Managing Life Avoiding Soy or Other Legumes

in Food Allergy, Soy & Seed

Photo: Getty
The only current treatment for these allergies is to avoid all traces of soy and legumes and products that may contain them.

If your allergic child (or you) eats soy or legumes with a known allergy, an  epinephrine auto-injector may well be needed to halt the reaction. But using epinephrine is an emergency situation only, it’s not a treatment.

This is why “avoidance” is the operative word for managing a soy or legume allergy. However, this isn’t as simple or easy as that one word suggests.

Soy is found in many packaged food products. You may see it listed in the ingredients as “soy”, “soy lecithin,” or even “hydrolyzed plant protein” (which is often from soy).

Soy is a cheap and easy binder, filler and preservative in packaged food products, so it’s very common to find it in crackers, breads, cookies and other foods that have already been prepared.

However, caution must still be used while shopping because it is unlikely you will find a “soy-free” logo like you might for “peanut-free” on some packaged foods.

Beans, Chickpeas

Other legumes like beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils are little bit easier to manage. However, they do present their own challenges.

Chickpeas are the main component of hummus and hummus can be used not only as a dip on its own but in sauces as well.

If you have a soy allergy, Asian restaurants are off-limits because it is a staple in their cuisine. However, don’t let this discourage you from re-creating traditional Asian dishes minus the legumes. For example, you can create an equally good stir-fry with broccoli, chicken and rice instead of bean sprouts and peas.

Hand-Washing: When your child (or you) has a soybean or another plant from the legume family, soap and water are your best friends. Hands should be washed thoroughly before and after eating.

If you have a school-aged child, ensure he (or she) is able to wash his hands before snacks and lunch. With younger children, schools usually adopt an allergy protocol of washing hands among all children after eating.

Cross-Contact: It’s important to make sure soy or legumes and any products that contain them don’t come in contact with the food you are eating. That means thoroughly cleaning utensils and kitchen equipment after use. For example, if someone uses a spoon to take out some hummus in a bowl, make sure you do not use the same spoon for your own food.

When there is a child or adult with a soy or legume allergy in the household, many families choose to eliminate the allergens from the house. This is a personal preference and will depend in part on your family’s ability to be vigilant about keeping the allergic person safe.

Label Reading: Whenever you eat a packaged food, you need to read the label in its entirety to check for any mention of soy. Sometimes, soy (more so than other legumes) can have different names. You also have to look for precautionary statements on package labels, such as “May Contain Soy.”

Soy oil is generally considered safe for soy allergy, provided it’s highly refined. But a minority of people with soy allergy have been reported to react to soy lecithin (which is labeled on packages). Ask for allergist for guidance on your allergy.

One thing to be cautious of with soy allergy: imported foods. Not all countries have the stringent labeling requirements of the United States, Canada and the European Union. Don’t take chances if you suspect soy could be an ingredient of an import.

Speak Up About Food: With food allergies, you have to ask questions and get over shyness when someone else wants to serve food to you or your child with this allergy.

We teach kids to respect adults and authority, but with an allergic child, it’s important to teach them not to eat foods that others offer – unless mom or dad has pre-approved or (when they’re older) unless they’re sure of the ingredients.

For adults, get over embarrassment; be certain to ask about ingredients, and learn to do this an efficient, confident manner.

At School: For a parent of a child with soy or legume allergies, sending them off to school can be a time of anxiousness. While soy is on the top 10 list of allergens, it’s unlikely you will find schools restricting soy or soy milk in a class – nor asking other parents to please not send kids to school with hummus.

It’s important to communicate clearly and calmly with your child’s teacher and the principal, and to create an anaphylaxis emergency plan (also called a food allergy action plan) to protect your child.

Also ensure that the teacher (and other staff e.g. a coach) is receiving at least annual training on using an epinephrine auto-injector and that he or she knows where your child’s “pen” is kept.

Become familiar with the anaphylaxis policy or law in your province or state and use it to develop a plan tailored to your child. Be sure your allergic child knows not to share food with peers and not to take food from anyone, including the teacher, unless you’ve said it’s OK.

At a Restaurant: Dining out with a soy or legume allergy may seem daunting at first, but it is possible to do so safely and enjoyably.

First, find a restaurant you trust. Call ahead to ask the manager or chef about menu items and how they handle pans and utensils in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination. If he or she is unable to answer your questions, don’t eat there.

When you arrive at the restaurant, tell your server directly of your serious soy or legume allergy and discuss menu items that will be safe to eat.

If you don’t feel he or she is able to answer your questions properly, ask to speak to the chef or the manager. Be mindful of particularly risky foods: sauces, pre-packaged baked products, breads and salad dressing. When in doubt, don’t eat it.

There is often confusion about cooking in soy oil. As long as the oil is highly refined, studies have shown it is considered safe for those with soy allergy, and the FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to label it as an allergen. (If in doubt about your own allergy, speak to your allergist.)

Be Prepared: Make it a rule – no epinephrine auto-injector means no food.

While you’ll do everything to make sure you’re not eating soy or legumes, accidents happen.

Make sure you always have your auto-injector on you when you eat, in case of an emergency. If your child is allergic, make sure this rule is one he or she takes seriously.

Educating Others: In order to successfully manage a soy or legume allergy, those around you/your child need to be aware of the allergy and the serious consequences that could result from eating them.

Plan what you’ll say to others to explain this condition. Be calm, clear about the information and keep the conversation based on facts. Politely request that they help you keep yourself or your child safe.

You’ll often find that once a person understands about food allergies and anaphylaxis, they’ll be more than willing to help out.

Be mindful that there is a learning curve, and don’t expect people who don’t live with peanut allergy to absorb it all as quickly as you have.