Is fish sauce bad for you? (3 negative effects)

In this article, we will find whether fish sauce is bad for you. We will talk about both the nutritional benefits of fish sauce and its negative effects on our health.

Is fish sauce bad for you?

Fish sauce is not bad for you, but like any other product or sauce consumed in excess, it could affect your digestive system. Let’s talk about the benefits and negative effects of fish sauce to form a more definite conclusion.

Fish Sauce or Nam Pla is the Thai version of a sauce made in different countries of Southeast Asia; for example, Vietnamese fish sauce is known as Nuoc Nam. These dressings follow the line of one of the oldest sauces made from fermented fish, garum.

Fish sauce or Nam Pla is also known as the essence of anchovies (since it is the fish with which it is mainly made in Thailand); one of its main properties is to salt the culinary preparations in which it is incorporated, something similar to the use of soy sauce.

In fact, in some Asian kitchens, they prefer fish sauce in the absence of good soybean crops to make their sauce. Both sauces also provide the so-called fifth flavor, umami.

This sauce type is obtained from some fish species, mollusks, and shellfish, both raw and dried; a paste is made with them and mixed with salt, approximately between 10 and 30% of it. The fish sauce requires around 24 months of fermentation, but before, approximately in a month, this preparation produces a fish paste used in cooking.

What are the benefits of fish sauce? 

Following are some of the most important benefits of fish sauce:

  • Strong source of Omega 3 fatty acids 
  • Good Iron supplement
  • Good natural vitamin supplement
  • Contains important Amino Acids
  • Helps to maintain body temperature (provides warmth)

Nutritional benefits of fish sauce 

These products have a high concentration of nucleic acids, free amino acids, and peptides responsible for the various aromas and some nutritional benefits.

In addition to these components, it has been appreciated that one of the elements of greatest interest is its high concentration of natural antioxidants. The oxidation of lipids is one of the biggest concerns in the food and health sector. For the first, by inducing the development of bad smells and unpleasant tastes, the toxic products that the oxidation reactions accumulate for the second.

Antioxidants are used to facilitate the preservation of food, delaying discoloration, and alteration. Therefore, antioxidants are increasingly used as additives that allow, together with other substances, to increase the shelf life of fatty foods. However, these synthetic antioxidants are added under specific regulations that prevent massive and uncontrolled use.

However, if foods rich in natural antioxidants are used as ingredients in many dishes, similar effects could be obtained, depending on the concentration of active molecules during commercial life.

In the fish sauce, and especially in those made from mussels, an antioxidant peptide has been detected with a great capacity to achieve the conservation of quality fat.

Antioxidant capacity –  To determine this type of product’s antioxidant capacity, different techniques have been tested. Among them, the detection of the alteration of polyunsaturated fatty acids is especially interesting. The main problem with fat is that the more unsaturated, the more unstable it is, facilitating the loss of nutritional power if oxidation is allowed.

Curiously, the mussel sauce shows a high protective capacity, although this is dependent on the maturation time. The maximum antioxidant activity is appreciated when the maturation time is six months. Under these conditions, the mussel sauce shows an antioxidant activity estimated at 54.1%.

Among the different substances involved in the antioxidant effect, histidine and tryptophan have shown a specific activity, especially abundant amino acids in this product after the first six months of maturation.

However, and despite some amino acids’ activity, it seems that the most important action is not due to the isolated act of these nutrients, but to the presence of some peptides. 

The most interesting peptide is the one composed of a specific amino acid sequence: Phenylalanine – glycine – histidine – proline – tyrosine. This peptide has shown high antioxidant efficacy due to its ability to neutralize the cascade effect on lipid oxidation, which triggers free radicals.

Free radicals are very unstable and quickly react with other groups or substances. This is especially dangerous in the human body since free radicals produced in food and ingested with them can induce these changes in our cells related to numerous diseases, cardiovascular disease, and some tumors. 

Therefore, if it is possible to prevent their formation or if they are inactivated immediately, one of the most exciting tools can be achieved in the presence of degenerative diseases related to aging.

Other FAQs about Sauces which you may be interested in.

Is soy sauce vegan?

How do you neutralize fish sauce?

Does sauce thicken with the lid on or off?

Negative effects  of fish sauce

As has been pointed out, these types of sauces are very rich in histidine, an amino acid that may have a specific antioxidant capacity, but which is used by multiple microorganisms to form histamine, a substance with the ability to trigger outbreaks of food poisoning if it accumulates in the foods.

The formation is due to the action of microorganisms, this being a non-sterilized product.

If we also consider that the maturation period is six months or longer, it would be possible that various concentrations of histamine accumulate. To prevent this, it is necessary to keep it under refrigeration conditions and, as far as possible, to ensure its sterilization by preserving it.

Another problem to consider is the high concentration of salt. With levels above 20%, they imply that a high consumption would not be compatible with a healthy diet, which would mean reviewing its composition or consuming it.

The bottom line

Fish sauce is bad for you if you consume it in high quantities. Why? Because it is very rich in histidine and salt, which is not precisely recommendable for a healthy diet. 

On the other hand, consumed with regularly, fish sauce offers an incredible taste to our dish and provides us with a high concentration of nucleic acids, free amino acids, and peptides, all of which are responsible for the various aromas and some nutritional benefits.

If you have any comments or questions on the content, please let us know!


Won-Kyo J., Niranjan R. y Se-Kwon K. 2005. Antioxidative activity of a low molecular weight peptide derived from the sauce of fermented blue mussel, Mytilus edulis. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 220:535-539

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.