If you have issues with food allergies, you probably know all about “the Big Eight” – the list of the top allergy-causing foods.1 Soy protein is on that list, but the results of some recent studies suggest it may not belong there.
Foods on the Big Eight list must be labeled on all food products sold in this country. The reason, of course, is to make it easier for people allergic to these foods to avoid them. That’s a good thing, but it is important to understand that the foods on that list are not created equal. Not only that but the size of the list is pretty arbitrary.
The Big Eight could have easily been a list of a different size. In Europe it is the Big 14. The U.S. list could have just as easily been the Big Nine or the Big Seven. And likely, if our list were reduced to the Big Seven, soy wouldn’t make the cut.
In the largest U.S. survey of its kind to be conducted, which involved nearly 40,000 children, the prevalence of allergy to peanuts and milk was about 5 times greater in comparison to soy protein.2 Furthermore, strawberries were just as likely to cause allergic reactions as soy, even though strawberries are not one of the Big Eight.
The prevalence of food allergy among adults to the Big Eight foods shows to an even greater extent why a legitimate question can be raised about the value of having soy protein on the list. In a survey of near 5,000 adults, allergic reactions to cow milk were nearly 30 times more common than reactions to soy protein.3 And reactions to peanuts and eggs were about 10 times more common than soy, which was at the bottom of the list. Furthermore, if you are allergic to peanuts, chances are you won’t have a problem with soy, even though both foods are legumes. A recent study found that only 2 of 64 children who were allergic to peanuts also reacted to soy.4
While food allergy labeling regulations serve an important public health benefit, research suggests that because the prevalence of allergy to soy protein is so low, requiring products that contain soy protein to indicate so on the label may not be a benefit to the public. It may, instead, unnecessarily deter people from consuming soyfoods that are nutritious and offer several health benefits.
- Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). Public Law 108-282, Title II. .
- Gupta RS, Springston EE, Warrier MR, et al. The prevalence, severity, and distribution of childhood food allergy in the United States. Pediatrics. 2011;128(1):e9-17.
- Vierk KA, Koehler KM, Fein SB, et al. Prevalence of self-reported food allergy in American adults and use of food labels. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;119(6):1504-10.
- Patel N, Vazquez-Ortiz M, Lindsley S, et al. Low frequency of soya allergy in peanut-allergic children: relevance to allergen labelling on medicines. Allergy. 2018.