We work so hard, so why shouldn’t we get to indulge a little? Coffee, wine, sweets, or salty snacks, we all deserve to enjoy our favorite things. However, all of these should be enjoyed in moderation to protect our health—for example, the salty deliciousness of soy sauce. Health experts warn that too much can become lethal, and there are several cases to prove it.
Origins of the Salty Goodness
Soy sauce has been around for generations, originating in China. It was created because salt was both scarce and expensive. The people of Ancient China found they could prolong the life of salt by adding soybeans and fish. Next, allow the mixture to ferment. The tasty condiment was introduced to Japan sometime between 250 AD and 710 AD. Now more than 2,000 years later, it’s a common household condiment in more than 100 countries worldwide.
While soy sauce has a long-standing and intricate history, it’s inarguably salty. In fact, there’s nearly 1 gram of salt per 1 tablespoon serving. Generally speaking, most people can safely tolerate small to moderate amounts of soy sauce, but too much of anything can have deadly effects.
Soy Sauce can be Lethal
In 2013, a 19-year-old male ingested a quart (approx 1L) of soy sauce, an absurd amount. Unsurprisingly, he was rushed to the hospital, and went into a coma. Fortunately, he was treated quickly, and within three very difficult days, he pulled through. Dr. David J Carlberg explained of the man, “He didn’t respond to any of the stimuli that we gave him. He had some clonus, which is just elevated reflexes. Basically, the nervous system wasn’t working very well.” It turns out that the young man was suffering from hypernatremia. This condition can cause fluid buildup in places like the lungs and abnormal bleeding in the brain.
Another example was a woman who unfortunately didn’t survive. Although she consumed less soy sauce than the man from 2013, she was unable to fight the negative effects of so much sodium. She died from a pulmonary oedema and also suffered from severe brain damage.
For a person weighing around 150 pounds, 7 or more tablespoons of soy sauce become lethal. Fortunately, for an average healthy American, it would be difficult to overdo it. Likely, the intense saltiness will become too unpleasant long before hitting a lethal amount of sodium intake.
Soy Sauce Alternatives
So, if soy sauce and other high-sodium products can be so unhealthy, why do we still eat them? The answer, aside from deliciousness, is simple: our bodies require a small amount of sodium (and chloride) to function every day. So, if you’re looking to reduce your sodium intake, but are still looking for something as flavourful as soy sauce, check these out:
- Tamari. Made with a higher concentration of soybeans, this Japanese version of soy sauce is lower in sodium.
- Worcestershire sauce. Definity not a vegan or vegetarian option but lower in sodium.
- Miso. It’s also made from fermented soybeans and salt but has a lower sodium content per serving.
- Umeboshi Vinegar, a fermented plum vinegar popular in Japan
- Coconut Aminos, a lower sodium, and vegan option!
- Marmite or Vegemite. The latter may not be available in the US. However, marmite a salty-flavored yeast extract, can be found in most local supermarkets or health food stores.
- Nutritional Yeast is not only a lower sodium option but also has high amounts of vitamins like Vitamin B12.
- Tomato paste will add a flavorful and acidic layer to a dish that may taste like something’s missing.
- Dashi is a seaweed-based soup broth, commonly found in Japanese cuisine.
- Good old-fashioned salt. Although it’s essentially pure sodium, it’s easier to control the portion size of powdered or rock salt, than liquid form soy sauce.
While the above are great substitutes for soy sauce, I think we all know what the overarching message is. Don’t consume an extreme amount of soy sauce, it’s dangerous! If you’re a generally healthy person that doesn’t need to reduce their sodium intake, stick to normal amounts and you’ll be fine.
Keep Reading: Benefits of Lemon Water: What’s Myth and What’s Fact?
- “The story and science of soy sauce: Fermentation.” Science Meets Food. Retrieved April 19, 2023.
- “19 best soy sauce substitutes to use instead.” Tasting Table. Chloe Nannestad. January 14, 2022.
- “Surprising amount of soy sauce can actually kill you.” LAD Bible. Tom Wood. April 13, 2023.