Soy sauce is a popular condiment traditionally used in Asian cuisine. Unlike other popular dressings and sauces, it is low in calories and carbs, making it a popular choice for calorie-conscious eaters.
But is soy sauce keto-friendly?
The answer is not that straightforward. With only around 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon serving (*), soy sauce makes it to the ‘approved‘ list from the macronutrient perspective.
But since it contains soy and traces of wheat, foods that are not recommended on a ketogenic diet, it might be in the red zone for some strict keto dieters.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of eating soy sauce? What should you consider when incorporating soy sauce into your diet? And what are the alternatives?
Keep reading to learn more!
What Is Soy Sauce?
Soy sauce is a traditional ingredient in most Asian dishes. It is believed that soy sauce was created around 2,200 years ago, in the time of the Western Han dynasty of ancient China, as a way to add salty flavor and to preserve food (*). From there it has spread to East and Southeast Asia.
Nowadays, soy sauce is used in cooking all over the world. It can be added to marinades, used in recipes, as a dip, or simply as a condiment.
Soy sauce is most commonly consumed with sushi, used for traditional Asian stir-fry recipes, added to meat, or poured over the rice to add the umami taste.
How Is Soy Sauce Made?
Traditional soy sauce used to be made by fermenting soybeans and wheat in water and salt, using mold, yeast, and bacteria. Then it would be aged for months, sometimes even years.
Today, most soy sauce is made in a modern chemically-assisted method in order to speed up the process. The soybeans are broken down with high heat and acid solutions and the whole procedure can be done in less than 12 hours.
Does soy sauce have added sugar?
Apart from the traditional ingredients, many soy sauce manufacturers today add sugar or other flavor enhancers to the recipe to intensify the flavor.
Is Soy Sauce Keto?
The keto diet promotes high-fat foods and restricts carbohydrates, with most traditional approaches recommending less than 30 grams of carbs per day (*).
Many popular condiments such as tomato, barbeque sauce, or other dressings, contain a lot of added sugar. This means they are high in carbs and unsuitable for keto diets.
With only 1 gram of carbs per tablespoon serving and little to no sugar, soy sauce is very low carb and one of the most keto-friendly condiments out there.
Some strict keto diets do not recommend consuming any soy, or wheat, the ingredients commonly found in soy sauce. So the answer to whether soy sauce is keto-friendly depends on how strict your keto diet approach is.
But since soy sauce is typically consumed in small quantities, we believe that a small amount of soy sauce won’t destroy your health and can be incorporated into your keto recipes.
Types of Soy Sauce
Depending on the proportion of soybeans used, levels of sodium, and the amount of added ingredients, there are different types of soy sauce available.
- Light Soy Sauce – the most commonly used sauce, traditionally coming from Chinese cuisine, the light sauce contains the least amount of sodium and the lowest carb count, 1g per tablespoon serving, or less (*). Certain brands of light sauce contain wheat.
- Dark Soy Sauce – slightly sweetened and therefore slightly higher in carbs, up to 5 grams per serving (*).
- Tamari – produced as a byproduct of miso paste, tamari sauce doesn’t contain any added wheat and is made with a higher volume of soybeans, which results in a rich, thicker texture. Tamari contains around 1 gram per one tablespoon (*), making it low carb and the most keto soy sauce.
- Sweet Soy Sauce – this sweet sauce is typically made with added palm sugar or molasses, resulting in a thicker consistency, sweeter taste, and can contain up to 15g of carbs per the same serving (*).
Things To Consider
While soy sauce can be a suitable addition to your ketogenic diet, we do not recommend ignoring the type of soy sauce or using unlimited amounts of it.
Here are some of the key things to consider if you’re incorporating soy sauce into your keto meals.
- Type – We recommend sticking to sugar-free light soy sauce keto, or tamari. While dark soy sauce can be acceptable in some cases, we would suggest you stay away from sweet soy sauce that comes with a lot of added sugar.
- Brand – Make sure you read the label since the ingredients and amount of carbs can differ between brands.
- Portion size – The recommended portion size of one tablespoon is your safest bet if you want to make sure your recipes stay keto-friendly.
- The whole recipe – Consider the carb content in your meal to make sure adding a condiment won’t push you over the line and kick you out of ketosis.
What Are Soy Sauce Benefits?
When it comes to condiments and dressings, soy dressing is one of the lowest-calorie choices available. Compared to other popular dressings like mayonnaise, which can contain up to 100 calories per tablespoon serving (*), soy dressing only contains 9 calories per serving.
Most of those calories come from protein, it contains very little fat and not many carbs.
Apart from being low in calories, soy sauce can also have a prebiotic effect on certain types of gut bacteria and increase stomach secretion. These benefits can promote gut health and digestion.
Dark soy sauce contains potent antioxidants which can have a positive effect on heart health and decrease blood pressure.
Why Limit Soy Sauce Consumption?
The benefits of soy sauce are far less known than the drawbacks of its consumption. The truth is that soy dressing is a heavily processed ingredient and can contain GMOs.
Soy dressing contains high levels of phytic acid which can limit mineral absorption. It has high levels of sodium, which is the most common reason soy sauce consumption can be frowned upon.
CDC recommends that adults eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day because of its links to heart disease and high blood pressure. (*)
But not all people need to limit their sodium intake. In fact, people who follow a keto diet often suffer from electrolyte imbalance (*), which can be the cause of the common ‘keto flu‘. This means that they lack sodium and potassium and could actually benefit from increasing their sodium intake.
And if you are in a high-risk group with increased blood pressure or other heart condition (*), you can select the soy dressing with low sodium.
Soy Sauce Alternatives:
If you’re trying to follow strict keto guidelines or avoiding GMOs, there are some low-carb alternative sauces that can substitute soy sauce in your keto recipes.
- Liquid aminos – made solely from soy protein, liquid aminos have a similar, lighter taste and contain 0g of net carbs per serving (*).
- Coconut aminos – this alternative is made of coconuts and therefore contains more carbs than most soy sauces, around 6 or 7 grams per tablespoon (*). Compare the coconut aminos brands since they all differ in the amount of added sugar.
- Fish sauce – typically used in Asian dishes alongside soy sauce, the fish sauce contains more sodium but only a small amount of added sugar, with around 1g of carbs per tablespoon serving (*).
- Mushroom powder – if you are not afraid to explore more unusual soy sauce alternatives, the mushroom powder can act as a healthier substitute for soy dressing and add umami flavor to your keto recipes.
- Homemade soy sauce keto – if you want to have full control over the ingredients, you can try to make your own soy dressing at home and use your preferred amount of sugar and soybeans.
Using Soy Sauce on Keto Diet
Using soy sauce for your recipes is a great way of adding flavor to your dishes while staying in ketosis.
Some of our favorite ways of adding soy sauce to your meals include:
- Pouring it over cauliflower rice
- As a dip for sashimi
- When cooking meat
- For marinade recipes
- For keto Asian-inspired dressings
- Pouring it over stir-fried veggies for a flavor boost
- Combining it with some crushed peanuts and chili for Thai-inspired dishes
According to the carb content, most soy sauces are keto-friendly. But if you’re following a strict keto diet that limits some of the foods like soy or wheat, soy sauce is not the cleanest food in terms of ingredients.
While most varieties of soy sauce are keto, we recommend sticking to light soy sauce keto-friendly or tamari. Light soy dressing typically contains less sodium and sugar and tamari is a healthy gluten-free soy sauce keto alternative.
When buying soy sauce, stay away from the sweet varieties and read the labels, since the ingredients and amount of sugar can vary between brands.
While soy sauce provides some benefits, it may contain gluten, GMOs, and be high in sodium. When looking for a healthier alternative to soy sauce keto, consider liquid aminos for your keto recipes.
We believe that eating a small amount of keto soy sauce can spice up your recipes and won’t ruin your healthy diet.