Does Soy Contain Gluten?

Does soy contain gluten? No. But common soy products such as soy milk, soy sauce, soy flour may contain gluten. So you need to read food labels carefully.

Celiac disease was thought to be uncommon in the United States until not long ago when it was discovered that approximately 1% or 1 in 133 people have the disease, also known as gluten intolerance. Symptoms of celiac disease range from weight loss, weakness, fatigue, and chronic diarrhea, to abdominal cramps and mild bloating. The only relief for these symptoms is to remove gluten from your diet, which will allow the small intestine to heal. But what about soy? Does soy contain gluten?

Is Soy Gluten Free?

Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and malt, but not in soy. Therefore, it is safe to eat soybeans. However, when soy protein, flour, or soy in some other form is used as an ingredient in a food, that food may also contain a form of wheat or another gluten-containing grain. Nowadays, about the only form of plain soybeans is in the form of edamame or dried soybeans that you can cook yourself.

One would think that soymilk, soy ice cream, and soy sauce would be safe for a celiac to consume. However, some people find they have issues even with these things. That is because of the way soybeans are grown and harvested. Many farmers rotate growing soybeans and wheat in the same fields. Because the same harvesters are used and the same storage bins are used, a few grains of wheat get mixed in with the soybeans, which in turn go to the processor that grinds them into flour or otherwise processes them. Now there is some wheat mixed in with the soy. Although the amount may seem insignificant, it can affect those with a gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

Because soy is commonly used in many processed foods, the celiac needs to be diligent in reading food labels. Soy protein combined with wheat gluten is the main ingredient in most meat substitutes. Soy is even found in candy bars.

How to Ensure Your Soy Products Don't Have Gluten

More and more foods are being labeled as “gluten free”, so if you are diligent in reading labels, you will be able to find foods that are acceptable to use. But you may wonder, is soy gluten free, especially foods that are largely made from soybeans?

  • Take soy sauce for instance. Most brands of soy sauce available in grocery stores and that are used in restaurants contain wheat. Tamari is a traditionally made soy sauce that tastes richer and is somewhat thicker, but contains no wheat. One good brand is San-J soy sauce. Shop around to find those that are certified to be gluten free.
  • Some brands of soymilk are all right to use, too. Pacific Natural Brands soymilk, Silk soymilk, and 8th Continent soymilk are known to be gluten free. However, check the labels frequently, as ingredients are subject to change.
  • Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill both package a gluten free soy flour and soy protein. These products are labeled as gluten free and contain tiny amounts of gluten at less than twenty parts per million. Soy flour can be used in a variety of baking projects, and soy protein can be added to smoothies for a protein boost.
  • Is soy gluten free? Yes. What about soy oil? It is safe to use soybean oil in cooking and baking. The oil is extracted from soybeans and is always gluten-free.
  • Soy lecithin is used in many processed foods to add creaminess and as a flavor enhancer. So is it glutenfree, too? Soy lecithin is so highly processed that it is very unlikely to contain any gluten, even if the original soybeans were cross-contaminated.

Can Your Reaction Be from Soy Allergy?

Many people react to eating soy much the same as they do when eating wheat or other foods containing gluten, so it could be that these people are allergic to soy itself. Soy is on the list of the top eight allergens in the United States. So your allergy may not be limited to gluten, but also include soy.

Soy Allergy Symptoms

Soy allergy symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Symptoms may include: nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, fever blisters, vomiting, weeping or pink eye, runny nose, breathing problems, fever, wheezing, itching and swelling, skin trouble, and anaphylactic shock. Babies may exhibit symptoms in the form of irritability, crying, and refusing soymilk.

Diagnosing and Testing

Your doctor may utilize one or more of several allergy tests available to determine if you have a soy allergy.

  • Elimination diet test: Remove all suspected allergen foods from the diet, and then gradually add them back in one at a time, recording reactions and symptoms with each addition.
  • Food challenge test: This test is considered the best one. During this test, the doctor will instruct you to eat ever-increasing amounts of the suspect food while checking for and recording the symptoms exhibited.
  • Skin prick test: In this test, a tiny amount of a suspected allergen is placed on the skin. A needle is then used to prick the skin just enough for the allergen to enter. A small red bump will appear if you are allergic to that food item.
  • Intradermal skin test: The difference between this test and the skin prick test is that the allergen is injected with a syringe into the skin. If negative results are gotten from the other tests, this one may be used, as it is more sensitive.
  • Radioallergosorbent test (RAST): This blood test is used on babies and measures the amount of IgE antibody found in the blood. This is done because the skin of babies under a year old doesn’t react well to the skin prick test.

Treatment Options

Completely eliminating soy from the diet is the only sure method for avoiding an allergic reaction to it. This requires learning all the names that soy is listed in foods, and paying close attention to food labels. Parents of children must monitor their food closely, alerting school staff and parents of the child’s friends of the allergy, also. You should also inquire about ingredients in foods in restaurants.

No matter how careful you try to be, you may accidentally eat something with soy in it. In case of a severe reaction, you may need an injection of epinephrine followed up with a visit to the emergency room.


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