Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!
What goes in bread? If you try to list the ingredients in a loaf of sandwich bread, soy probably doesn't make the list: flour, salt, and yeast, but certainly not soy. That is what we thought as well, until we started reading ingredient labels. As it turns out, soy flour (and sometimes even soybean oil) are fairly common in bread.
Why is soy in bread? Bread, especially sandwich bread, is a classic case of an industrialized food. While the numerous ingredients in breads today aren’t needed for the bread itself, they assist with the manufacturing and make it easier/more profitable to bake bread on a large scale. As an example, soy flour is used to bleach the flour and makes the dough easier to work with in the factory. This article from The Independent goes into more detail on the specifics and history of bread.
Luckily, there are still some breads available that are soy-free. For sandwiches, hamburger buns, and the like, we eat Rudi's Organic Bakery bread, which is made without soy. (note that Rudi’s Bakery bread still has lots of ingredients.) We also like Trader Joe's fresh-made ciabatta rolls.
Separate from sandwich bread, specialty breads are more likely to be made with fewer ingredients and are more likely to be soy-free (but not all of them are--be sure to check the label!). As a general rule, the fresher the loaf is, the more likely it is to be soy-free. At our usual grocery store the french bread loaves in a plastic wrapper contain soy, but the french bread in a paper wrapper is soy-free.
We've also toyed around with the idea of baking our own bread (with or without a bread maker). This would be a little more work, but could guarantee that the bread is soy-free. As of now, we haven't needed to do this since we've found both sandwich bread and specialty bread that are soy-free. If we were ever to have difficulty finding breads without soy, it is definitely a possibility to make our own.
One of the difficulties with the prevalence of soy in breads occurs when other people provide food for you. Since it takes a concerted effort to find soy-free bread (and since people don't expect soy to be in bread), bread provided by other people is often something to be avoided. Picture this at a BBQ: you know that the hamburgers and hot dogs are probably okay, but the only options for buns have soy in them. Since you can't eat the bread, you end up just eating a hamburger bunless. This tends to happen a lot, since bread is something that many hosts don't think has soy.
The bottom line? Soy is found in most bread, but with a little practice you can find soy-free options for just about whatever bread you are looking for!