Nikki Yelton is an Integrative & Functional Medicine Registered Dietitian Nutritionist serving clients worldwide. She offers a personalized functional medicine approach to helping women with GI distress and autoimmune conditions to get to the root cause of the symptoms holding them back so that they can start living the extraordinary life they dream of with more energy, purpose, and joy!
There are certain properties of soy that are inflammatory and can cause imbalances in the gut and especially for women with autoimmune conditions. I suggest choosing gut-healthy and autoimmune-friendly alternatives that are just as delicious, including one of my favorite condiments— the best soy sauce substitute!
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In need of a delicious soy sauce substitute? Look no further…
Soy is used more often than you might think! With so many people opting for alternative diets such as vegan, plant-based, or non-dairy, soy has become a common replacement for animal-product ingredients. When you think of soy in foods, your mind may jump to the obvious ones— soy milk, soy sauce, even tofu or tempeh. But soy is pretty sneaky… and in more ways than one!
Unfortunately soy isn’t the best alternative food to opt for, especially if you struggle with gut issues or autoimmunity. There are certain properties of soy that are inflammatory and can cause imbalances throughout the body. For this reason, I suggest choosing gut-healthy and autoimmune-friendly alternatives that are just as delicious, including one of my favorite condiments that I’ll be sharing later on in this blog— the best soy sauce substitute!
WHAT IS SOY & WHERE DO YOU FIND IT?
The whole-food form of soy is actually soybeans, a type of legume! You may also recognize soybeans as edamame, which are simply immature soybeans encased in their pod. While you can eat soy in its whole-food form, it is also one of the most commonly processed foods out there. This means you likely consume it far more often than you realize, as it goes under the guise of various names.
Soy can be directly processed into soy protein, soy milk, and soy fiber. Once broken down into one of these categories, you can further process the soy derivative into tons of various foods.
Here are some examples of the many food products and ingredients created from the soybean:
Meatless meat products like “Impossible Meat” or “Beyond Meat”
Soy based milk, yogurt, or cheese
But that’s not all! Soybean oils and proteins are often hidden in many processed food products such as:
Natural and Artificial Flavors
Processed meat like deli meats
Salad dressings and marinades
Non-pasture-raised or non-grass-fed meat products
If you’re unsure if a food includes soy, always check the ingredient list. A few alternative names to look out for also include:
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Soy lecithin (an emulsifier)
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
Mono and Diglycerides
THE ISSUES WITH SOY
Soy can negatively affect your hormone balance, especially estrogen, thyroid function, and other hormones associated. Consuming too much soy can also affect nutrient absorption and lead to nutrient deficiencies.
1. Soy affects estrogen levels
Soy contains compounds called isoflavones. These compounds are considered phytoestrogens because they have an estrogen-like chemical structure. This means they can actually mimic the estrogen hormone in your body. The isoflavones bind to estrogen receptors and therefore prevent actual estrogen from binding. This wreaks havoc on estrogen and disrupts other hormones— for example, it causes estrogen dominance and major decreases in testosterone.
Some common symptoms of estrogen dominance include:
Irregular menstrual cycle in women
Swollen and tender breasts
Difficulty losing weight
Fatigue/ poor energy
Erectile dysfunction in men
2. Soy affects thyroid function
Soy-based foods are considered goitrogenic. This means they also contain chemical compounds called goitrogens. When eaten in large amounts, goitrogens suppress the thyroid gland, therefore decreasing the production of thyroid hormones. They do this by blocking iodine from entering your thyroid and by facilitating the production of thyroid-binding globulin. This causes imbalances in thyroid hormones which leads to thyroid dysfunction, and eventually autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s Disease.
Some common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include:
Chronic fatigue and brain fog
Poor immune function
Cold hands and feet
Shortness of breath
3. Soy affects nutrient absorption
Soy is also considered an anti-nutrient. It contains phytic acid and lectins, which inhibit the absorption of other nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron. The phytic acid actually binds to these minerals, preventing them from absorbing. Soy is also very hard to digest because the lectins resist breaking down in the gut. Due to their resistance to break down, they prevent nutrient absorption in the GI tract.
Some common symptoms of nutrient deficiencies include:
Chronic fatigue and brain fog
Inability to lose weight
To sum it up, soy is inflammatory for most individuals and is best to avoid, especially if you are working on healing your gut or reversing autoimmunity. Not to mention, it’s also one of the most highly processed crops next to corn and wheat/gluten. A whopping 94% of soy is genetically modified, which means it is typically loaded with toxic pesticides that can lead to further imbalances in the body— particularly affecting the gut microbiome, hormones, and immune system.
4 DELICIOUS SOY SUBSTITUTES TO TRY
So in short, soy is pretty inflammatory. Which means the soy products in your diet could be part of the problem. They could very well be triggering symptoms of autoimmunity, hormone imbalance, GI issues, and more.
But does this mean you have to give up the soy sauce with your sushi or noodles, or the meatless and non-dairy alternatives like tempeh and soy milk? You may think soy is a necessary ingredient in order to make certain dishes, particularly vegan or Asian inspired dishes but I have good news… there is almost always an alternative.
I’m all about coming up with amazing alternatives that taste the same, if not better, than the originals. Eating for gut health and autoimmunity does not mean restrictive eating!
Soy sauce is a “necessity” in the kitchen for many. While it has a distinct flavor for many dishes, coconut aminos offer a similar taste without the estrogenic effects of soy. It is a delicious sauce made from coconut palms and fermented coconut blossom nectar. Plus, it’s super high in amino acid content, which are the building blocks of protein, AND contains way less sodium than traditional soy sauce.
I use coconut aminos all the time.Coconut Secret coconut aminos is a great soy sauce substitute that is gluten-free, soy-free, and MSG-free. I use this super versatile condiment again and again in my gut healthy recipes. It adds such amazing flavor to pretty much anything! It makes for an awesome base for a sauce or marinade on meat, fish, and veggies. I love using it on dishes like turkey stir-fry, as a glaze on salmon or chicken, as a salad dressing, and so much more. It’s the perfect swap in Japanese, Thai, and Chinese inspired dishes.
Soy Protein Substitute: QUALITY MEAT, FISH, NUTS & SEEDS
Soy protein is found in many processed foods and meatless protein substitutes like tofu or tempeh. Protein is absolutely essential when it comes to healing your gut and reversing autoimmunity, however I suggest avoiding soy based protein and instead opting for quality meat, fish, nuts, and seeds. Some great options include wild-caught seafood like salmon and sardines, grass-fed beef and liver, pasture-raised chicken and eggs, nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts) and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin).
For quality pasture raised meat, I like to use Butcher Box. It’s a pasture-raised and grass-fed beef and poultry delivery company. Finding quality meat can be difficult, but Butcher box sources their meat from partners with high standards and full transparency. And for high quality seafood, my favorite online delivery service is Sizzlefish. Their seafood is always fresh, sustainably harvested and wild caught!
Conventional dairy is inflammatory for many people, especially those with gut issues. This is why we’ve seen a huge rise in non-dairy milk options like soy milk. I advise staying away from soy however, and instead opting for other alternatives like coconut, almond, hemp, flax, cashew, goat, and raw cow’s milk. These are all great options, but my #1 recommendation when it comes to non-dairy milk is definitely coconut milk! Coconut milk contains medium chain triglyceride (MCT) fats which provide anti-inflammatory benefits for the gut. Healthy fats fuel our cells, reduce inflammation, and promote satiety, healthy hormones, gut function, weight management, balanced blood sugar, and consistent energy levels.
I recommend using Native Forest Plain Coconut Milk because it’s free of binders, fillers, and gums, which can cause digestive distress. The ingredients are simple— organic coconut and purified water. My favorite way to use coconut milk is in my morning smoothies! I also love making a delicious coconut cream latte for a delicious kick of caffeine as well.
As we’ve discussed, soy can be pretty sneaky. It’s often hidden in marinades, dressings, and sauces that you wouldn’t expect. This is why I prefer getting my condiments from brands I trust. I love Primal Kitchen because their condiments are always made with real, clean ingredients. There’s no processed or artificial ingredients, added sugars, partially hydrogenated or trans fats, soybean or canola oils. No artificial flavors, colors, dyes, waxes or chemical preservatives.
A few of my favorites from Primal Kitchen are their Sesame Ginger and Cilantro Lime Marinade/Dressing mixes. They also have classic dressings like ranch, caesar, green goddess, and all your standard vinaigrettes! And last but not least… No-Soy Teriyaki Sauce! Teriyaki sauce is typically made with soy sauce as a base but Primal Kitchen whipped up a concoction of balsamic vinegar, dates, ginger, and sesame oil to create a fantastic alternative. Highly recommend!
MY FAVORITE SOY SAUCE SUBSTITUTE RECIPE
I use coconut aminos on so many of my gut healthy dishes, but this Turkey & Cabbage Stir Fry has a special place in my heart. It’s so simple to make and has incredible flavor! It’s super healing for the gut, so much so that it even makes an appearance in the meal plan for my Gut & Autoimmune Reset & Reboot.The ginger, cilantro, and lime add a kick of freshness, the tukey, cabbage, and carrot are super satiating, and the coconut aminos take the flavor up a notch big time.
Heat a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Leave the lid off and add the turkey, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once it is cooked through and no longer pink, drain any excess drippings from the pan and set the turkey aside.
To the same skillet, add the oil. Once warm, add the cabbage and carrot. Stir to coat in the oil and sauté for a minute. Add the water then cover with the lid. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until the cabbage wilts down and carrot is just tender.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl combine the coconut aminos, lime juice, garlic and ginger. Set aside.
Add the cooked turkey back to the skillet and stir to mix. Add the coconut aminos mixture and stir to combine everything. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Stir in the cilantro.
Divide evenly between plates and serve with lime wedges, if using. Enjoy!
In short, it’s best to avoid soy, especially during the healing process. It may be time to nix the soy from your diet, but it also means it’s time to try something new! I’m always coming up with new alternatives to inflammatory foods and incorporating all of these yummy autoimmune friendly ingredients into recipes! For meal ideas that incorporate only foods that will help you heal, check out my Gut & Autoimmune Meal Plan Membership!
And if you’re looking for more guidance when it comes to healing your gut and reversing autoimmunity, I’ve got you covered. My signature program Microbiome Makeover was specifically created to heal your gut! It can help you identify if soy is actually a problem for you and a step by step process to help you learn what to eat instead. It’s a hybrid 90 day coaching program which includes specific and in-depth labwork, detailed interpretations of your results, personalized coaching, and a step by step process. Let’s start your path to healing from the inside out! Apply here!
"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."
-Nikki Yelton, RD
a note from nikki:
If you are ready to stop wasting precious time, get off the never-ending hamster wheel, and finally surrender trying to figure things out on your own—this is your moment.
You don’t have to settle for just getting by and hoping tomorrow is a better day. We both know you are a woman who deserves better and are made for so. much. more.
are you ready?
Ready to resolve your GI distress, reverse autoimmunity, and live your extraordinary life?