Sunday, December 5

Soy sauce, health benefits and risks


The soy sauce It is one of the most important “additions” to the Spanish diet in recent decades. This product came mainly from the hand of sushi and other Japanese foods, and little by little it has made its way into different dishes and recipes.

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Its origin dates back to the China of more than 2,000 years ago. It was brought to Japan in the 13th century and in recent times it spread in the West, at the same time that soybeans in other forms were also beginning to be valued as food for humans.

It is often talked about the benefits but also the possible risks and damages for health, both for soy in general and soy sauce in particular. What is true in here? Does the consumption of soy sauce involve health problems?

Types of soy sauces

First of all, it is convenient to do a little review of the conformation and the different types of soy sauces that exist. The traditional ingredients of soy sauce are four: soybeans, wheat, water and salt.

To make it, the first step consists of the fermentation of soybeans and toasted and broken wheat. After a few days you have to add the water and salt, and then the mixture is left to rest (although it is necessary to stir it every certain periods) for a period of between a year and a year and a half.

The result of this process is a paste that is then deposited in cloth bags, which are pressed to extract the liquid. This liquid is then heated to remove the foam and thereby “purify it.” The result is soy sauce.

This is a long and consequently expensive process. As a result, the industry has found ways to make soy sauce more expeditiously, allowing it to be marketed at lower prices. This is one of the main reasons for the price diversity of the sauces offered in stores and supermarkets.

The fact is that industrial soy sauce includes, of course, various ingredients that are not part of the traditional recipe. They are an ultra-processed product, which contains substances such as hydrolyzed flours, colors, sweeteners, malt extract or sodium glutamate.

And they also include very high amounts of salt, and therefore also sodium. At this point lies one of the main risks derived from the consumption of these industrially produced soy sauces.

Excess salt and sodium, a real problem

On average, soy sauces marketed in Spain include 5.72 grams of sodium for every one hundred grams of product. This is stated by the Spanish Food Composition Database (BEDCA) of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition.

A tablespoon of soy sauce represents about 15 grams, which is equivalent to about 0.85 grams of sodium. The recommendation of the World Health Organization and other organisms is not to consume more than 2 grams of sodium per day. Therefore, just one tablespoon of soy sauce equals more than 40% of that suggested maximum consumption.

It is due to the intake of products such as industrial soy sauce that most of the Spanish population, only through the “hidden salt” in food, exceeds recommended limits. If you add the salt added in food preparation or at the table (which represents only 25–30% of the salt consumed), that excess is even greater.

From these data, it is important avoid excessive consumption of soy sauce. Especially the lowest quality products, which generally coincide, as usual, with the cheapest. In any case, it is advisable to read the labeling carefully.

Can Soy Sauce Increase Cancer Risk?

One of the supposed risks –and the ones that has been talked about the most– of the consumption of soy refers to the supposed increase in the probabilities of suffering breast cancer, in the case of women, and prostate cancer, in that of men.

However, the American Cancer Society (SEC) has pointed out that this belief lacks scientific evidence. He points out that some misunderstandings stem from the fact that, in certain studies, rodents exposed to high doses of isoflavones – a component of soybeans – did show a greater tendency to develop cancer.

Human studies offer different results. Apparently, the body points out, people process isoflavones differently than rodents. And also, in the tests with these animals, the quantities supplied were very high.

Recent studies confirm these assumptions. The conclusions of a job published less than a year ago by Japanese scientists state that “fermented soy foods were not associated with breast cancer in general”, and “may be associated with a lower risk of non-localized breast cancer ”.

A investigation earlier had also found a lower risk of breast cancer in women who consumed soy and isoflavones moderately, and suggested that these products may have a “protective effect“against that disease. And it could also protect from the risk of recidivism to women who have already gone through that evil.

In fact another study – Carried out by scientists in China and published in 2013 – emphasizes that the growing trend in breast cancer cases in that country could be due to the fact that, in recent years, traditional dietary styles have given way to more “westernized” eating habits.

What are the benefits of soy sauce?

Based on data like these, the SEC assures that “the evidence does not indicate that there is any danger to people resulting from eating soy, and health benefits seem to outweigh any potential risks”.

What are those benefits? Isoflavones are essential phytonutrients and they work as powerful natural antioxidants, which among other effects delay the aging of cellular tissue.

But in addition, soy -and specifically the sauce- is a source of vegetable protein of high biological value, its contribution of fats and calories is very low, contains calcium and some studies have shown that it contributes to the reduction of LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad cholesterol.”

Furthermore: the microorganisms included in soy sauce, as it is a fermented product, protect and enrich the intestinal flora. And all this adds, of course, to the possibility of enjoying a delicious sauce, which enhances the flavors of other foods.

Therefore, as long as it is in a moderate quantity and, if possible, of a quality product, soy sauce is a positive contribution to those dishes with which it can be combined.

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