This post goes into all the details about tofu and eating soy. Find out how to use tofu in cooking, whether or not it’s good for you and if you should limit your soy intake.
There may not be another food that is as demonized as soy (and that’s including sugar and corn). Many believe that eating soy will give you cancer, and others don’t like that it’s a filler in many foods and contributes to the wealth of large food companies.
You may be surprised to find out that I eat soy foods, like tofu and tempeh, at least 3-4 times per week. To me, the benefits far outweigh the downsides of eating soy. After all, it’s a protein and calcium rich plant, it’s affordable, it’s versatile, and it’s actually linked to many health benefits. Don’t believe me? Read on to get the pros and cons of eating soy, specifically tofu.
What is tofu?
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.
Nutrients in tofu
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. Tofu also contains fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. But what’s really interesting about soy is that it contains estrogen-like compounds, called isoflavones.
Those isoflavones mimic estrogen in the body, which is why many believe they are linked to the development of breast cancer, thyroid issues and infertility. Yet, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, it’s very difficult to gauge whether or not these isoflavones pose a health risk because of varying factors in the research. And there is ample research to show the positive benefits of eating tofu.
The benefits of eating tofu
Spoiler alert– the benefits of eating tofu far outweigh the supposed risks. Here are just some favorable studies on soy and health:
- A meta-analysis of Asian women found that soy isoflavone intake could lower the risk of breast cancer for both pre- and post-menopausal women. The researchers noted there is no evidence to suggest an association between intake of soy isoflavone and breast cancer for women in Western countries.
- The isoflavones in soy may offer menopausal women slight relief from hot flashes.
- There has been a lot of back and forth on whether or not soy is beneficial for heart health. While there is still not a conclusive answer, experts believe that the plant-based protein, fiber and lack of saturated fat in tofu makes it good for your heart!
The downsides of eating soy
Although the internet may have you believe that eating soy is the worst possible thing you can do for your health, there is really only one downside. Research suggests that if you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), eating too much soy may interact with your medication. If that’s you, talk to your doctor before consuming too much tofu.
Different types of tofu
If you’re still reading, you’re probably looking for more info on the practical applications of tofu. When you buy tofu in the store, there are a variety of options based on the level of firmness you desire. Each type of tofu serves a purpose. Here’s how to know which type to choose.
Extra firm tofu is great for kebabs, nuggets, baking (check out these tofu croutons), pan frying and marinating.
Firm tofu works wonders in scrambles, stir fries, soups, sandwiches and tacos.
Silken tofu is a nice addition to a smoothie, sauces, dips, dressings, creamy desserts and even pancakes.
How to use tofu in cooking
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.
Most packages of tofu can produce ~1.5 cups of pureed tofu, which is a great substitute for sour 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 silken tofu to make my own chocolate mousse.
If you need some tofu inspiration, try this simple vegan salad with tofu and lime vinaigrette.