Expert Opinions

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Are some soy sauces healthier than others?

N. S. Tel Aviv, Israel
Yes, some soy sauces are healthier than others, depending upon the specific health benefits that you are seeking. Keep in mind, though, that generally speaking, soy sauce does not confer the same health benefits found in other soy products. Although soy sauce does contain small amounts of nutrients--including some protein, folate (folic acid), niacin, and magnesium--it is not nearly as nutritionally charged as other soy foods. For example, soy sauce has almost no isoflavones, which are potentially beneficial phytoestrogens found in other soy products. The nutritional value of each type of soy sauce will vary slightly in accordance to processing and ingredients added.

Shoyu and tamari are the two most prevalent and traditional types of soy sauce available. Shoyu is made from soybeans, water, wheat, and sea salt and is generally aged for about 2 to 3 years. The amount of wheat in shoyu is so small that the health benefits are negligible. If, however, you have a wheat allergy, check the labels carefully as there are non-wheat varieties of shoyu on the market.

Tamari is made from soybeans, water, and sea salt and has a stronger flavor than shoyu. If you are interested in deriving protein from soy sauce, then select tamari, which has about twice the protein (due to a higher concentration of soybeans). Note, however, that there are some brands of tamari that include wheat in the brewing. So, again, if you have a wheat sensitivity, be sure to read labels carefully.

If you are looking to reduce your sodium intake, there are also reduced-sodium and low-sodium soy sauces available. Read the label to be sure it is indeed lower in sodium, since there is also something called "light" soy sauce, which is not a name that indicates its sodium content or flavor. Instead, light soy sauce is a type of Chinese soy sauce that is actually higher in sodium than regular soy.

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