Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Allergic to soya, as well as milk? What should you avoid?

Hands up, all those of you who are unable to have dairy and can't have soya either.

I identify with this problem, because I'm currently avoiding all dairy, as I'm still breastfeeding my daughter, who has an allergy to cow's milk. A few years before I had her, I discovered that I was intolerant to soya milk and most alternatives to products made with cow's milk seem to be soya based.

Not only that, the problem is, when you look at all the products that are out there today, soya pops up time and again (in some form or another) as an ingredient. If you know that you're allergic to or unable to tolerate soya, it looks like a bit of minefield. What on earth can you eat?

What I have discovered is this... in my case, anyway, not all soya products need necessarily to be avoided! 

Now, when I discovered that I was intolerant to soya, it was because I experimented with adding soya milk to my coffee, instead of cow's milk - it was all my then boyfriend (now The Hub) had in his fridge. Unfortunately, before long, the soreness that I get in my gut when I eat cashews, made itself quite apparent and I realised quite quickly what had happened. The remedy was quite simple - all I had to do was avoid soya milk from now on - easy enough to manage, as I didn't usually buy it and I didn't like the taste of it anyway!!

What I didn't do, from that point on, was eliminate all soya from my diet, in fact, it never even occurred to me that it might be present in other forms. However it turns out that I have been eating this product called soya (as an additive in my food) all along, without any apparent symptoms to alert me to any problems! Just as well, because it's not always that easy to spot on food labels - how can you tell, especially if it's covered by phrases such as 'textured vegetable protein'?

One of the most common forms of soya that appears on food labels is 'soya lecithin'. It's used as a stabiliser - holding substances together that don't usually mix. It appears that this lecithin is extracted from the soya bean in such a way that it is extremely rare for it to cause any allergic reaction. This is good news for me, because it means I can still eat dairy free chocolate, which is usually made with... you've guessed it - soya lecithin!! Phew that's a relief!!
So glad I can still eat dairy free chocolate!

Having discovered this, I also realised that I have eaten soy sauce (from the same soy bean) without any problems, for years. This may have something to do with the way in which soy sauce is manufactured - fermentation is involved. Furthermore, it turns out that intolerance can vary from person to person - what affects me, may not affect you (one person's intolerance/allergic reaction may be more severe than another's). 

So, if how the bean is manufactured makes a difference, I might also be OK with other products that I have so far avoided - such as dairy free cheese and yoghurt substitutes, made with soya. I am quite excited by this, but also quite nervous about how I might proceed - after all I don't relish the thought of the side effects, if something doesn't quite agree with me. On the other hand, if it all goes well, then life might become a little bit more enjoyable - with new products opened up to me. The best course might be to take things slowly - a little at a time, to find out my level of tolerance. 

Of course, I'm only considering this approach because I know my reaction to soya, so far, has not been life threatening (e.g. anaphylactic). In fact, apparently, life threatening responses to soya appear to be unknown or extremely rare. On the other hand, I might just first go and seek some further medical advice - just to be sure!! If it was Baby I was to challenge, there's no way that I would consider doing so without the right medical assistance.

So, how about you? What are your thoughts on this topic?

If you require further information, you may like to read Asda's advice regarding soya, or Allergy UK's detailed fact sheet. Furthermore, if you are concerned about other effects of soya on health, you might like to read this advice, by the BDA.

Update: This article, about Soya (found and shared by 'What Allergy') also makes for interesting reading.

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