How I’ve Managed to Become (Almost) Soy-Free on a Vegetarian Diet

I decided to drop soy from my diet a few months ago.  Not for any particular reason – I just love doing experiments like this in my diet.  What I didn’t expect was that I would have more energy and better digestion as a result.

I’m always reading labels – once I started to understand the implications of High Fructose Corn Syrup, I was always scanning labels to watch for it.  I know folks have mixed opinions on this ingredient, but for me, it is an ingredient that indicates a highly processed food.  If a food item contained HFCS, I used it as a trigger of which foods to avoid – I’ve begun to do the same with soy.  All those companies boasting “natural” ingredients as a marketing ploy are still generally using some form of soy as a filler.

It wasn’t an easy feat to eliminate soy from my diet. I must warn you though – once you starting keeping an eye out for it, you’ll realize how rampant and prominent it is in almost all the foods you buy – and unfortunately in a highly processed and genetically modified form.  Here’s how I did it:

  1. I stopped buying “fake meat” foods about three years ago.  I had a bit of an epiphany back then – as a vegetarian, why would I try to emulate a food that I otherwise wouldn’t want to eat?  But note that I said I stopped buying these items – that doesn’t mean that I won’t eat them at a restaurant when it is the only vegetarian option on the menu.
  2. My naturopath made a comment to me about soy milk once – she said that if they can turn a green bean into a white beverage, can you imagine how much processing it must go through? That comment stuck with me, and now I opt for high-quality organic milk instead or almond milk in a pinch.
  3. I generally don’t eat protein bars on a regular basis, but they make a great snack or meal replacement when I’m traveling for work and the only food options are icky conference room food.  I made an extra effort to find protein bars that don’t contain soy – you think that may be easy, but it really isn’t.  Most of the popular vegetarian options all contain soy.  I stick with Larabar or Pure; I’ve been meaning to try Zing Bars as well.
  4. I also try to supplement with a protein shake at least a few times a week.  Most vegan proteins contain soy, but there are many pea or raw proteins on the market which offer a soy-free alternative – the only problem is I find them to be horribly disgusting.  I stick to Tera’s Whey Dark Chocolate Protein Powder – it’s organic and fair-trade, and it tastes great just mixed in some water.
  5. My favourite Thai restaurant is Blue Mango in San Jose – I’m there at least once a week for lunch, if not more often.  The servers and managers know me by name and they treat me so well.  Removing tofu from my favourite dishes was painful at first, but I’ve learned to love the simplicity of a variety of vegetables in my curries.
  6. A lot of vegan dessert recipes use tofu or soymilk – I’ve found that almond milk always works as a baking alternative.  I’ve made lemon bars without soy and although I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, I’m sure cashew cream would work really well in cheesecake alternatives.
  7. I love eating and/or making brunch – actually, I love having potatoes for breakfast.  Tofu scramble with hash browns was a regular option at our favourite brunch restaurant.  Now that tofu is out of the picture, I opt for a breakfast burrito with rice and beans instead…with a side of potatoes of course.  There’s also a recipe for chick pea flour scramble that I’ve been meaning to try.
  8. I don’t use a lot of “mayo”, but I do like to use it to make creative sandwich spreads or homemade salad dressings in a pinch.  It is one of those staples I keep in my refrigerator, but generally don’t use a lot.  Follow Your Heart now offers a soy-free version has a reasonable ingredient listing.
  9. I was never a fan of fake cheese, so that was easy to eliminate from my diet :).  Nutritional yeast and/or cashew cream is a better option in my opinion to get that nice cheesy flavour in a dish (if you need a vegan option).  In general, I opt for organic cheese at my local farmers market (Spring Hill is my favourite) or Organic Valley (who offers a large selection of rennetless organic options).
  10. Many vegan recipes call for Earth Balance spreads in lieu of butter or margarine and they now offer a Soy-Free option.
  11. Store-bought bread is a big culprit of using soy lecithins and oils, although I have finally found a few bakeries who provide me with a variety of options.
  12. We used to always have a variety of boxed cereals in the pantry, but now I just make my own granola at home.  Even if you avoid the sugary cereals and buy the “natural” ones, I’m sure soy is a prominent ingredient.
  13. Legumes and lentils have become a staple in our meals and as a result, I am no longer scared of my pressure cooker.  I’m still a bit wary about leaving my slow cooker running all day while I’m at work, even though I feel that beans taste so much better when simmered all day as opposed to the pressure cooker.  That being said, if I’m planning on using the beans in a burger or in a recipe that calls for them to be mashed, the pressure cooker works just fine.
  14. Avocados and hummus are staples to add to sandwiches for a quick lunch – no more Tofurkey here!
  15. Punjabi cooking was always one of the last things I would think of to make when deciding on what to make for dinner – it always seemed like so much more work.  I’m getting better at it though because a simple meal of dahl and rice is a perfect way to avoid soy.

I say that I’m almost soy-free because I’m not going to sweat the small stuff. If I’m traveling for work and the only vegetarian option on the menu is tofu based, I’ll eat it.  If I’m at a friends place for dinner, I’m not going to make them pull out the ingredient list for everything they are feeding me.  But at home, ensuring that I have a large variety of legumes, grains, nuts and vegetables always available in my kitchen has made this process extremely easy, with the added bonus of feeling great!

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3 comments

  1. Sounds like great advice! I also use soy less and less these days, except for the occasional tofu in a stir-fry or main course (but I do love my tempeh). 🙂 Thanks so much for the shout-out! 🙂

    • Why wouldn’t I give a shout out to a fellow University of Windsor alumni?? 🙂 And I loved reading your blog post, because I grew up in Windsor and everything you said about heading to Detroit for shopping trips was so true!

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