Tofu has gained popularity over the years especially as a good source of plant-based protein. While it seems to have a healthy reputation with its consumers, there is also some controversy on whether it’s actually good for you.
Research links tofu properties to cancer prevention and a lower risk of heart disease, and osteoporosis. It also contains no cholesterol and is an excellent source of iron and calcium, making it not only good for you but one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
There’s no reason to fear this mineral-rich vegetarian protein source. Tofu is a rich source of isoflavones (powerful anticancer plant compounds); phenolic acids, heart-protecting saponins; and alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acid, as well as minerals like calcium.
It’s also a good source of iron, which is particularly important for people following a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet.
What Exactly is Tofu?
Tofu is processed soybean curd. It is made out of three main ingredients: soybeans, water and a coagulant such as nigari (seawater extract).
The soybeans are ground in water, heated, and coagulated with minerals like calcium or magnesium salt. The curds are then pressed into a block, which is what we know as tofu.
The longer the curds are pressed, the less water the resulting tofu contains. This created different types of tofu: silken, soft, medium, firm, extra firm and super firm. Silken tofu has the most while the super firm has the least.
Tofu has a distinctive texture and taste. It has a creamy mouthfeel, almost like soft cheese, but the flavor is very mild. You can eat tofu fresh out of the package, but cooking it greatly enhances the texture and flavor. It absorbs the flavor of the ingredients around it, making it a very versatile ingredient.
Can You Eat Tofu for Weight Loss?
In a study in PLoS Medicine that looked at a variety of fruits and vegetables (including soy) and their effect on weight, daily tofu consumption was associated with a 2.5-pound weight loss over a four-year span. (2)
That may seem like a small change, but that’s the effect of just one food without changing any other variable.
Health Benefits of Soy
Lower Risk of Heart Disease Risk
Research has shown that a high intake of legumes, including soy, is linked to lower rates of heart disease
Scientists have also discovered that soy isoflavones can reduce blood vessel inflammation and improve their elasticity.
One study found that supplementing with 80 mg of isoflavones per day for 12 weeks improved blood flow by 68% in people who were at risk of stroke.
What’s more, in postmenopausal women, high soy isoflavone intake has been linked to several heart-protective factors, including improvements to body mass index, waist circumference, fasting insulin, and “good” HDL cholesterol.
Reduced Risk of Some Cancers
Research shows that women who eat soy products at least once a week have a 48–56% lower risk of breast cancer.
One frequent fear of tofu and other soy products is that they may increase breast cancer risk. However, a two-year study in postmenopausal women who consumed two servings of soy per day failed to find an increased risk.
Other studies report similar findings, including a review of 174 studies, which found no link between soy isoflavones and increased breast cancer risk.
Cancers of the Digestive System
What’s more, a recent review of several studies in 633,476 people linked higher soy intake to a 7% lower risk of cancers of the digestive system.
Two review studies found that men consuming higher amounts of soy, especially tofu, had a 32–51% lower risk of prostate cancer.
A third review confirmed these results adding that the benefits of isoflavones may depend on the amount consumed and the type of gut bacteria present.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
Recent test-tube and animal studies show that soy isoflavones may increase blood sugar control.
In another study, taking isoflavones each day for a year improved insulin sensitivity and blood fats while reducing heart disease risk.
Are There Any Health Risks of Tofu?
You want to pay more attention to Tofu if you have a history of thyroid issues. While soy foods don’t affect thyroid function in people with healthy thyroids, it can interfere with the body’s absorption of thyroid medication. The evidence is still far from conclusive, but experts still advise to wait at least four hours after consuming soy to take your thyroid medicine.
The Nutritional Facts on Tofu
One block of hard tofu, weighing 122 grams (g) contains:
- 177 calories
- 5.36 g of carbohydrate
- 12.19 g of fat
- 15.57 g of protein
- 421 mg of calcium
- 65 of magnesium
- 3.35 mg of iron
- 282 mg of phosphorus
- 178 mg of potassium
- 2 mg of zinc
- 27 micrograms (mcg) of folate, DFE
Soy being the main component of tofu, it is a complete source of dietary protein, which means it provides all of the essential amino acids needed in the diet.
The calcium and magnesium in soy may help strengthen bones, lessen symptoms of PMS, regulate blood sugar, and prevent migraine headaches.
How Much Tofu is Too Much Tofu?
As with all foods, moderation is the way to go. Generally, three to five servings of minimally processed soy foods per week are perfectly fine, If you’re unsure, or you have an underlying health condition (like hypothyroidism), bring it up with your doctor the next time you discuss your diet.
The USDA recommends ¼ cup or 2 ounces as a healthy serving size for tofu. Keep in mind that most nutrition labels reflect a 3-ounce serving, which is about the size of a deck of cards.
Genetically modified soy (GMO)
Since 90% to 95% of soy produced in the U.S. is genetically modified (GM), anyone who is concerned about genetic modification might consider choosing organic soy.
However, the majority of this Non-Organic/Genetically Modified Soy is fed to cattle who are then consumed by humans or used to make milk which is also consumed by humans.
Evidence supports the consumption of Tofu and Soy bases products as part of a healthy diet, which can also help those vegetarians and vegans meet their daily protein or calcium needs.
More importantly, remember that the key to good health is a healthful lifestyle, with a balanced and varied diet and regular exercise, rather than one dietary item.
What do you think of Tofu now? Are you gonna include it in your meal? Tell us in the comment, we love hearing from you!
(1) AICR’s Foods That Fight Cancer: Soy. American Institute for Cancer Research.
(2) Bertoia ML, Mukamal KJ, Cahill LE, et al. Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis From Three Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Medicine. September 2015.