the taste often give up after experiencing uncomfortable detoxification reactions such as bowel upsets, headaches and flu symptoms. Such reactions can be minimized by going slowly but surely. In addition, I recommend working with a health professional who does laboratory testing and can recommend a high-quality probiotic, customized digestive and metabolic enzymes, and other gut-healing supplements. Enzymes are critical because allergy sufferers produce insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes needed for adequate digestion of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Enzymes are not only needed to break down the proteins that would otherwise incite allergic reactions, but also to block the allergic reactions themselves. Furthermore, enzymes boost immune system function by promoting the growth of healthy intestinal flora. While healing can sometimes be accomplished with diet alone, most people need time to implement a full-tilt Nourishing Traditions diet. The right combination of diet and supplements can greatly speed the way.
Super Soy Me!
Remember Super Size Me, the 2004 darkly hilarious, award-winning documentary? The film features 30 days in the life of Morgan Spurlock who risked life and love by eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonalds. Human interest is provided by his vegan girlfriend who worries (appropriately) but implies (inappropriately) that Morgan’s fast weight gain, fatigue, liver toxicity and loss of libido are due not only to sugar but to the evil meat patty with its saturated fat. Truth is the amount of saturated fat in the burgers is far exceeded by soy oil on the griddle and in the French fries. And the buns, shakes and condiments all contain soy protein. Indeed, the movie might have been called Super Soy Me!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2007.