Q: Julea – I discovered that I was dairy intolerant and have been feeling quite a bit better since removing milk products from my diet. But recently, I have noticed that some of my symptoms seem to return when I consume a significant amount of soy milk or soy cheese, and wondered whether it was possible to be intolerant of soy as well?
A: Alisa – It is not uncommon to discover soy intolerance to some degree after eliminating dairy from your diet. Soy protein actually causes intestinal distress to many people, regardless of dairy issues. The intolerance may have gone unnoticed, but seemed to “suddenly appear” if your consumption of soy was fairly low, but you began experimenting with soy alternatives (soymilk, soy cheese, soy yogurt, soy ice cream, etc.) on a dairy-free diet …
The good news is, for most people (except those with a sensitive soy allergy), soy protein is the main culprit. This means that products with soy lecithin or soy oil are usually not a problem. Also, many people who are sensitive to soy are able to tolerate products such as soy sauce and miso, because they are fermented (easing digestion), and for the amounts used, contain a relatively low amount of soy protein.
However, tofu, soymilk, and soy-based dairy alternatives are usually quite rich in soy protein and are best to avoid if you are intolerant. Of course, it is important to assess your own level of intolerance / allergy and any other underlying conditions to decide what is best for your personal diet.
Luckily, there are many wonderful soy-free options available:
For milk alternatives, I suggest trying rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk, or my two personal favorites, almond milk (Our household enjoys a few of the brands, including Pacific and Almond Breeze) and coconut milk beverage. Some brands do utilize soy lecithin, so if this is a concern for you, read those labels carefully.
For sour cream and cream cheese, I personally use the cashew-based recipes in Go Dairy Free. Cashews yield a very creamy consistency that works well in so many applications.
For cheese alternatives in general, there are a few soy-free, dairy-free “cheeses” on the market. The easiest one to find is called “Rice Vegan Cheese Slices” by Galaxy Nutritional Foods. Be very careful with this brand. They have one version of Rice Slices which contains casein and one which does not, and the packaging can look quite similar. Only select the slices that are specifically labeled as “Vegan.” There is another brand that is just now arriving on the market called Daiya. I haven’t sampled this brand as of yet, but I have heard that it melts beautifully and is quite tasty. As a general rule, do not expect cheese alternatives to taste and melt exactly like their dairy counterparts, and you will usually be pleased.
For “butter”, Earth Balance has a new soy-free tub butter alternative that works great in baking and is trans fat free – I have tested it in both sweet and savory recipes. However, you can also use oil in most recipes. See some of the cookie recipes and substitution guides in Go Dairy Free for examples on how to use oil in baking.
Keep in mind, soy is a very controversial issue in its own right. This answer was given to specifically address Julea’s question. For an objective view on the potential health issues related to soy, and for several soy-free options, see my guide and cookbook, Go Dairy Free. It also includes a food allergy recipe index to quickly identify soy-free recipes.
For updates as I create new soy protein-free recipes, see my personal dairy-free blog, One Frugal Foodie.
For more dairy-free Q&A topics, see our Ask Alisa Page.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.