Until I became vegan, I never thought much about soy. If you had asked me whether I ate soy, I would have said I did whenever I had Chinese food or any food containing soy sauce. When I stopped eating meat, I thought it was essential that I get to like and eat tofu. Many of the meat substitutes like veggie burgers and franks were also made with soy. Then when I stopped eating dairy, it led to more soy products in the form of vegan cheese, sour cream, cream cheese and butter.
Of course, I wasn’t big on reading labels before I was vegan. If I had been, I would have known that soy was in so many products including those I would have never guessed contained soy. Eating a soy-free diet can be challenging and it requires a lot of education, label reading and knowledge of food substitutions. Eating a soy-free diet while also eating a vegan diet requires even more vigilance. The good news is that it is not impossible to be both vegan and soy-free. If you are avoiding soy, for whatever reasons, here is a guide to cooking soy-free on a vegan diet.
If only it were as easy as just looking for the word “soy” on a product label but soy goes under many names. Ingredients that may contain or are created with soy include: hydrolyzed soy protein, monosodium glutamate (MSG), soy lecithin, soy protein, soybean oil, and texturized soy protein (TVP).
Soy itself can also go by other names including bean curd, edamame (soybeans), miso (fermented soybean paste), okara, shoyu, soya, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, tamari, tempeh, and tofu.
Labels will usually have a warning that the product contains soy or was manufactured in a facility that also uses soy for people who need to avoid it. Read How to Quickly Scan Food Labels and Choose the Healthiest Option for label reading advice.
The list of products that might contain soy could go on forever since so many companies use some type of soy. That’s why learning all the different names for soy and reading labels carefully is imperative. Soy can show up in products you might never think would contain it. If you are unsure, contact the manufacturer for more details.
Some products that usually contain soy include bouillon cubes, guar gum, lecithin, vegetable gums, packaged bread and baked goods, candy, cereal, chocolate, energy and nutrition bars, dairy-free foods and milks, vegan mayo, margarine, oils, veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, veggie meats, nut butters, sauces, gravies, soups, broths, and smoothies. Also be sure to check the labels of vitamins, supplements and protein powders.
3. Fruit and Veggies
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock
You might think there can’t possibly be soy in fruits and vegetables but that’s not always the case. Some fresh fruits and veggies are coated with soy-based oils or waxes to make them shiny so try to find produce that has not been treated. Frozen and canned produce are usually soy-free since they don’t have to “look pretty” on displays. Check out the Dirty Dozen: 12 Fruits and Vegetables You Should Always Buy Organic (2015 Edition) and Toxin Alert! Common Pesticides Used on Produce and How They Impact Humans and the Environment.
When buying oils, make sure they are pure and not blends. Buy olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, coconut oil or avocado oil. When buying vegetable oil, read the label to be sure it doesn’t contain soy. Check out Which Oils to Use When: A Helpful Little Guide and How to Choose the Healthiest Oils to Cook With for more info on oils.
For butter that is both soy-free and dairy-free, there are a couple of brands such as Earth Balance which offers a soy-free buttery spread. It’s also easy to make your own vegan butter that is soy-free. Most recipes like this Homemade Vegan Butter use lecithin so be sure to get sunflower lecithin rather than the soy type.
Soy is a good source of protein so what happens when you are not eating soy? The good news is that you can get all the protein you need from soy-free foods such as seitan, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, greens, grains, quinoa and vegetables such as broccoli. To learn more about soy-free sources of protein, see 5 Soy-Free Vegan Foods That Have More Protein Than Beef, 5 Clean, Lean Soy-Free Proteins to Put On Your Plate and How to Get Enough Protein Eating Meat, Dairy, Soy and Gluten-Free.
If you like to cook, you’re going to need to find substitutions for common recipe ingredients that contain soy. Soy sauce, tamari, teriyaki sauce, vegan Worcestershire sauce and miso paste are all ingredients that add complexity, salt and savory umami taste to dishes. Products that can substitute for these include umeboshi vinegar (plum vinegar), balsamic vinegar, or coconut aminos. Some brands make soy-free sauces and miso-type pastes.
Many dairy-free products are made with soy but it is possible to find brands that are both vegan and soy-free. Of course, you can also make your own non-dairy products at home. Try making this Homemade Probiotic Cashew Yogurt, Homemade Coconut Sour Cream, Garlic Herb Avocado Cashew Cream Cheese, and this Paprika Cheese that has no soy or nuts.
When you want something meaty but tofu, tempeh and TVP are out of the question, seitan is a good substitute that is usually soy-free. You can make your own “meaty” crumbles from ingredients other than soy such as nuts or lentils. Learn How to Make Soy-Free Vegan Meat Crumbles, Walnut Taco “Meat,” and Cauliflower and Walnut Based Veggie Ground ‘Meat’ (but be sure to swap the soy sauce or tamari in the recipes with a soy-free product like coconut aminos). Of course, vegetables are always great substitutes for meat. Try using mushrooms, jackfruit or eggplant for delicious dishes. See 10 Vegetables that Can Substitute for Meat for even more ideas and recipes.
Now that you know what you need to avoid, what other names soy might be lurking under and what foods can make excellent substitutes, it’s time to start cooking. A good place to start is with A Green Monster’s Weekly Meal Plan: Soy-Free Menu. It has over 35 soy-free vegan recipes for a delicious week of meals.
No one should have to give up desserts. Here are 15 Soy-Free, Gluten-Free, and Dairy-Free Desserts that will make you very happy. Be sure to take a look through all our soy-free recipes on One Green Planet. You’ll find the most incredible recipes for every possible meal or craving. Just look at this Potato Gnocchi, Hearty Eggplant Burger With Vegan Mayonnaise, Beanball Sub Sandwich with Marinara and Greens, Chickpea Omelets With Mushrooms, Greens and Vegan Swiss and this Baked Spinach and Herb Frittata (No Tofu Required).
Eating a soy-free vegan diet means putting extra thought and effort into grocery shopping and cooking but it’s certainly not impossible. Once you learn all the substitutions and try these amazing soy-free recipes, you’ll never miss the soy.
If you enjoy articles like this and want more, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App. For those that don’t have it, it’s a brilliant food app available for both Android and iPhone. It’s a great resource for anyone looking to cut out or reduce allergens like meat, dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, grains, and more find awesome recipes, cooking tips, articles, product recommendations and how-tos. The app shows you how having diet/health/food preferences can be full of delicious abundance rather than restrictions.
The Food Monster app has over 8000+ recipes and 500 are free. To access the rest, you have to pay a subscription fee but it’s totally worth it because not only do you get instant access to 8000+ recipes, you get 10 NEW recipes every day! You can also make meal plans, add bookmarks, read feature stories, and browse recipes across hundreds of categories like diet, cuisine, meal type, occasion, ingredient, popular, seasonal, and so much more!
Lead image source: Walnut Taco “Meat”