Soy sauce is a condiment made from fermented soybeans, wheat, salt and water. It has been used in Asian cuisine for over 2000 years. The taste of soy sauce varies significantly depending on region, production process and ingredients used. Generally speaking, it has a salty umami flavor with notes of sweetness that often comes from added sugar or molasses. Depending on the brand, soy sauce can range from thin and light to thick and dark in color. It is used as a condiment or seasoning for many dishes, including sushi, tempura, ramen and soups. It can also be used to marinate meat or vegetables before cooking. For people on a keto diet, soy sauce is usually considered to be an acceptable condiment, although it should be used in moderation. Read on to learn more about the carb content of soy sauce, as well as some tips for choosing a healthier version that fits into a keto diet.
Is Soy Sauce Good For Keto Diet?
Although soy sauce is primarily made from fermenting wheat and soybeans, it contains very few carbs – typically just 1–2 grams per tablespoon. Because of this, it can be consumed in moderate amounts as part of a low-carb or ketogenic diet (12).
When buying soy sauce, read the label and choose a brand that does not contain added sugar or artificial ingredients. A good quality, traditionally brewed soy sauce will generally be a healthier choice.
Why Is Soy Sauce Bad For Keto?
Carb counts aren’t the only factor to consider when checking your pantry ingredients for keto-friendliness. Especially when you’re on a clean keto diet.
Clean keto is an approach to the popular ketogenic diet that focuses on eating high-quality, whole foods and avoiding processed foods. It emphasizes nutrient-dense sources of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, such as plant-based fats, fish, nuts, and seeds .
Unlike some versions of the keto diet (which can include processed foods and unhealthy fats), clean keto seeks to provide the body with nutrient-dense options that support health, wellness, and weight loss goals.
Clean keto also encourages mindful and balanced eating, rather than strict restriction. This approach allows for some flexibility in food choices and emphasizes listening to your body.
With a clean keto diet, you may find that you can stick to the plan for longer and avoid feeling deprived or overwhelmed. Ultimately, this way of eating offers an effective and sustainable approach to eating that can help you reach your health and wellness goals.
Read More: Is Soy Sauce Vegan: What The Status On This Full-Flavored Condiment?
Now here’s why soy sauce is bad for keto — it isn’t the cleanest ingredient to have in your pantry if you’re following a clean keto diet:
1. Contains Phytoestrogens
In its natural form, soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant compounds that have estrogen-like effects on the body (9).
Studies suggest that these compounds can affect hormones like estrogen, and could play a role in developmental issues, reproductive impairments, and certain types of cancer (14). Both men and women could potentially be at risk of adverse health effects from phytoestrogens (13).
Fortunately, the amount of phytoestrogens found in soy sauce is much lower than the amount found in other soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, and miso.
In addition, due to the fermentation process used during soy sauce production, most of the phytoestrogens in the soybeans used to make soy sauce are converted into other compounds, reducing the amount that remains in the final product.
Furthermore, research on soy sauce and its effects on health is still ongoing. While it’s clear that certain soy products contain high levels of phytoestrogens, more research is needed to determine the effects of the phytoestrogens in soy sauce on human health.
Meanwhile, if you’re following a clean keto diet and want to avoid potential health risks, it’s best to opt for alternatives that are healthier (we’ll list these alternatives below).
2. Contains High Sodium Levels
Another key factor to consider when evaluating soy sauce is its sodium content. Generally, soy sauce contains high levels of sodium – up to 900 mg per tablespoon (11). High intakes of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which increases risk for stroke and heart attack (2).
Furthermore, it’s important to note that many of the benefits that come with a ketogenic diet – such as increased energy levels and improved mental clarity – can be countered by high sodium intake.
In general, it’s recommended to limit sodium intake to between 1500-2300 mg per day for most adults (6). If you’re following a clean keto diet, it’s a good idea to choose lower-sodium alternatives to soy sauce, as it is a high-sodium condiment.
3. Genetic Modification
94% of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified, meaning that they have been manipulated to resist the effects of herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals (7).
While the effects of GMO soybeans on human health are still being studied, some research suggests that consuming GMO foods can have negative impacts on digestion, fertility, and the immune system (4).
If you prefer to avoid GMO ingredients, you’ll want to look for organic soy sauce or opt for a different condiment altogether. Many brands now offer non-GMO soy sauce, so it’s fairly easy to find a healthier alternative.
4. Wheat And Gluten Contamination
Soy sauce is traditionally made with wheat, which means it contains gluten.
For those who are sensitive to gluten or suffer from a gluten intolerance, consuming soy sauce can cause digestive issues and other health problems (5). It’s even possible to develop a gluten allergy over time, so it’s best to be cautious and avoid soy sauce if you don’t tolerate wheat.
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5. Phytic Acid Content
Soy sauce also contains phytic acid, which is a compound found in plant foods that can interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients. Phytic acid binds to minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium in the digestive tract, making them unavailable for absorption (8).
High intakes of phytic acid can lead to nutrient deficiencies over time, so those following a clean keto diet should be cautious with their soy sauce intake.
The Best Keto Substitutes For Soy Sauce
If you follow a very strict keto diet, you may want to consider using other lower-carb condiments instead of soy sauce. Below, we’ve listed some of the best keto-friendly alternatives to soy sauce.
1. Coconut Aminos
Coconut aminos is a great keto-friendly alternative to soy sauce, as it’s made from coconut sap and sea salt. It contains 90% less sodium than regular soy sauce, making it a much healthier option for those on a clean keto diet.
Furthermore, coconut aminos are free of gluten and GMO ingredients.
You’ll need to carefully watch your portions when using coconut aminos, as it still contains some carbohydrates. A single tablespoon of the condiment contains 3g of net carbs, so it’s not suitable for a very low-carb diet (1).
2. Tamari Sauce
Tamari sauce is a gluten-free soy sauce alternative made from fermented soybeans. It contains more protein than regular soy sauce and has a richer, earthier flavor.
It’s also a much lower-sodium option than regular soy sauce, making it a healthier choice for those on a clean keto diet.
Tamari sauce still contains some carbohydrates, with a single tablespoon containing 1g of carbs by difference (10). However, its flavor is much stronger than regular soy sauce, so you may find that a little goes a long way.
3. Dried Mushrooms
Dried mushrooms are an excellent keto-friendly alternative to soy sauce, as they provide a savory umami flavor that mimics the taste of soy sauce.
Mushrooms are also a great source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The only downside is that they don’t provide the same salty flavor that soy sauce does.
When using dried mushrooms as a substitute for soy sauce, you’ll want to rehydrate them first by soaking them in hot water for a few minutes. After that, you can use the mushroom broth to flavor soups and sauces.
You can find mushroom powder in many health food stores, which you can use to add a savory flavor to your dishes. The powder contains almost no carbs, so it’s an excellent choice for following a very low-carb keto diet.
Read More: Is Soy Gluten Free? A Comprehensive Guide
4. Fish Sauce
Fish sauce is commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking and provides a savory, salty flavor that’s similar to soy sauce. It’s made by fermenting salted fish, so it’s completely gluten-free. Fish sauce also contains no carbs and provides a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (3).
Fish sauce is a great option for adding umami flavor to your dishes without the carbs or gluten associated with soy sauce. However, it does have a very strong fishy flavor, so if you’re not a fan of seafood, it may not be the best option for you.
Soy sauce is technically keto-friendly as it has a low carb content. However, it’s important to consider the other drawbacks of soy sauce before including it in your diet. Soy sauce contains gluten and phytic acid, which can interfere with your nutrient absorption and cause digestive issues.
If you’re looking for a healthier keto-friendly alternative to soy sauce, there are several options available. Coconut aminos is a great option for those following a clean keto diet, as is tamari sauce, fish sauce and dried mushrooms.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Calories in Tbsp Coconut Aminos (n.d., nutritionix.com)
- Cardiovascular and other effects of salt consumption (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fish sauce (2022, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Gluten Associated Medical Problems (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How much sodium should I eat per day? (2021, heart.org)
- Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. — the first sixteen years (2012, enveurope.springeropen.com)
- Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Soy and phytoestrogens: possible side effects (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Soy sauce made from soy (tamari) (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Soy sauce made from soy and wheat (shoyu) (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- The Ketogenic Diet: Evidence for Optimism but High-Quality Research Needed (2020, sciencedirect.com)
- The potential health effects of dietary phytoestrogens (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The pros and cons of phytoestrogens (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)