By Nikki Nies, MS,RD,LD, Contributing Blogger
If you’re scared of soy or don’t know what to do with tofu, then you may be surprised to learn that a recent survey found that 45% of consumers actively seek out products that contain soy. Tofu is no longer just for Asian or ethnic cuisine. Personally, tofu has helped me embrace the flexitarian lifestyle of eating more plants and has made #MeatlessMondays a consistent occurrence in my home.What's the bottom line on #tofu? Everything you ever wanted to know about this plant-based #protein. Click To Tweet
As a complete protein (aka one that contains all the essential amino acids), soy is a versatile meat alternative that can be used in more than just stir fries. This soft, cheese-like food is created by curdling hot soymilk with a coagulant (e.g. calcium chloride, calcium sulfate or GDL). The amount of water and natural coagulants used dictates the texture. The coagulated milk can be consumed as is, otherwise known as silken tofu, or the curds can be formed and drained to be pressed into blocks. Either way, tofu absorbs the taste of marinades, so it can be quite sweet, savory or spicy.
The type of tofu determines what to do with it. Here are some examples:
It can be helpful to drain and press tofu (read about the method here) that’s packed in water and place in the freezer overnight to remove any excess water. When cut into ¼ inch thick slices or cubes, it can be placed in the freezer for at least 48 hours to provide a chicken like or fish filet texture.
What makes tofu good for you?
In general, the firmer the tofu, the more calories, protein and fat. Protein content can range from 4 grams in 3 ounces of soft silken tofu to 10 grams in the same quantity of extra firm. That being said, tofu is a fantastic source of protein and low in calories, in any variety. Additionally, tofu is a great non-dairy source of calcium, and some brands are fortified with vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Here are some additional benefits of eating tofu:
- Heart health. Tofu can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lower overall intake of saturated fat and cholesterol
- Omega 3’s. Tofu is the only legume that provides substantial amounts
- Fiber. Tofu contains both insoluble and soluble fiber
- Good source of isoflavones: a subclass of flavonoids that binds to estrogen receptors. Tofu is the only dietary source of this type of phytoestrogen, which is helpful
- Contains all essential 9 amino acids, making it a complete protein comparable to meat
Should you be scared of eating too much tofu?
Some are apprehensive about adding soy to their diet due to the supposed links to breast cancer. According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, however, there has been no significant evidence confirming these assumptions. In actuality, studies show eating soy can aid in weight control, which can actually decrease breast cancer risk.
The American Institute for Cancer Research and American Cancer Society have detailed studies on the concerns surrounding soy and breast cancer. In fact, eating soyfoods earlier in life may help explain why Asian women have a lower rates of breast cancer than Western women as early intake may promote healthy breast tissue development.
How to use tofu in cooking
Most packages of tofu can produce ~1.5 cups of pureed tofu, which is a great substitute for sour cream, cream, yogurt or eggs. The sour cream and yogurt have a 1:1 ratio conversion while 5 tablespoons of pureed tofu is equivalent to one egg. I love pureeing tofu to make my own chocolate mousse.
Whether it’s baked, grilled, pureed or eaten as is, tofu can be a great addition to any meal. What’s your favorite way to use this ubiquitous plant based protein? If you’re up for broadening your soy intake have you tried miso, edamame and tempeh ? Share with us @NutritionalaNat and @simpleeatsRD.
Nikki is a Dallas based rehab/skilled nursing facility dietitian, providing telehealth counseling to EduPlated clients and is the current Texas Academy Northeast Region Director. Connect with her on Twitter @simpleeatsRD and at email@example.com.