Going vegetarian in college did not exactly bring me the surge in health and vitality that I’d expected. Far from it: my sinuses clogged, thoughts grew fuzzy, skin broke out, and periodically I developed the worst stomach pain ever! We’re talking writhing on the floor, Sigourney-Weaver-in-Alien style pain. After a few weeks of “trying veg,” I would crawl back to my meat-eating ways, ashamed that my body seemed to thrive on chickens, cows and fish. Because I can telepathically communicate with animals, though, the Standard American Diet seemed equally intolerable: I could actually feel the pain, fear and sorrow of each animal I consumed. With the choice to “meet my meat,” or suffer the after-effects of another vegetarian stint, I lost all pleasure in food.
Through sheer determination to make a vegetarian diet work for me, I finally isolated the problem: food allergies. By the time I decided to go vegan, I was allergic to soy, nuts, wheat, and some legumes. In fact, a visit to the allergist confirmed that the only foods I was not allergic to were mold and pork. Ewww! OK, most of those I could do without, but soy? How can someone stay vegan without tofu? Especially if they can’t fill up on seitan and walnuts!
But a funny thing happened. When I eradicated all hidden sources of dairy for thirty days, many of my reactions lessened. Unfortunately, soy continued to annoy for quite some time, and so I learned to live without it. So many soy-sensitive vegetarians and vegans wonder how, that I decided to write this article.
How can I tell if I’m allergic to soy?
You can visit an allergist to have a skin or blood test, which will determine a true allergy; however, you can experience sensitivities without having a full-blown soy allergy. Symptoms can include stomach pain, breast tenderness, altered menstrual cycle, acne, slow thyroid, mood changes, excess phlegm, brain fog, and/or joint pain.
If you suspect soy plays a role in your health concerns, completely avoid it for two weeks and then reintroduce it. Pay attention to any reactions. If you have a reaction but really, really hope it’s just a coincidence, repeat the experiment again-two weeks off, reintroduce, observe. You might also test different types of soy. For example, some people have trouble with isolated soy protein or chocolate soymilk, but they can eat organic tofu just fine.
People do occasionally outgrow soy allergies, but it can take a year or more of complete avoidance to stop triggering a negative response. Once you determine you have a problem with soy, your quickest route to embracing tempeh probably involves a year of soy-abstinence. Then you can try your experiment again, taking some food enzymes to encourage a happier outcome.
Where will I get my protein?
So many other forms of protein exist that you really don’t need soy in order to thrive. If you tolerate gluten, you can enjoy seitan in place of tempeh or tofu. Packed with protein, this “wheat meat” absorbs flavors just like its soy cousins. Legumes and nuts contain large amounts of protein, too. Soaking beans, nuts, seeds and grains activates their enzymes, thereby increasing the protein your body can absorb from them.
If you still feel concerned about getting adequate protein, Rainbow Light and Nutribiotic make rice protein powders, and a variety of sources sell hemp protein powder, which does not cause the bloating associated with whey or soy supplements.
Also consider some of the largest and strongest animals on earth-gorillas, elephants, bison-who eat mostly greens. Choosing amino-acid rich grasses and leaves, they grow huge muscles without soy sausages and protein supplements. You can, too. To get more greens into your diet, start your day with a “green smoothie,” made popular in Green for Life by raw food educator Victoria Boutenko. Blend a handful or two of greens with two cups of water and some fruit. You might even throw in some superfoods like spirulina, acai berries or hemp nuts. Green smoothies improve your digestion, sometimes eliminating the strain that caused your original sensitivity.
Where can I find a soy-free veggie burger and soy-free, dairy-free milk?
Sunshine Burgers and Ruth’s Hemp Burgers both offer gluten-free, soy-free vegan grillers. You can also make your own by mixing a grain, some beans or seeds, something gooey like nut butter or oil, fresh herbs, and other seasonings-mashing them all together into a patty. Rice Dream offers various flavors of rice milk, but if you crave the thicker texture of soymilk, you might enjoy Almond Breeze or Living Harvest’s Hemp Milk.
Again, you can make your own alternative milks. To make almond milk, soak 1 cup raw almonds overnight in the refrigerator. Rinse and add three cups of water. Blend thoroughly and then strain through cheesecloth or a special nut/seed milk bag. Save the pulp for something else and then re-blend the liquid, adding in any flavoring you desire. Sound too complicated? Jack La Lanne’s Power Juicer Elite lets you make almond or rice milk in a flash.
Why should I cleanse if I have food allergies?
Allergies of any kind indicate that your body has passed its threshold for effective elimination of toxins. When our liver, colon, lungs and kidneys work well, our skin and immune system don’t need to overreact. Ongoing stress, physical or emotional trauma, exposure to pesticides or pollution, medication, and diets rich in animal fat increase our toxic load. Eventually, our organs can’t keep up with the demand for detoxification, and things go haywire. Some people develop cancer; others get asthma. Sometimes the body instinctively rejects otherwise healthy foods that require extra processing.
A healthy body digests soy or wheat, but in a compromised state, even health foods can trigger an aggressive immune response. Burdock root and milk thistle provide liver support, while red clover helps the kidneys. Nettles support kidneys and open the bronchia. Green smoothies, psyllium husks and raw foods stimulate and cleanse the colon. You can also try fasting one day per week, in order to give your digestive system a much needed break.
Most people with food allergies also suffer from Candida overgrowth. Commonly known as “yeast,” Candida naturally lives in our digestive tracts. A “yeast infection” or “thrush” indicates severe overgrowth spreading into other areas of the body. When the ratio of Candida to “good bacteria” grows too high, this fungus latches onto and tears portions of the intestine, creating a “leaky gut” that allows whole protein molecules to enter the bloodstream. These undigested protein molecules seem like foreign invaders to the immune system, which launches an attack. Oil of Oregano, Pau d’Arco tea, and acidophilus are three common supplements that combat Candida. (Note: in order to reap the highest benefits, take probiotics like acidophilus a couple hours after Oil of Oregano, and don’t try to kill the yeast too fast! Candida produces a severe die-off reaction, so cleansing requires patience.)
Can mind-body techniques get rid of my soy allergy?
They can certainly help! In my practice, I work with a lot of people who suffer from food allergies, and oftentimes emotions do play a role. Begin by focusing on your breath, inhaling all the way into your belly. Before you eat, consciously relax your mind and body, reminding yourself that you eat for nourishment and healing. If you like meditating, you can invite an allergen into your meditation, imagining the trigger food in front of your heart center. Visualize white, pink, golden or green light emanating from your heart center and surrounding the food with love.
In this quiet space, ask your body why it wants your attention through this food. Notice any thoughts, feelings, memories or images that appear. This takes practice, but it can help a lot! Once you sense the root cause of your resistance, inhale and pull all those feelings up to the top of your head. Then let them go as you exhale. Return to your heart and repeat again, dragging the resistance up to your crown and releasing it with your breath. Continue until you feel lighter and ready to stop.
Sometimes the mental-emotional causes of symptoms lie so deeply buried that you have trouble accessing them consciously. In these cases, you can either request someone else’s assistance or ask yourself how badly you want to overcome the allergy. For example, I have resolved all my allergies to vegan foods, but I suspect I’m still allergic to dairy. Since I have no desire to eat dairy again, the possible allergy makes no difference to my quality of life.
Not having access to foods like flaxseed, soy, wheat and nuts did interfere, so for me, it was worth the effort to recover. If you don’t care about a particular food allergy, I suggest you let it go for now and focus your attention on the ones you really do wish to heal. Express gratitude for the foods you can eat, and each day, tell yourself, “My tolerance to _____ is actively improving.” Imagine yourself enjoying that food with no adverse reactions. If you cannot imagine this scenario, consider ways in which this food allergy might be a sign post to guide you back to health and wholeness. Our bodies always act in the best interest of our souls, so if your body screams for your attention-listen up!