I Cut This Super-Common Ingredient Out of My Diet — Here’s What Happened After
On the day I turned 23, two things happened: First, I realized that it might not be true that nobody likes you when you’re 23, but it is definitely true that nobody cares when you turn 23; and second, my skin decided it was ready for its rebellious stage.
Since I turned 23, over three years ago, I have had more skin flare-ups than I ever had in my teens. For the first month or two of teenage-like acne, I mostly just stared in the mirror saying “WTF” over and over again. Then, eventually, I took action. I changed my diet, cutting out all the obvious possible contributors to inflammation, like dairy and gluten. I tried every skin mask I couldn’t afford. I changed my face wash more times than I changed my water filter (and I am diligent about changing my water filter).
Then, last October, a friend suggested it might be soy. As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I was eating a LOT of soy. Like, obscene amounts. Naomi Fenlin of About Face confirmed my friend’s suspicion: Soy can up androgen levels, the hormones responsible for hormonal acne.
Just the thought of cutting soy out of my diet was actually heartbreaking enough to induce the kind of tears only a Season 5 Grey’s Anatomy marathon usually can. After all, what is a life without veggie sausage? Heartbreak aside, I decided to quit soy cold turkey.
Now, a little over a year later, I am here to tell you, it was one of the best things I have ever done for my diet — and not just because my skin did drastically improve (a fact I’ve learned to live with: I’ll never have perfect skin, but it is in WAY better shape than it was this time last year). Cutting soy (which is in pretttty much every packaged product out there, by the way) forced me to overhaul my diet in ways I wish I’d done way earlier — whether I’d given up soy or not. So I figured I’d share ’em with you guys, because even if you have no intention of giving up soy — hey, if you’re not at war with your skin, you have no reason — you may find you want to embrace some of the side effects.
1. I paid way more attention to the packaged foods I bought — and bought less of them.
If you didn’t know that soy, in some form another, is in just about everything, I don’t blame you. I also didn’t know until I was forced to meticulously read labels, only to find that even tracking down something as simple as organic mayo without soy was a struggle. After quickly realizing that soy was the Ryan Seacrest of the food world (everywhere, all the time. When does that man sleep?), I began reading labels with a level of focus I usually reserve recaps for of The Walking Dead. This led me to ditch a lot of prepackaged snacks after realizing that they contained unexpectedly long lists of ingredients, opting for simpler items like roasted pistachios from the bulk aisle instead. Cue: my wallet jumping with joy.
2. I cut back on my dinner-out addiction.
In more news that satisfied my wallet, I stopped eating out as much. Because, I repeat: Soy is in everything.
3. I got more creative in the kitchen.
Ready for an embarrassing confession? Here goes. For years, I — someone who writes about healthy eating for a living — alternated between two (yes, two) go-to weeknight dinners (if I wasn’t eating out, that is): Eggs with veggie sausage for the super-lazy nights, which happen more often than not, and a veggie and tofu stir-fry over quinoa for the slightly less lazy nights. When I gave up soy, both of these were out: my go-to veggie sausage was soy-based and the flavor in my usual stir-fry could be credited to soy sauce. So I was forced to get more creative than I would’ve — and guess what? I wish I’d spiced things up in the kitchen (pun totally intended) earlier. I can officially say that I am now a better cook because being forced to do more than beat eggs every night does that to you.
4. I started thinking about food as fuel.
One of the hardest things about giving up soy at the start was figuring out how to fill up without eating tofu, which was my old go-to for protein. The first few tofu-free lunches I made left me hangry at around 2 p.m. I am not a human who hanger becomes (just ask my boyfriend), so in order to avoid having hanger-induced meltdowns in front of my bosses, I started really thinking about food as fuel when I prepared my lunches and snacks. Before I packed anything, I asked myself, How will this make me feel? What about an hour later? What about three hours later? Enter thoughtful meals that were inherently healthier and more purposeful than the meals I’d made before, simply because they needed to be. I was filling my quinoa concoctions with fiber-packed broccoli and protein-packed hemp seeds — two ingredients that never showed up in my lunches before this whole soy-free thing — and topping my avocado toast with asparagus and pepitas. Now, before I eat anything, I ask myself, How is this fueling me?
5. I discovered foods I never would’ve tried before.
I am not a super-picky eater, but I am a routined eater. So once I find things I like, I stick with them. (See: My outrageous Morning Star veggie sausage addiction.) But when I gave up soy, I was forced to try to find replacements for many of my former favorite foods, which led to the discovery of so many ingredients I WISH I’d discovered earlier. I’ve listed my favorite discoveries below, and whether you’re ditching soy or not, I suggest you try them.
Hemp seeds: I’m telling you, hemp seeds are a freakin’ godsend. Three tablespoons of the healthy fat-filled seed boasts a whopping 10 grams of protein. And because they have a very mild flavor, you can mix them into just about anything without noticing. Hemp seeds: buy them, love them, thank me later.
Field roast products: HOLY COW. I wish I’d discovered Field Roast veggie products earlier. All of their faux-meat items are soy-free, and their breakfast veggie sausages are the best I’ve ever had. Just ask my co-worker, who admitted to downing nearly an entire package in one day after I turned her on to them.
Coconut Secret Organic Coconut Aminos: This sweet one-ingredient soy-sauce alternative is perfect for stir fries, and pairs well — if a bit sweet — with sushi. It’s on the pricey side, but worth trying if you’re cutting back on soy.
Trader Joe’s salt and pepper pistachios: As I mentioned, I ditched a lot of snacks that had laundry-list-like ingredients. When I’m at Whole Foods, I just grab pistachios from the bulk aisle, but anytime I’m brave enough to tackle the Trader Joe’s line, I grab a bag of these. They are like bites of spicy heaven on earth.
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