Navigating the Ingredient List

Hello! Welcome to Beyond Soy!

A vital part of a soy-free lifestyle is checking foods for soy before you eat them. In the grocery store, this often takes the form of reading the ingredient labels on food. Before we discovered Ashley's soy intolerance, we rarely read ingredient lists. Now we read them all the time!



The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food labeling in the US and has specific requirements for listing food ingredients and identifying allergens. Before we discuss how to read an ingredient label, there are a couple of basic things to know: 

  1. Ingredients are listed in descending order of amount (by weight).
  2. The constituents of an ingredient must be called out separately if they are not listed elsewhere on the list. As a result, you'll see things like "enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin)".
  3. All of the ingredients in a food must be listed, except for trace amounts of ingredients, which only need to be identified if they are allergens. Ingredient labels will say things like "May contain traces of wheat, tree nuts, and eggs". Additionally, flavorings and spices don't need to be identified in all foods and can be denoted as "spices" or "natural flavoring" on the ingredient list.
  4. In the US, the 8 most common allergens (milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans) are required to be identified separately (in addition to being listed in the ingredient list). The ingredient label will say something like "Contains: milk, soy, and peanuts". 
  5. Outside of the US (especially in Europe), allergens are usually bolded in the ingredient list instead of being called out separately.
  6. If the manufacturer can’t determine which type of fats or oils are in a product, they can list all of the possible options. As a result, you may see “vegetable oil (may contain canola, soybean, and sunflower)", which means that the manufacturer probably uses an oil blend or changes the oil based on availability or price.

Here is how we read in ingredient label, looking specifically to identify if a food contains soy:

  1. Look for a list of allergens first, and check it for soy. - If the allergens list contains soy, the food clearly contains a soy product. Unfortunately, a food isn’t guaranteed to be soy-free if soy isn’t listed here. Soybean oil is not required to be listed separately as an allergen and can only be found by reading the ingredient list.
  2. Read the ingredient list slowly, looking for soybeans, soy, soya, soja, or soybean oil. - It can be fairly easy to gloss over a listed ingredient if the list is long and the print is small, so it can help to read the list from bottom to top. Make sure to be on the lookout for soybean oil too!
  3. If possible, ask someone to double-check the ingredient list for you. - Ashley and I do this all the time. Having two people check the list for soy decreases the likelihood that we’ll accidentally gloss over the word soy. If someone else isn’t available, read the list again, this time from top to bottom (i.e., do a double-check yourself).
  4. Finally, check the “May contain traces of ….” section to see if there is any possibility for soy to be introduced into the food. While this doesn’t determine if we’ll eat a food or not (since Ashley’s never had an issue that she could attribute to traces of soy), it is beneficial to know that the food possibly had some cross contamination in case it does cause a reaction.

Reading ingredient lists is an important part of ensuring that we continue to buy soy-free food. We use these tips to make it just a little bit easier to find soy-free products in the grocery store.