What is Tofu?
Tofu is advertised almost as a super-food. In many vegetarian and vegan recipes it tends to replace chicken because of its high protein content. Some eat it as a condiment, others prefer to add it to their smoothies but most prefer to cook it. As with all foods advertised as ‘incredibly healthy’ there is debate on whether or not Tofu is actually good for you or if it even does all the things promised on the label. Here are some facts about Tofu in order to inform your decision and make sure that you lead the healthy lifestyle you seek.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is derived from soybeans, it is also known as bean curd for that precise reason. Its preparation is very similar to the way traditional cheese is made, soy milk is left to curdle by adding Nigari —which is what remains when subtracting salt from salty water— and leaving it to solidify into a solid block. It originated in China and is a very popular ingredient in Chinese and Thai food. It was originally called okabe and was popularized in the western world in the 1960’s when people began taking an interest in healthy eating.
The reason Tofu became popular is because of its extraordinary nutritional facts, its low carbohydrate count and high proteinic value made it into the perfect replacement for animal-derived food. Below are some nutritional facts.
For a 126 g serving size
Calories from fat: 44
Total fat: 5g, making up 8% of your recommended daily value.
Sodium: 15mg, making up 1% of your recommended daily value.
Carbohydrates: 2g, making up 2% of your recommended daily value.
Just from the above information it is easy to see why Tofu gained such popularity as a healthy food. It provides a lot of protein without the calories usually associated with it and its carbohydrate count is surprisingly low.
Tofu also contains a variety of minerals important to have a balanced diet.
For a 126g serving size
Calcium: 253 mg, making up 25% of your daily recommended value.
Iron: 2.0mg, making up 11% of your daily recommended value.
Magnesium: 46.6mg, making up 12% of your recommended daily value.
Phosphorus: 152 mg, making up 15% of your recommended daily value.
Potassium: 186 mg, making up 5% of your recommended daily value.
Sodium: 15.1mg, making up 1% of your recommended daily value.
Zinc: 1.0mg, making up 7% of your recommended daily value.
Manganese: 0.8mg, making up 39% of your recommended daily value.
Selenium: 12.5mg, making up18% of your recommended daily value.
Calcium and Potassium are the most important minerals in a well-balanced diet and as you can see from the above information, the amount of Tofu contains is quite high and makes up a significant portion of the recommended daily consumption for these minerals.
Despite containing a high number of nutrients, Tofu also contains several anti nutrients which are compounds generally found in plant-foods that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients such as proteins, minerals and some vitamins. While these anti-nutrients are not generally harmful, they do diminish the overall nutritional value of Tofu. These are the anti nutrients contained in Tofu.
- Trypsin inhibitors: As its name indicates, these inhibitors block trypsin which is fundamental for the digestion and subsequent absorption of protein.
- Phytates: These inhibit the enzymes needed to digest and absorb important minerals in your diet such as zinc, calcium and iron.
- Lectins: Despite being proteins, lectins do not add anything to the nutritional value of tofu and in fact, they can cause nausea if eaten uncooked or to excess.
It is important to know which anti-nutrients our food contains in order for us to know if it’s possible to reduce their quantities. In the case of Tofu it is possible to reduce the amount of anti-nutrients but it is all in the preparation of it so make sure that your Tofu is the best quality so that you can reap the benefits of this amazingly nutritious food.
Health Benefits of Tofu
Besides being high in nutritional components, Tofu has been proven to reduce certain health-risks and manage certain conditions. Here are some of the most amazing health benefits of eating Tofu:
Like all soy based foods, Tofu contains a certain amount of Isoflavones which are natural compounds that can attach themselves to oestrogen receptors and activate them. When oestrogen receptors are activated the effect on the body is very similar to when the hormone oestrogen is naturally produced, though it cannot be felt in full effect.
Although this may sound a little worrying, especially if you are a man, the oestrogenic effects of Isoflavones contained in Tofu are quite mild; however, Tofu consumption can help women manage the worst symptoms of menopause as they mirror the effects of oestrogen. Natural Isoflavones have also been linked to lowering the risk of postmenopausal cancer and although several studies have been conducted, scientists have been unable to prove any adverse effects.
Tofu can contain as little as 20.2mg and as much as 24.7mg of Isoflavones per 100g.
Not only are Isoflavones beneficial to women but also, recent studies show that soy-derived Isoflavones can have benefits on sugar control, which can reduce the risk of diabetes and help manage the condition. It has been shown to reduce sugar levels in the blood by 15% and insulin levels by 23%, which is hugely beneficial if you suffer from diabetes, it also helps that the sugar count of Tofu is actually quite low.
Natural Isoflavones have also been linked to lower heart-disease rates. Eating Tofu can improve circulation because they can help make blood vessels more elastic and reduce inflammation, this can also reduce the risk of having a stroke. Soy-derived proteins have been generally linked to heart health because, besides containing Isoflavones, they also contain Saponins which help manage blood cholesterol and dispose of bile acids.
Now that we know the beneficial effects Tofu can have on your health, Now we are going to analyze the detrimental effects of Tofu. Despite claims by Tofu manufacturers of lack of risks, Tofu may be harmful if you suffer from certain conditions. Though soy foods are generally considered to be safe, here are some things to watch out for.
Tofu contains oxalates which are generally safe and many foods contain it, even Vitamin C can be converted to oxalate when it is metabolized. Oxalates are considered an anti-nutrient because they bind to minerals in the gut and prevent them from being absorbed, because of this, oxalates have been linked to kidney stones. 80% of kidney stones are made up of Calcium Oxalate, given the high calcium count of Tofu this means that excessive consumption may lead to kidney stones —though you would have to eat an awful lot to create a problematic kidney stone— and worsen the condition of kidney-stone, sufferers. In general, if you suffer from kidney stones you may want to avoid over-consuming soy products.
The beneficial Isoflavones we talked about before can also pose a risk to certain people. Even though, as stated, the hormonal effects of Tofu are quite weak women suffering from oestrogen-sensitive breast tumours should definitely limit their soy consumption. Doctors recommend that women suffering from this condition should reduce their intake and keep it at no more than four servings a week.
Eating Tofu is generally safe but in excess it may pose a risk to your health, this is no different from any other food so remember to always keep your consumption healthy.
As with all healthy foods, as soon as a product gains popularity many myths about them emerge. Usually these myths involve an increased risk of developing cancer. These are some of the Tofu-related myths and why they are not true.
- Genetic modification
Soybeans can be genetically modified to withstand pesticides and herbicides in order to make their production easier. The concern is that the products made with genetically modified soy beans can cause disease. Although this is a valid concern, especially in the US where 90% of their soy is genetically modified, there are no studies linking genetically modified soy to increased cancer risks as it is claimed by many anti-tofu websites and articles, in fact some studies that seemed to point towards an increased cancer risk has been debunked.
- Breast Cancer
Although Tofu contains a certain amount of Isoflavones which can cause problems to women suffering from oestrogen-sensitive breast tumours, there are no studies linking Isoflavones to the development of cancer in healthy women, or indeed in women with oestrogen-sensitive tumours developing cancer —remember that having a tumor does doesn’t mean having a cancer.
- It is fattening
Tofu in itself is not fattening, in fact given its low fat count you would have to eat a lot of it to gain weight. As with all foods the manner in which Tofu is cooked may make it fattening so if you deep-fry your tofu then there is a chance that you will gain weight from eating it. In general, replacing certain foods with Tofu can lower their caloric value, Tofu is very versatile due to being nearly flavourless which means that you can use it for a main-course, as a salad dressing, for desserts and even add it to your morning smoothie.
Tofu is a very healthy alternative to eating certain food-stuffs, its versatility makes it easy to add to your daily diet without modifying the flavour. Due to its high protein count it can be used to replace meat and other animal products if you wish to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet, just remember to consult with your nutritionist.
Although there are some health concerns associated with eating Tofu, the general consensus is that you would have to eat a lot of it for it to pose a risk to your health, if you have a balanced diet, you will reap nothing but benefits from eating Tofu. There are many benefits of adding Tofu to your diet, it can reduce the risk of suffering certain conditions and help manage others.
A recommendation when selecting Tofu: remember that making it is quite simple so when buying Tofu make sure to select the package with a small ingredient label so that you can be sure that there are no potentially harmful compounds added to it and you can reap the benefits of eating it.