Soy burgers, soy hot dogs, soy milk, tofu, tempeh—these are all common foods that many vegans eat. Personally, I’m okay with eating a few servings of soy each day, but what if you’re an aspiring vegan who can’t or doesn’t want to consume soy?
Can you be vegan without soy? A healthy vegan diet does not require soy. There are many other vegan sources of protein, such as nuts, grains, and other beans. Being soy-free as a vegan can be both delicious and healthy.
In this article, I’ll dive into how you can go about eating a soy-free vegan diet!
Those Processed Soy Burgers Aren’t Very Healthy Anyway
A vegan diet without soy can potentially be even healthier than a vegan diet with soy, because you’ll have to exclude a lot of the processed soy burgers and vegan junk foods that contain soy.
So hey, you might just be doing this because of an allergy or because of GMO concerns, but now you’re likely going to get a dietary upgrade as a side effect!
It is a common mistake to assume that switching over to the “vegan alternative” foods is going to be a healthy choice.
Sometimes, yes, vegan replacement foods are healthier. They tend to have less saturated fat and more fiber, two powerful improvements by most calculations. But whole foods are almost always going to be healthier than processed foods.
So look for whole foods you can build your diet soy-free vegan diet around whenever possible.
What to Eat Instead of Vegan Soy Products
To replace soymilk, you can use ANY other plant-based milk: coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, oat milk, or flax milk. So many options!
Try a few to see which is your favorite. When I’m watching my calories, I’ll get unsweetened almond or cashew milk, since it only has about 30 calories per cup. You can also make homemade versions of any of these.
To replace vegan soy burgers, the best option is probably making vegan burger recipes at home with beans. These can be so delicious, and really healthy, too.
You can make extra patties and freeze them in a Tupperware container, so you’ll have them frozen and ready to go, just as convenient as the store-bought soy burgers, but even healthier and tastier.
To replace tofu and tempeh—have you ever had seitan? It’s a form of plant protein made from wheat. It’s really, really delicious. I actually like it better than tofu, but for some reason I rarely buy it. You can actually make it at home with wheat flour, too, but I’ve never done it myself.
To replace soy ice cream, you can get almond-, cashew-, rice-, or coconut-based vegan ice cream. Or you can try the best option of all…
Get some ripe, soft bananas with spots. Peel them and put them in your freezer in a bag or tupperware container. Then, after they’re frozen, blend them up with some plant-based milk of your choice. Banana ice cream!
If you want to add some spinach or a tablespoon of ground flaxseed, it’ll be even more nutritious. Search “banana nice cream recipes” for endless ideas on how to flavor your banana ice cream.
Getting Enough Protein as a Vegan (Without Soy)
It’s up for debate exactly how much protein is optimal for a vegan, but there are many vegan protein sources you can use to reach whatever number you’re aiming for.
Soy is by no means needed to reach your protein requirements or goals as a vegan. Let’s take a look at some of the many options for getting protein as a soy-free vegan.
Whole-food Vegan Sources of Protein (Without Soy)
Other legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are great sources. Legumes tend to be very low fat, as well, so they are less calorically dense compared to nuts and nut butters below, for example.
So beans, peas, and lentils are great protein sources if you’re trying to keep your calories low and potentially lose weight.
Grains like rice, quinoa, and wheat also provide a decent amount of protein. Like legumes, they are a low-fat source of protein. A lot of people don’t realize how much protein rice and pasta can have.
Nuts and nut butters also provide protein. If you’re trying to lose weight, then stay mindful of the total calories. The calories can really add up fast when you’re using peanut butter as a topping!
On the other hand, if you’re trying to gain weight/muscle, then nuts and nut butters can be the perfect choice since they give you extra calories in general (mostly from fat), not just protein.
Vegetables can provide additional protein, too.
Generally, you’re not going to get many calories from vegetables in general—they are mostly water and fiber. But if you eat a huge plate or bowl of vegetables, usually about 30% of the calories will be from protein (most of the remaining calories are from healthy carbohydrate).
Processed Vegan Protein Sources (Without Soy)
These can be a bit less healthy, but often they are still pretty healthy. Many people use these foods to help them transition to being vegan especially.
Seitan, the wheat-based protein mentioned above, is an awesome and delicious way to get your vegan protein. I love seitan.
Include chunks of seitan in your pasta/grain bowls, or make patties out of it. You can make your own seitan at home from wheat flour, or you can buy it premade. You can flavor it any way you want.
“Mock meats” such as black bean burgers can also provide soy-free protein. Just be sure to check the ingredients list closely if you’re serious about avoiding soy. Sometimes even a “black bean burger” could also include soy protein, so be sure to check.
Vegan protein powders are often made from pea protein or brown-rice protein (or a mix of the two). These can provide very convenient soy-free vegan protein. You can make vegan protein shakes, smoothies, and more (you could stir it into your vegan ice cream)!
Getting Enough Lysine on a Soy-Free Vegan Diet
While I’m talking about vegan protein needs, I should mention the amino acid lysine. If you’re not familiar with what amino acids are, they are the building blocks used to make proteins in our bodies. In order to build new proteins, you need all 9 essential amino acids.
On a vegan diet, the amino acid (building block) that is lacking most often is lysine. Vegans can struggle to get enough lysine.
So as a vegan, it’s worth taking a look at a list of high-lysine foods and trying to eat some of them regularly. Here is a partial list: Seitan, lentils, beans, quinoa, oats, spinach, pistachios, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds. (Here’s a much bigger list.)
Checking Ingredients to See If a Product Is Soy-free and Vegan
If you’re a new vegan, you’re going to become accustomed to checking ingredients lists for animal products. You’ll probably be amazed by how quick you get at doing this over time. Luckily, checking for soy products can easily be done at the same time.
The quickest way to check whether a food contains soy is to skip to the bottom of the ingredients list. Look for the allergen warning.
A lot of people are allergic to soy, so they usually list if the product contains soy. If it says “contains soy,” then you don’t have to spend any time looking through the whole list of ingredients.
This is also a quick way to check if the product contains milk or egg, as those ingredients will also usually be listed as allergens (“contains milk”).
Personally, if the product doesn’t list any allergens, I still check the full ingredients list to be sure. (And meat is not an allergen, so you’d want to check the ingredients list for words like “chicken,” “beef,” and “pork,” as well.)
Here is a full article with more tips for checking food packages to see if the food is vegan.
What if the Allergen Warning Says “May Contain Traces of Soy”?
Typically, “may contain traces of soy” just means that the product was produced in a facility that also produces soy products on the same machines. For allergy purposes, they are required to list that, but there is not (intentionally) any soy in your product.
I wrote a whole post about this here, but I’ll also share the quick details right now.
If you have a severe allergy, then you obviously want to take the possible traces seriously and avoid that food. But if you’re cutting out soy for other reasons, you may choose to go ahead and eat foods with possible traces from shared machinery.
Personally, I do not boycott foods that “may contain traces of milk” due to sharing machinery with another product that contains milk. I personally don’t think vegans need to boycott those foods—and most vegans would agree with me.
Adjusting to Being Vegan with a Food Allergy
I’m a vegan with a food allergy, but I was lucky in a way: My food allergy was for dairy.
So when I went vegan, my health improved a good deal because I couldn’t sneak any more cheese and tell myself it was okay. I now had two reasons to avoid dairy: my allergy and my vegan diet.
Having two diet restrictions (vegan and an allergy) can obviously limit your options considerably for eating out at social events or restaurants. It would be a major diet change from the Standard American Diet if you’re switching all at once.
But I’ve found that whatever diet I adopt, I generally get used to it over time. Maybe if I pushed my diet to a very extreme place, I would eventually run into more problems—but generally, you get used to it.
Is It Hard to Be Vegan Without Soy?
I haven’t tried being vegan without soy for an extended period of time myself, but I can speak to being vegan in general.
Being vegan has not felt “hard” for me in a long time. It’s only hard at all when you’re first getting used to it. (And even then, it’s not very hard if you know why you’re doing it and you find replacement meals that you love.)
After a while, being vegan is just your new normal. You don’t even think about eating other stuff. It doesn’t cross your mind, especially if you can find a vegan roommate or get your family to go vegan with you. You just cook with a vegan kitchen, and you get used to that.
So take your time with this diet change if you need to. But from my experience with various diet changes, I would say that you will likely just become used to whatever you switch your diet
You will find your new “comfort foods.” You will find your new routines, your new favorite way to do “pizza night” or “taco night” or whatever you love. Yes, you can still do all those things as a soy-free vegan. You may find new go-to restaurant spots that can best cater to your diet.
Whether store-bought or home-made, there are vegan soy-free alternatives for every meal under the sun.
Concerns With Soy Besides Allergies: Estrogen, IGF-1, GMOs
If you have a soy allergy, then of course soy is not healthy for you. But if you don’t have a soy allergy, you still might be looking into going vegan without soy because you’re thinking (or even just wondering):
- Are the “phytoestrogens” in soy unhealthy to consume in significant quantities, causing “feminizing” issues for men?
- Is soy consumption going to raise the levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in my body, potentially increasing my risk of cancer?
- Is soy production unethical or unsafe due to GMO’s or large-scale mono-crop farming methods?
Based on the research I’ve done, for this article and in the past, my conclusion is that soy is probably a healthy food in moderation for most people.
The most credible sources I know still report that soy is healthy. Here’s a Harvard Health Letter saying that soy is still considered healthy.
That said, I could be wrong. Certainly, there are a lot of conspiracy theories about soy. For myself, I feel comfortable and safe eating tofu and other whole soy foods on a regular basis. But I understand and respect the concerns people have about soy.
You should care about the food you’re putting into your body and sharing with your loved ones. So if you’re trying to become a soy-free vegan, I hope this post helped you plan
More Resources for Soy-Free Vegans
I’ve recently put together some buying guides on soy-free vegan products: