Soy sauce is a condiment commonly used as an ingredient in Chinese fast food and other Asian cuisines. It is widely available in the market and is present in the ingredient racks of every fast food centre. It gives food an intense, savoury (umami) and salty flavour. Soy sauce is a dark brown liquid that can enhance the aroma and taste of stir-fries, soups, fried rice and noodles.
Soy sauce first appeared as a soy paste which was nothing but a fermented soybean paste in ancient China. However, there are many versions of soy sauce in different parts of Asia, like ‘Shoyu’ from Japan, a bottled-soy sauce that we find in the market. Also, ‘Ganjang’ from Korea, which has historical significance in the country, is now a soup soy sauce, and ’ Jiangyou’ from China. This dark brown sauce is prepared by fermenting soybeans with wheat flour, salt, water, salt-tolerant yeast and lactic acid bacteria. In addition, you get different types of soy sauce ranging from dark to light. Like wine, you can age it to create more flavour layers.
Nutritional Profile of Soy Sauce
As per the USDA, the nutritional information for one tablespoon or 15 ml serving of soy sauce is as follows:
- Energy: 15 kcal
- Carbohydrates: 1 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Sodium: 910 mg
- Protein: 1 g
It is clear from the above data that soy sauce is not a very nutritious or healthy condiment, mainly owing to its high-sodium content. Nonetheless, according to a study, it has a lower score on the glycemic index as it has a low carbohydrate content, leading to lower insulin response. There is also a little amount of protein present due to fermented soybeans. However, the only nutrients that it gets are from soy. Furthermore, most soy sauces contain corn protein, hydrolysed soy, water, salt, corn syrup, vinegar, caramel, and citric acid.
Tamari, a type of soy sauce with less wheat, is preferred by people who want to cut down on gluten. On the other hand, white soy sauce has more wheat and fewer soybeans. Therefore, the nutritional profile of soy sauce varies according to the type you choose.
Benefits of Soy Sauce
A Source of Sodium
According to the USDA, just one tablespoon of soy sauce offers 910 mg of sodium. Dietary sodium is essential for basic bodily functions, including regulating blood pressure and nerve transmission. And a study shows that light soy sauce and dark soy belong to the top 10 sodium sources in the Malaysian diet. However, eating above the recommended amount of sodium or equal to or more than 2,300 milligrams per day is unhealthy.
An Alternate to Salt
Soy sauce was a replacement when salt was a pricey commodity back then. It has a similar taste to salt but contains lesser sodium. Because of soy sauce’s rich flavour, only less sauce can produce the same taste profile as table salt. As a result, it can help keep your sodium intake under control. Moreover, a study says that substituting table salt with naturally brewed soy sauce did not lower the taste intensity or pleasantness of the food.
Soy Sauce Promotes Digestion
According to a study, consumption of Japanese soy sauce, ‘Shoyu’ in limited amounts can help healthy digestion by assisting the gastric tract in digesting the food effectively. Soy sauce promotes digestion as well by enhancing gastric juice secretion. Japanese style fermented soy sauce helps support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract because it’s fermented.
Soy sauce offers shoyu flavones, a natural antioxidant. These natural antioxidants protect your body from damage caused by free radicals. The antioxidants in soy sauce can reduce the effects of inflammation. Furthermore, results from a study state that dark soy sauce decreases lipid peroxidation, a condition where free radicals attack lipids.
The shoyu polysaccharides produced during the fermentation process required to make soy sauce provide potent anti-allergic abilities. A study says that soy sauce shows great promise in treating allergies because the participants who ingested soy sauce exhibited more improvement in their allergies. However, there are people with soy sauce allergies.
Potential Health Risks of Soy Sauce
As per research, soy allergy is a common allergy. Some of its symptoms are tingling in the mouth, wheezing, runny nose, abdominal pain, skin redness, and swelling in different body parts. However, severe soy sauce allergy is rare, which is not from soy or wheat allergy. Also, people with gluten sensitivity should know that typical soy sauce contains a considerable amount of gluten. Since soybeans are among the most commonly associated food allergens in the U.S., many assume that soy sauce causes allergy problems.
If you have a wheat allergy, wheat-free versions of soy sauce are available. For example, soy sauce labelled tamari contains either less or no wheat. Therefore, selecting certified organic soy sauce can lower the risk of allergies from unwanted contaminants like pesticides.
High Sodium Content
While traditional soy sauce is low in carbs and calories, it’s incredibly high in sodium. A single tablespoon of soy sauce is more than one-third of healthy adults’ recommended daily sodium limit. Anyone at risk of excessive sodium intake or following a salt-restricted diet should consult with a doctor before including soy sauce in their daily diet. A sodium spike from too much soy sauce triggers water retention, leading to bloating or oedema.
As soy sauce has high-sodium content, its consumption may trigger hypertension. For certain people with high blood pressure, it gets recommended by the American Heart Association that sodium should not exceed 1500 mg.
Presence of Unhealthy Additives
Commercial soy sauce contains a high amount of phytates that block the absorption of minerals in your body. In addition, extra MSG gets added to enhance the flavour of soy sauce. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a significant component of tasting agents like Ajinomoto and is infamous for being unhealthy. According to a study, MSG leads to metabolic disorders, has harmful effects on reproductive organs, causes obesity, and is neurotoxic.
Soy sauce might be unsafe during pregnancy as it may hamper foetal development due to the harmful chemicals added during manufacturing.
Soy Sauce Alternatives
Tamari is another Japanese soy sauce made by fermentation of soybeans but has a more robust umami flavour, is less salty and darker in colour. It tastes like standard soy sauce but is healthier and bears comparatively low-sodium content.
Nutritional Facts of Tamari
As per USDA, the nutritional information for one tablespoon serving of tamari is as follows:
- Energy: 4.95 kcal
- Protein: 1 g
- Sodium: 740 mg
- Fat: 0 g
Liquid amino is another gluten-free version of soy sauce with a slight smokey kick. It is prepared the same way as soy sauce but with some modifications.
Nutritional Facts of Liquid Amino
According to USDA, the nutritional facts of one tablespoon serving of liquid amino is as follows:
- Energy: 0 kcal
- Protein: 0.5 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 0 g
- Sodium: 320 mg
Coconut Aminos is a dark-coloured condiment used to replace soy sauce as it has a similar taste, but instead of soy, it uses sap of the coconut plant. It ferments due to natural sugars infused in them.
Nutritional Facts of Coconut Aminos
As per USDA, the nutritional information of a 100 ml serving of branded coconut amino is as follows:
- Energy: 100 kcal
- Protein: 0 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 20 g
- Sodium: 2800 mg
- Potassium: 400 mg
Originated in Worcester, it is a savoury flavoured sauce with a different taste owing to vinegar, garlic, tamarind extract, anchovies, molasses, salt, etc. In addition, it has a lower sodium content than commonly-available soy sauce.
Nutritional Facts of Worcestershire Sauce
According to USDA, a one teaspoon serving of branded Worcestershire Sauce provides the following nutrients:
- Energy: 5 kcal
- Protein: 0 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 1 g
- Sodium: 40 mg
Portion Size and Shelf Life of Soy Sauce
One of the most significant confusion with soy sauce intake is the sodium content. However, there is no ideal portion size for everyone as there is no golden line for taste and healthiness that satisfies everybody. But, one tablespoon of soy sauce adds substantial flavour to food and provides fifteen calories and over 900 mg of sodium. Therefore, it is safe to say that one tablespoon of soy sauce a day is quite ideal. So, have your soy sauce but not in excess, and keep it in moderation.
Soy sauce need not be refrigerated, and you have to use it within two months from the manufacture date. However, do check the label of the soy sauce bottle, as some brands ask you to refrigerate it to maintain its flavour and freshness. It can also increase its shelf life.
Soy sauce is a condiment common in Asian cuisine. Its nutritional content information conveys that it is not a healthy relish. Since you can eat only a tiny quantity of soy sauce at a time, it cannot provide tangible health benefits. However, it is comparatively better than just adding salt to certain foods. Its Japanese version, ‘Shoyu,’ is the most popular. Despite being loaded with sodium, you can buy many healthier alternatives like tamari, Worcestershire sauce, coconut, and liquid amino. In addition, you should look for additive-free varieties of soy sauce that are traditional without any artificial colours or flavours.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is soy sauce unhealthy?
A. Yes, soy sauce is unhealthy to a certain extent. The presence of MSG, high sodium content, and lack of nutrients makes it an unhealthy condiment. Also, the amount of consumption plays an essential role in its healthiness. Consuming more than one tablespoon of soy sauce per day can cause sweating, rashes, severe headaches, itching, etc.
Q. What are the side effects of soy sauce?
A. There are no side effects in consuming moderate amounts of soy sauce, but there are many direct-toxic effects from an overdose. For example, high sodium content causes hypertension. In addition, MSG can cause tightness in the face, weakness, constant sweating, and a tingling sensation.
Q. Is soy sauce healthier than salt?
A. Soy sauce contains some protein, making it somewhat healthier than ordinary salt. It also makes food taste better because of its umami flavour and MSG content. The sodium content is because of soybeans and brine solution fermentation, which is bound to impart more nutrient value to soy than salt.
Q. Why is soy sauce so famous?
A. Soy sauce is famous because it adds flavour to food. It is one of the common food ingredients used at fast food centres. Its ability to impart savoury (umami) flavour to food is also a good reason for its popularity. Soy sauce is also famous as a seasoning for salads in many parts of Western cuisine.
Q. What can I use instead of soy sauce?
A. Instead of soy sauce, you can use Tamari, Liquid Aminos, Worcestershire sauce and Coconut Aminos. These alternatives provide a similar taste as soy sauce but with lesser sodium content and more nutritional benefits. Coconut Aminos replace soy with coconut sap which is an excellent choice for people with soy allergies.
Q. Can soy sauce make you gain weight?
A. High sodium in soy sauce promotes water retention in your body, making your face puffy and bloating you in different places. As a result, it can lead to weight gain. In addition, soy in soy sauce also increases phytoestrogen, equivalent to the hormone oestrogen. Research says this can be an influential factor for fat accumulation in men.
Q. Can soy sauce be eaten raw?
A. Yes, soy sauce can be eaten raw by accompanying it with rice, noodles, sushi, etc. However, due to its strong-salty flavour, it is not recommended to have it without anything.
Q. What does soy do to men?
A. As per one study, soy contains isoflavones, a phytoestrogen similar to oestrogen. Therefore, high consumption of oestrogen-rich foods can cause erectile dysfunction, depression, increased fat storage, swelling of breast tissue, short stature, infertility, and delayed puberty.
Q. Does soy sauce have MSG?
A. Yes, soy sauce does contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), usually present in taste-enhancers like Ajinomoto. In addition, increased consumption of MSG-containing foods can cause metabolic disorders, facial tightness, migraine headaches, gastric distress, Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, etc. However, organic or traditionally made soy sauce does not have MSG.
Q. What sauce is suitable for high blood pressure?
A. Any sauce with low sodium content does not add to your blood pressure. There are even low-sodium soy sauce options available in the market. It applies to many tomato sauces and ketchup as well. However, condiments like soy sauce, oyster sauces, and fish sauce are unsuitable for high blood pressure patients.