Tofu: Health Benefits, Nutrients, and Risks

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Overview

Tofu has become a beloved ingredient in many dishes, thanks to the rising trend of raw food diets and the growing popularity of veganism. You adore it, or you have yet to experience its true deliciousness. 

Tofu, the wobbly soybean creation, has been a staple for centuries. Tofu was mentioned in a Chinese text dating back to AD 950. Buddhist monks significantly introduced tofu to Japan and Korea, spreading its wonders far and wide.

Tofu

Tofu, also called soy curd, is created from soy milk curd. Tofu is derived from soy milk, separated into curds and whey, similar to cheese made from milk. Therefore, tofu can be considered as the curd of soy milk.

Most soybeans worldwide are cultivated in the United States, and a significant portion are genetically modified (GMO). GMO crops undergo genetic modifications to enhance their growth, resistance to pests, nutrient content, and ease of cultivation.

While further research is required to understand the long-term health effects of GMOs fully, some individuals express concerns about their impact on the environment and human health, especially those predisposed to allergies.

If you have concerns about GMOs, purchasing tofu labelled as organic and GMO-free is advisable.

Tofu nutrition

One 3-ounce slice of tofu has:

Calories 78 
Fat4 grams 
Fiber 0.8 grams 
Carbs 2 grams 
Protein 8.7 grams 
Sugars 0.3 grams 

Tofu stands out from other plant proteins due to its unique composition of all nine essential amino acids vital for the body’s functioning. 

A 3-ounce slice of tofu containing a substantial amount of protein effectively keeps you satiated for an extended period, making it an excellent choice for weight management.

In addition to its inherent calcium content, most tofu brands utilise calcium sulfate to bind the protein and oil in soymilk. This results in an added calcium boost, further enhancing the nutritional value of tofu.

Tofu is filled with minerals such as:

  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorous
  • Vitamin B

Health benefits of tofu

Improves cardiovascular health

Soy products and soybeans, such as tofu, are abundant in isoflavones. These plant-based flavonoids have effectively reduced blood pressure and provided other protective benefits for the heart.

According to a study, individuals who consumed a serving of tofu per week had an 18% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who did not.

Another study discovered that individuals who consumed soy products four or more times a week had a decreased risk of experiencing heart attacks. Tofu is a fantastic choice for individuals seeking a healthy heart diet.

Lowers risk of coronary heart disease

Plant estrogens have also shown potential in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. They have been found to enhance the functioning of the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels and the heart’s interior.

Cholesterol levels

Furthermore, as supported by research, consuming 10 ounces of tofu daily has been associated with a 5% decrease in LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.

Promotes muscle growth

Tofu is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids necessary for optimal bodily function. The body utilises amino acids derived from protein to repair tissues, transport nutrients, and facilitate muscle growth.

Reduces hot flashes

Japanese women have been found to experience fewer hot flashes compared to women from other cultures. Researchers were prompted to delve deeper into this observation, leading to further investigation. Studies have uncovered that the inclusion of estrogens in tofu and other soy-based foods can lessen the intensity of hot flashes in women experiencing menopause.

Enhances bone strength

Tofu is also a source of calcium and magnesium, which contribute to developing and maintaining strong bones. Consuming foods rich in magnesium and calcium can help prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis is a condition where women may experience loss of bone mass due to a decrease in estrogen levels after menopause. However, consuming tofu containing plant estrogens can help compensate for this decline. 

It is a good source of vitamin D and calcium, which are beneficial for maintaining bone health. Furthermore, magnesium is vital in promoting healthy nerve and muscle function.

Reduced risk of prostate cancer

Including tofu in your diet helps keep prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels low. This can result in slower cancer growth or even prevent its progression altogether.

Reduces the risk of cancer

In the past, there were concerns that soy foods could potentially increase the risk of cancer. Isoflavones weakly mimic estrogen, leading to uncertainties regarding the connection between soy and breast cancer. 

However, numerous studies have failed to establish a link over several decades. Some evidence suggests that individuals who consume more soy products, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, have a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer.

Additionally, participants who consumed half a serving or more of soy products daily had a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Studies suggest that consuming soy products may decrease the likelihood of developing lung and prostate cancer by up to 10%.

Presence of antinutrients

Tofu contains various antinutrients. These compounds are naturally present in plant foods and can hinder the absorption of nutrients from the food you consume.

There are two types of antinutrients found in tofu:

Phytates: These compounds can decrease the absorption of minerals like calcium, zinc, and iron.

Trypsin inhibitors: These compounds inhibit trypsin, an enzyme necessary for proper protein digestion. This can lead to indigestion, abdominal pain, and reduced absorption of certain minerals.

Antinutrients are generally not a cause for concern if you have a diverse and nutrient-rich diet. However, if you follow a diet that is low in nutrients or highly restricted, these compounds may make it more challenging to meet your nutritional needs.

Soiling or cooking soybeans is a beneficial method to reduce their antinutrient content. Sprouting soybeans before making tofu is another effective way. 

Fermentation is also a process that can lower antinutrient levels. As a result, fermented soy foods like miso, tempeh, tamari, and natto tend to have higher bioavailability of nutrients and are more easily absorbed by the body.

In certain cases, antinutrients may even offer some health benefits. For instance, phytates can act as a natural regulator of iron, protecting the body from excessive iron absorption from animal-based foods.

Aids in weight loss

Tofu is an excellent option for individuals seeking a low-calorie protein source in their weight loss regimen. Like beans and lentils, tofu is a plant-based protein; however, it contains fewer carbohydrates than these alternatives.

Furthermore, the weight loss benefits of tofu are supported by scientific research. A study revealed that consuming tofu daily resulted in a weight loss of 2.5 pounds over four years.

Although this is a minor change, incorporating just one food into a diet demonstrates the impact. Combined with a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables, tofu can contribute to even more significant weight loss.

The Best Way to Select and Store Tofu

Raw tofu can be found in the refrigerated section of your local grocery store. However, if you prefer convenience, pre-baked and seasoned options are also available. Let’s look at the various types of tofu you can choose from.

Silken tofu: Firstly, there’s silken tofu, which is incredibly smooth and soft. It works best when you need a creamy texture, such as desserts, smoothies, or dips. Silken tofu can come in either firm or extra-firm varieties.

Firm tofu: It is relatively soft. This tofu is an excellent substitute for scrambles, faux taco meat, and sandwiches like “egg salad” made with tofu.

Extra-firm regular tofu: If you’re looking for easy-to-cut cubes, strips, or slices, then extra-firm regular tofu is your best bet. It’s perfect for baking, adding to salads, or using in kebabs, stir-fries, and curries. You can even find it pre-cubed in packages, which makes food preparation even more convenient.

Prepared tofu: When you need to create a savoury dish quickly, prepared tofu is the way to go. You can choose the flavour and find it either prepackaged or in the grocery store’s deli/prepared foods section.

Refrigeration is essential when it comes to storing packaged tofu. Unopened packages can remain good for five to seven days after the “sell by” date indicated on the package. If you want to save tofu for a more extended period, you can freeze it for four to six months.

Always label the package with the date you froze it using a marker. Before freezing, drain any excess liquid and wrap the tofu in a freezer bag, foil, or sealed container. It should be discarded if your tofu smells, looks terrible, or has mould.

Interesting facts about tofu

1. Benjamin Franklin wrote about tofu in a 1770 letter from London to Philadelphia, including soybean samples. 

2. The term “tofu” comes from the Mandarin word “doufu,” meaning “curdled bean,” but it is a Japanese word with ties to Buddhism. 

3. The exact origin of tofu remains a mystery, with three main theories: 

  • Prince Liu An of the Han Dynasty created it.
  • It was inspired by Indian and Mongolian cheese-making.
  • It was accidentally made while seasoning soybean soup with seawater. These theories contribute to the fascinating history of tofu.

4. Tofu may need seasoning to more flavour, but this can be a drawback. However, those skilled in the kitchen understand that the lack of flavour in tofu makes it unique.

Adding some preparation and seasoning gives you the power to transform tofu into any taste you desire!

Side Effects and Health Risks of Tofu

It is advisable to steer clear of tofu if you are currently on medication known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) for mood disorders or Parkinson’s disease. This is because tofu contains tyramine, an amino acid that aids in regulating blood pressure.

MAOIs work by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for breaking down tyramine. When these two substances are combined, it can lead to a potentially dangerous increase in blood pressure.

While the plant-based soy found in tofu is generally safe, it is recommended to consult your doctor before consuming soy supplements. These supplements have higher levels of plant estrogens, which may cause complications.

To summarise

Tofu is a fantastic choice to enhance a balanced diet. It comes in various forms and textures, making it a flexible ingredient in stir-fries, smoothies, soups, sauces, and even desserts.

FAQs

Is the texture of tofu altered when it is cooked? 

If you are familiar with tofu cooking techniques, you may have observed that the texture changes. However, the extent of this change can vary depending on the specific cooking methods employed. The primary distinction between consuming raw and cooked tofu is that cooking causes a significant amount of moisture to evaporate from the tofu, resulting in a firmer and more chewy texture.


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The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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