Is Soy Sauce Bad For Acid Reflux? 5 Better Substitutes

Acid reflux triggers are different for everyone. For some people, soy sauce may be OK, but it causes stomach problems for others. This article explains why is soy sauce bad for acid reflux and includes tips for reducing the acidity level of soy sauce and lists five good substitutes for soy sauce if it gives you acid reflux symptoms.

Two Types of Soy Sauce

Traditional soy sauce is made from soya beans, wheat, salt, and a fermenting agent. It can take up to six months to produce. Due to the fermentation process, it contains probiotics which are good for gut health and known to help reduce symptoms of acid reflux.

Soy sauce can also be made using hydrochloric acid to hydrolyze soy protein. Chemically made soy sauce takes two days to make, is cheaper to buy, has a bitter taste, and is considered inferior compared to traditional soy sauce. This version is usually found in small packets given away with fast food and cheaper soy sauce varieties found in supermarkets.

How to Know if You’re Buying Fermented Soy Sauce

The best way to tell if you’re buying fermented soy sauce is to check the ingredients list. Traditional soy sauce will only include soya beans, wheat, salt, and a fermenting agent in the ingredients list.

Sometimes fermented soy sauce will include the words “aged” or “brewed” on the bottle.

Is Soy Sauce Bad for Acid Reflux?

Due to its high sodium content, soy sauce may aggravate acid reflux symptoms. Acid reflux has different causes for different people, so soy sauce will not give everyone acid reflux. Salty foods don’t trigger acid reflux in people with a healthy digestive system (2).

If you have mild acid reflux and consume small amounts of soy sauce in otherwise healthy meals, soy sauce may not give you symptoms of acid reflux.

However, it’s probably best to avoid eating soy sauce regularly. Not only to keep acid reflux at bay but to also keep your sodium intake down.

One way to tell if soy sauce triggers your acid reflux symptoms is to keep a food diary, recording everything you eat and drink. A food diary can help identify which foods are causing your stomach problems.

why is soy sauce bad for acid reflux

What is Acid Reflux?

When you eat, food moves down your esophagus (food pipe), past a one-way valve called your lower esophageal sphincter, and into your stomach. The food mixes with stomach acid and digestive enzymes.

In a healthy body, stomach contents usually don’t reflux back into your esophagus. However, if you’re prone to acid reflux symptoms, your lower esophageal sphincter could be loose. This allows stomach acid to backflow into your esophagus, causing heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest.

Acid Reflux & GERD Symptoms

  • burning sensation in your chest
  • chest pain
  • stomach problems
  • sore throat
  • bitter taste in your mouth
  • gut inflammation
  • irritable bowel syndrome

If acid reflux is left untreated, it may develop into gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a severe medical condition.

Acid Reflux & GERD Trigger Foods

Eating large meals and eating certain foods are common causes of acid reflux:

  • spicy foods
  • fatty foods, including fast food such as french fries, burgers, and pizza
  • acidic foods, including tomato sauce, orange juice, and other citrus fruits or juices
  • salty foods
  • dairy products
  • too much caffeine
  • alcohol
  • smoking

Why is Soy Sauce Bad for Acid Reflux?

Salty food, such as soy sauce, makes your lower esophageal sphincter relax, increasing the likelihood of stomach acid refluxing into your esophagus (food pipe).

Is Soy Sauce Acidic?

The pH scale, ranging from 1 to 14, measures how acidic or alkaline a substance is.

  • 1 is the most acidic
  • 7 is neutral, neither acidic nor alkaline
  • 14 is the most alkaline or basic.

Soy sauce is mildly acidic. Soy sauce has a pH value of approximately 4.5 – 5.5. Kikkoman soy sauce has a pH level of 4.8 (1). The pH level varies depending on the different soy sauce brands’ ingredients and production methods.

Some alcohols and sugar are produced during fermentation which reacts to produce acids, such as lactic acid, which gives soy sauce its mildly tart taste. In addition to lactic acid, more than ten other organic acids are in soy sauce, including glutamic acid, which aids brain function.

5 Ways to Reduce the Acidity of Soy Sauce

Here are some good ideas for reducing the acidity of recipes that contain soy sauce:

  1. Use less soy sauce.
  2. Try low-salt versions of soy sauce.
  3. Use lots of alkaline foods to balance out the acidity of soy sauce like brown rice, wild rice, leafy greens, and lean proteins.
  4. Use small amounts of baking soda to neutralize the acid in soy sauce when cooking. Taste often so that you still have the flavor of soy sauce, and the baking soda isn’t overpowering.
  5. Add soy sauce at the end of cooking so the liquid doesn’t evaporate, leaving a concentrated, more acidic sauce.

5 Soy Sauce Substitutes For An Acid Reflux Diet

Remember that acid reflux triggers differ from person to person. If soy sauce doesn’t give you acid reflux symptoms, there is no need to avoid soy sauce unless you particularly want to try the alternatives.

1. Tamari Soy Sauce

Tamari is commonly a substitute for traditional soy sauce in stir-fries, dressings, and sauces. It is made from similar ingredients to regular soy sauce but is usually gluten-free, which is good if wheat triggers your acid reflux symptoms. Compared to soy sauce, tamari has more protein (amino acids) and antioxidants, has a smoother taste and is less likely to have additives and preservatives.

2. Coconut Aminos

Coconut aminos is a soy-free soy sauce substitute made from coconut tree sap and salt, popular within the paleo community and for people with soy food allergies. The flavor is similar to soy sauce but not as strong. Coconut aminos contain less salt than traditional soy sauce.

3. Liquid Aminos

Liquid aminos are concentrated amino acids derived from soya beans. Amino acids are proteins your body needs to function correctly. Liquid aminos have a similar taste to soy sauce but contain less sodium, making it another suitable choice if prone to acid reflux symptoms.

4. Miso Paste Mixed With Water

Miso paste is made from fermented soya beans. Research has found three amino acids in miso paste promote gastric emptying. Another study of more than 9,000 people found that high consumption of miso soup made from miso paste was associated with a reduction in GERD symptoms (3).

Miso paste has a slightly sweet, salty taste like soy sauce but also has an earthy flavor.

5. Anchovy Paste

Anchovies are small fish and, when crushed into a paste, has the same salty, umami flavor of soy sauce but won’t offer the same color. Oily fish, such as anchovies, contain healthy omega-3s, and they have a pH level close to neutral, making them suitable for a GERD-friendly diet.

Soy Sauce Substitutes for Acid Reflux Diet
Soy sauce triggers acid reflux symptoms in some people.

FAQS: Is Soy Sauce Bad For Acid Reflux?

Is Soy Sauce Acidic or Basic?

Soy sauce is mildly acidic. It has a pH value of 4.5 to 5.5, which varies between brands depending on the ingredients and how it is made.

Is Dark Soy Sauce Acidic?

Dark soy sauce is acidic. Chinese dark soy sauce is thicker and sweeter than normal soy sauce. In dark soy sauce, the additional sugar makes the sauce more acidic. Japanese dark soy sauce has a stronger, saltier flavor. And while the higher sodium content doesn’t make the sauce more acidic, the extra salt may make you more susceptible to acid reflux as salt is a well-known trigger food.

Does Soy Sauce Contain Amino Acids?

Soy sauce contains small amounts of essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are the ones your body can’t make, so you need to consume these in the food you eat. Whereas those your body can produce itself are non-essential amino acids.

You can make soy sauce by fermenting or chemical means, but only fermented soy sauce contains amino acids.  Click here for a list of amino acids found in soy sauce and their percentage of recommended daily intake.

Is Soy Sauce an Acidic Marinade?

Soy sauce is an acidic marinade.  Soy sauce has a pH level of approximately 4.5 to 5.5, depending on the ingredients and processing method used to make soy sauce. If there are other ingredients in the marinade, this will also affect the pH level.

Is Soy Sauce Healthy?

In smaller amounts, soy sauce is healthy.  Too much soy sauce may contribute to high blood pressure.  Naturally fermented soy sauce contains probiotics that can improve gut health and contribute to a healthy digestive system, proven to reduce acid reflux symptoms (4). Fermented soy sauce may also help treat neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases (5).

What are the Potential Health Issues of Eating Too Much Soy Sauce?

Due to the high sodium content of soy sauce, you may develop high blood pressure if you eat too much.  Salty foods are a common acid reflux trigger food, so they should be consumed in smaller amounts if you are prone to stomach problems.

A naturally occurring chemical in soy sauce is histamine, which aids many vital functions in maintaining a healthy body.  One of which is to stimulate stomach acid production.  Too much histamine may contribute to symptoms of acid reflux, bloating, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness.

Soy sauce contains MSG (monosodium glutamate), a natural flavor enhancer.  It may cause sweating, itching, headaches, numbness, and nausea in some people. Additional MSG may be chemically added to further enhance flavor.

Naturally brewed soy sauce is healthier than the chemically brewed version, which contains a toxic substance, 3-MCPD.  Over the years, there have been product recalls of soy sauce because the amount of 3-MCPD has exceeded safe limits; however, this problem is now controlled in developed countries through food safety testing. 

Also, naturally brewed soy sauce contains probiotics that promote a healthy digestive system, which in turn, helps minimize acid reflux symptoms.

What Can I Eat on an Acid Reflux Diet?

The best foods for an acid reflux diet are healthy foods that are alkaline in nature.  For example:

  • fiber-rich foods such as brown rice
  • vegetables
  • non-citrus fruits
  • lean proteins
  • small amounts of healthy fats
  • herbal teas that soothe acid reflux symptoms, such as chamomile, ginger tea, and slippery elm.

Avoid fast food, spicy foods, high-fat foods, acidic foods, and salty foods.

LEARN MORE: Best Foods for Acidity And Quick Reflux Relief

Summary: Is Soy Sauce Bad For Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux triggers are different for everyone. Salty foods such as soy sauce are common triggers. For people with mild acid reflux or GERD symptoms, consuming smaller amounts of soy sauce occasionally should be OK.

Traditional soy sauce is the best choice due to its fermenting process which promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria, reducing acid reflux and GERD symptoms.

If soy sauce gives you acid reflux, you may like to try substituting tamari soy sauce, liquid aminos, coconut aminos, or a little miso paste mixed with water.