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Can you be a Vegan or Vegetarian without using Soy products?

I am one of those people who can't have soy of any type. I have been told by people who have been vegetarians or vegans for years that without soy products the diet is not possible. Is this true? I still have meat occasionally but have lately been eating more vegetables than meat.

Thanks for any suggestions or advice you all can give me.

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  1. Sure you can. Look at Indian cuisine, primarily vegetarian without any soy products used in their cooking at all. Soy as a protein substitute can easily be replaced with various lentils, beans, and paneer (cottage cheese) as Indians do.

    I think a lot of people on vegetarian diets who consume large amounts of soy products are often eating products simulated to taste like meat. But to me that seems counterproductive. Processed fake meat in lieu of fresh vegetables and fruits totally misses the point of a vegetarian diet.

    1. It's totally possible to avoid soy and be vegan or vegetarian. Where soy milk is called for, use nut or grain milk. Where you would use tofu as a solid protein such as in a stir fry or sandwich, use seitan (grain-based vegetarian protein) instead.

      If you do some digging around on vegan or vegetarian blogs and forums, you'll see that lots of people avoid soy for a variety of reasons and it's totally do-able. Good luck!

      1. Vegetarian, I think would be easy. Vegan is possible, but it will definitely make your life a bit more difficult in some cases, especially if you eat outside the house a lot, because vegan options at a lot of places will very often contain something soy-based. Obviously, in addition to tofu, and various soy-based meat analogs, you also won't be able to eat soy-derived seasonings. Do very small amounts of soy (say, soy lecithin as an emulsifier) cause problems for you?

        I think it's do-able if you can eat other legumes. Just focus on vegetable-centric cooking. Since you're already eating less and less meat, why not try to cut down your animal product consumption slowly and see how you're feeling?

        1 Reply
        1. re: will47

          Happy to be part of this forum. I'm excited to know more!

        2. I don't see why that is a "requirement" of being a vegetarian or vegan ... it's not like there is a test and you need to carry a license..... unless I'm missing something????

          My bf is a vegetarian, but until we met, he called himself a "carb-a-tarian" because he ate lots of cereal, bread, pasta. (A 30 year old who could eat cereal and PB&J for every meal!) Until I came along, and then he started eating a wider variety of veggies, fruits, and alternative protein sources. Technically, he's a pescetarian, because he eats seafood. I have dramatically reduced how much meat I eat since we've been together, and I'm not a huge fan of seafood, so I might have one meal a week with meat. I've discovered a term "flexatarian" ... Google it. It sounds like it describes you too. There's lots of reasons people give up meat whether 100% or not, and also varying degrees of consuming animal products (dairy, eggs).

          I think the best thing to do is to ensure you have a balanced diet (if your insurance or health plan covers services of a dietician, use it!) and to not push your own beliefs down other people's throats. We're all free to make our own choices, and no need for labels, right?

          5 Replies
          1. re: j_camp

            I don't think the OP was asking for permission to adopt the label of vegan or vegetarian, and didn't use the word "requirement." I read the question as "can I meet my nutritional needs as a vegan or vegetarian who doesn't eat soy."

            I think generally the answer is yes if it's just a matter of avoiding tofu, soy milk and the like. But will47 raises a very good point regarding how diligent you will need to be if very small amounts bother you. And depending on where you live, your options may be more limited when eating out.

            You might find the book "Becoming Vegan" helpful (http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Vegan-...) -- it is PACKED with nutritional info, and will provide a good guide (or starting point) for ensuring you're getting enough protein and/or whatever else you're concerned about nutritionally by giving up soy.

            1. re: herring

              I second the Becoming Vegan rec. It's a good one.

              1. re: herring

                I appreciate herring's observation. I am researching MarianneB88's same question due to a serious health issue that forbids me from eating soy products. Thanks for the link, too.

                  1. re: Ernesta

                    My family eats a plant-based diet with little in the way of soy. Definitely doable. Legumes, grains, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds are more than enough!

              2. We're vegans who eat soy very infrequently. Consider how many vegetables, grains, and nuts are available and you won't have any trouble at all. Enjoy!

                1. Yes. I have been ovo-lacto vegetarian for 10 years (and was vegan for 2) and, while I like tofu and eat it about once a week, I could leave it out and still feel nourished and satisfied. Note that I do eat eggs and dairy, along with a wide variety of beans, grains, veggies, and fruits.

                  The only way I think this would pose difficulty is if you were vegetarian (or especially vegan) who wanted to rely a lot of substitutes - meat substitutes, milk substitutes, yogurt substitutes, ice cream substitutes, etc. Many of those contain soy. But there are good reasons for going very easy on that stuff anyway - it's pretty processed.

                  Good luck!

                  1. Sure. Soy wasn't universal until modern age, and yet people in different regions have been vegetarian with or without it. Soy, however, is a good source of nutrients.

                    1. I was vegan with absolutely no soy (and no sugar) for about seven years. As others point out, it's tricky to eat at restaurants on that kind of regimen, but if you cook at home, it's not too hard. Basically, you have to stop planning meals around a protein, and plan around green vegetables. As Chi_Guy says, Indian cooking has many vegan dishes with absolutely no soy, but even Indian vegetarian cuisine relies pretty heavily on milk products like yogurt and ghee.

                      One thing to keep in mind is that, if you have a soy sensitivity, you may also have trouble digesting other legumes. If that's the case, you really can't do a vegan diet, and are probably best off just going vegetarian so you can get your protein from dairy and/or eggs. A basic vegetarian diet is not at all difficult with no soy, even at restaurants.

                      1. There are non-soy meat alternative products, should they be of interest to you.

                        I am particularly fond of Quorn products, which are soy-free, tho' not vegan (they contain egg whites). I use Quorn Chik'n in any dish which is traditionally made with chicken cutlets. The results are, for me, very satisfying.

                        If you are interested in other meat substitutes, you can find many non-soy based products online. Whether they are to your taste is something you need to find out for yourself. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years and it's been quite an adventure trying different products. I would find it difficult to live on beans, pasta and veggies, but as I'm in my 60's and have been vegetarian for only the last 20 or so years (after eating more than my share of animal products), I am grateful for products that make it easier for me to adhere to my dietary ethics

                        1. you can easily be a raw/living food vegan without soy... check out some raw food websites and you will find lots of recipes you will enjoy

                          1. Certainly you can. The world is full of nuts, peas and beans. You could get all the protein you need from old-fashioned European pease porridge, or from Indian dal - in both cases eaten with grains and vegetables. This is how your ancestors ate. Although our ancestors were stunted in growth and had scurvy in late winter due to inadequate diets. Humans evolved as meat eaters, not as farmers on grain-and-bean diets. The Japanese have gotten taller since they got rich enough to eat meat and fish regularly.

                            Protein can be difficult for strict vegans to get enough of. To get enough, and also have it be delicious, you have to cook, plan, shop, bake, saute, chop, braise and simmer. It can be time consuming if you want a varied diet. Easier if you take the same lentil salad every day for lunch.

                            Eating away form home and getting sufficient protein takes work, and planning. Hummus is your best friend.

                            Pregnant women and parents of small children have to work very, very hard to pull this off.

                            1. The best vegan sausage on the market right now is Field Roast, which is soy free. Very high in protein and delicious. That said, as a processed faux meat i don't eat it daily.

                              There are many many soy free protein sources for vegans, including hemp seeds, quinoa, beans, nut butters,almond or peanut flour, wheat gluten and products from wheat gluten, whole grains and of course a growing number of unnecessary supplements.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: Ttrockwood

                                we cook vegan at home and my dad became allergic to soy. It was a bit of a challenge at first, but now I don't miss it at all. I use Almond, Rice milks etc, that's easy. I do cook a lot of Indian food, Italian with quorn cutlets, meatballs field roast sausages and finally I recommend Seventh Day Adventist recipes, they have the best nut loaves and cashew gravy! So there is homey American food.

                                1. re: Rory

                                  Rory, do you have a favorite nut loaf recipe? I was poking around looking for SDA loaf recipes and I found so many results I don't know where to start!

                                  1. re: PinkLynx

                                    Not SDA but i've made oh she glows version a few times- love it, and so have the omnis

                                      1. re: PinkLynx

                                        Yes I do Pinklynx and glad to share: it's the Cashew-Natural Br. Rice loaf from Ten Talents (p.180)
                                        here's a close but not exact recipe:

                                        I usually avoid a loaf pan as it can be iffy and use a square oven casserole pan, works great. I make this all the time with homey mashed potatoes, lima beans, peas and fab adventist cashew gravy. Adventist cookbooks can be found here: http://www.adventistbookcenter.com/home

                                        1. re: Rory

                                          Thank you! I love the nut loaf my local Hare Krishna temple serves (minus the onion) but I don't have the recipe. Yours looks like it might be an excellent match and I'm excited to try it- with the onion.

                                  2. I have become very allergic to soy. No problem for me as I like to cook. If one relies on faux meat, it could be difficult. I have learned to work around it, and do not miss it, except for "Tofu Kan", which I used to get at Moosewood and Greenstar, both in Ithaca, NY.

                                    1. Check out books by Dr Joel Fuhrman, Engine2, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn all promoting plant based diet(vegan) for health reasons with very little focus on soy more on the green veggies to get protein.

                                      I never eat soy in my home, only if I'm out traveling on the road tasting a chief's creation then I make exception.

                                      1. Totally not true. I was a vegetarian for most of my life 'til recently, and a vegan for many of those years. Back when I went vegetarian, soymilk and soy products weren't nearly as popular as they are now, so it wasn't until years in that I discovered it didn't sit well with me. Aside from the occasional bite of a few edamame (which for some reason didn't bother me like soy milk, tofu, or processed soy products), I didn't have soy for over a decade.

                                        I have a friend who is middle-aged and has been vegan since he was a teenager (so maybe 40 years now?). He subsisted on soy products and it totally ruined his gut, landing him in the hospital eventually. Soy products really are not easy to digest in general, especially the way vegan/vegetarian companies sell such processed junk these days. It totally defeats any health benefits of being a vegetarian. Look at the ingredients list on the back of half the frozen veg dishes at the grocery store. It's insane.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: nothingswrong

                                          "it totally ruined his gut, landing him in the hospital eventually"
                                          I'm not sure what happened to your friend, but you would be hard pressed to soley link ingestion of soy to "ruining your gut". My guess is your friend had either some sort of predisposition to having a GI issue, or was eating a relatively unbalanced/unhealthy diet overall, both of which would eventually lead to a middle aged GI problem, such as diverticulitis. I agree that soy is not a necessary element of a vegetarian diet and that many of the prepared soy-based foods are just processed junk. However, I think it gets a bit irresponsible to state with conviction that such products "ruined someone's gut".

                                          1. re: Science Chick

                                            Yes, you are right. He didn't have diverticulitis. And I believe they just discharged him with a diagnosis of IBS. The only thing he changed after that was he completely eliminated soy from his diet and his GI tract went back to normal.

                                            My guess is he was eating a fairly unbalanced diet, with most of his meals based around highly-processed soy-based novelty items.

                                            I have had similar experiences with those types of products and think they're truly awful.

                                            However I know many people use more natural soy products as staples in their vegetarian/vegan diets and have no issues. I didn't mean to imply that soy in general is bad for you at all.

                                            I DO however know that soy products are NOT easy on digestion in general, aside form certain fermented products.

                                            1. re: nothingswrong

                                              A lot of processed soy is also extracted using solvents like hexane, though in theory, it's not supposed to remain in the final product.

                                        2. Quinoa is a good source of protein, as are mushrooms. My Fitness Pal is a good app (phone or computer) for tracking intake to make sure you are getting the right nutrients.

                                          My son advises me that most soy and soy products available in US are genetically modified. Good reason to avoid soy even if your body can tolerate it.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Harts52

                                            Many non-GMO soy products are readily available. Westbrae, Turtle Island (Tofurkey brands), Gardein, Nasoya, White Wave (Silk brands) and Wildwood all use strictly non-GMO soybeans, . Whole Foods Store brand tofu also is non-GMO.

                                            1. re: Science Chick

                                              Good to know. Thanks for this info.

                                          2. Of course you can! While my veg niece eats tofu I would say it's a very, very small part of her diet. It usually a default when eating out or an easy fix for dinner parties.

                                            The focus of her diet appears to be indian and asian influenced. She loves curries, thai and Sichuan. Love veggie based sushi. Over all her diet is high in fruits, veggies and protein/fiber rich carbs-beans, grains like quinoa, brown rice and wheat berries. Loves nut milks and butters.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: foodieX2

                                              Absolutely, I cook vegan at home (eat veg out) & my father had a recurrence of colitis & developed a soy allergy & he loves soy especially the soy meats (he's older) Anyway, besides Indian food which I make and love, there are Quorn products (fab meatballs, cutlets) and Beyond Meat, additionally you can make burgers and loafs with nuts and grains, I suggest getting a Seventh Day Adventist cookbook. On top of that you can make tofu out of chickpea flour (they do in Burma, it's very easy! There is also tempeh available made from black beans/black eyed peas and commercial burgers. So it's all good. On top of that if you eat eggs and cheese it's even easier. But really once I found the products it was fine.

                                            2. The vegetarian dishes from the Punjabi region of India impressed Tony Bourdain.Tony remarked while he was not fond of American vegetarian cooking often served here in the U.S of A. the dishes he had in the Punjabi were really good.Google and you will find. Also many Mediterranean/ middle eastern dishes have a variety vegetable ,grain and legume based meals . Since I have cut down my consumption of red meat to a fraction I've increased my use of eggplant ,cauliflower,squash and have not become bored.I'm fortunate to have many ethnic markets to shop in.