Feeding a child with a soya allergy

Soya is found in a surprising number of foods, which can make avoiding it difficult. Here’s how to cope with bringing your child up on a soya-free diet

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What is a soya allergy?

Soya allergies are relatively common in young children. However, experts believe that most children will grow out of them by the age of two. The symptoms of a soya allergy are similar those caused by a milk or dairy allergy, so at first, they can be hard to spot. They include rashes, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps and breathing difficulties. In very rare cases, soya can cause anaphylactic shock.

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Foods to avoid

The soya bean belongs to the legume family, which includes fresh and dried peas, beans, carob, liquorice and peanuts. However, if your child has a soya allergy, it’s unlikely that she’ll react to other legumes as well, so there’s no need to avoid all the foods in this group.

Soya is increasingly used in the food processing industry to bulk out and bind food together, and to improve the shelf life of foods. It’s found in bakery goods, sweets, drinks, breakfast cereals, ice cream, margarine, pasta and processed meats, like sausages. Allergy UK estimates that soya can be found in 60 per cent of food products.

The main ingredients that should be avoided if your child has a soya allergy are:

  • Soya beans
  • Soya flour
  • Soya sauce or soya oil.
  • Texturised vegetable protein
  • Soya lecithin
  • Soya flour
  • Miso
  • Soya milk and infant formula
  • Soya margarine
  • Soy sauce
  • Soya yoghurts and desserts
  • Tofu

However, there are many other foods that contain soya in some form, so always check the list of ingredients carefully. Because soya is a potential allergen, European law requires it to be clearly listed on pre-packed foods for sale within the EU.

Foods to avoid

Soya-free products are widely available, and include soya-free cheese, cookies, bread, sausages, spreads and soya-free ice cream. Many baby foods are soya-free, but always double-check the packaging.

Soya allergies often overlap with dairy allergies, so if your child is under one, your GP may prescribe a hypoallergenic formula. Otherwise, soya-free foods are not available on prescription.

Hidden ingredients

Because soya is used so extensively in processed foods, it’st easy for a child to eat it without you realising. For example, crisps, pizza bases and breakfast cereals may all contain soya.  For this reason, it’s worth getting familiar with the following terms that may indicate the presence of soya:

  • Vegetable broth
  • Vegetable oil
  • Vegetable protein
  • Vegetable paste
  • Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
  • Hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Hydrolysed plant proteins (HPP)

Eating out

Avoiding soya can be hard, but when it comes to eating out, there are some steps you can take:

  • Plan ahead by phoning and speaking to the manager about ingredients, or going into the restaurant checking out the menu in advance.
  • Choose the restaurant wisely. Certain restaurants are more likely to be soya-free friendly than others. For example, Italian restaurants where pizza and pasta feature heavily on the menu are not the best bet. Rice-based cuisines like Thai may be better.
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  • Check with the waiter or waitress when you’re ordering, or ask to see the packaging of the foods used in the meal: many restaurants use pre-packed foods in their dishes. This may cause some fuss, but the situation might be eased by explaining what might happen if your child eats soya.

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