Ingredients and Uses
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The Benefits And Bright Side Of Tofu: The Vegetarian’s Meat

Reviewed By Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Heather M. Duquette-Wolf, RD, CSSD
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The Benefits And Bright Side Of Tofu: The Vegetarian’s Meat March 7, 2019

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Sick and tired of eating the same old meat? How about looking at the greener side? That’s currently what the world is going crazy about – meatless meals. Why? Because substituting small portions of animal proteins with plant proteins is said to boost overall health and wellness. And tofu is one such worthy substitute.

Tofu is curdled soy milk that dominates Asian cuisine and the lives of the lactose intolerant. Not only does it go well with veggies and noodles, but it also has tremendous nutritional value. To find out more about this vegan protein superfood, wear your reading glasses and scroll down!

What Is Tofu?

Tofu, a.k.a. soybean curd, is a soft, cheese-like food made by curdling fresh hot soymilk with a coagulant. Tofu is rich in high-quality protein (about 7-9 grams per serving). It is also a good source of calcium, B-complex vitamins, and iron. It is low in saturated fat and sodium and contains no cholesterol.

Tofu is made from soy milk the same way cottage cheese is made from cow or buffalo milk. Traditionally, this curdling agent is sea or ocean water that has calcium and magnesium salts. Soy curds can also be produced by adding acidic foods like lemon juice or vinegar. The curdled soy milk is finally processed into solid blocks.

Hence, the critical step in preparing tofu is the choice of the curdling agent. Depending on the fat content and the curdling agent, you get different types of tofu in the market.

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What Are The Different Types Of Tofu?

Apart from the factors mentioned above, the way you stir the curd and the amount of applied pressure can also determine the hardness of tofu. Hence, tofu can be extra firm as well as soft, with a moisture content of 70%-90%, and protein content of 5%-16%.

You can usually find extra firm, regular, soft, and silken types of tofu in the market. The silken and soft types have less fat and fewer calories (due to the high moisture content) than the firm or extra firm varieties.

Remember this – the softer the tofu, the lower the fat (1).

The silken tofu can be used in dressings, dips, desserts, and in place of mayonnaise or sour cream. Soft tofu can be used to make lasagna, breakfast shakes, fruit, and veggie purée. Regular tofu is similar to the firm variety, just that the latter has a lower moisture content.

Firm and extra-firm tofu varieties are harder and can hold shapes and molds – which is why they are used in imitation egg salads, sandwich fillets, fruit and veggie salads, stir-frys, soups, meatless barbecue skewers, etc.

But why take all the pain to eat tofu at all? Is it so good that it can replace meat? Read on to find out.

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What Are The Benefits Of Having Tofu?

1. Triggers Weight Loss

Soy products contain high levels of bioactive ingredients that regulate cholesterol levels. Diets rich in tofu and other related soy proteins reduce total plasma cholesterol, VLDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels.

Ingestion of soy protein exerts a lipid-lowering effect. It lowers intestinal cholesterol absorption and increases fecal bile acid excretion.

Dietary soy protein, like tofu, can also positively affect hepatic (liver) cholesterol metabolism and the genes controlling the process (2).

2. Manages Diabetes

Soy foods are known for their high isoflavone content, which is one reason tofu is associated with diabetes control.

These isoflavones increase serum insulin and pancreatic insulin levels by enhancing insulin signaling and regulating molecular activity. They also regulate intestinal uptake of glucose, thereby controlling blood glucose and insulin levels.

Just be wary of sweetened soy products like tofu desserts and soy drinks that increase blood glucose levels (3).

3. Rectifies Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Rectifies Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) Pinit

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Tofu contains phytoestrogens called genistein and daidzein – chemicals that occur naturally in plants and exhibit estrogenic activity.

The fluctuation in estrogen levels impacts menstruation, ovulation, embryo implantation, and fertility. Tofu phytoestrogens can regularize menstruation and boost ovarian function and uterine health in premenopausal women.

But clinical data suggest that consuming soy protein in excess (>100 mg soy isoflavones/day) can lead to reduced ovarian function (4).

4. Lowers The Risk Of Cancers

Studies have shown the protective effects of soy phytoestrogens on various cancers.

These phytoestrogens (particularly the ones in tofu) may block the action of estrogen, which is otherwise responsible for cancer cell proliferation.

However, we recommend you speak to your doctor regarding this – as more research is warranted (5).

Note: If you have estrogen positive cancer, avoid soy as it affects the estrogen levels.

5. Strengthens Bones

Bone loss and osteoporosis are common among women aged 50 years or above (the post-menopausal phase). One reason for this could be the imbalance of progesterone, estrogen, and other female sex hormones during this time.

Women on a diet rich in calcium and phytoestrogens (like isoflavones) respond better to hormone replacement therapy. They also tend to have better bone mass density.

The best dietary candidates to treat bone diseases are dairy and soy products. For lactose intolerant individuals or vegans, tofu, soy milk, and other plant-origin protein can be the right substitutes. Such people enjoy a lower risk of fractures than those on a diet rich in animal proteins (6).

6. Boosts Liver Health

Since tofu has abundant flavonoids and phytochemicals, it can double up as a potent antioxidant too.

The build-up of heavy metals, reactive oxygen species, and miscellaneous toxic intermediates causes oxidative stress. This can damage vital organs, particularly the liver. Such stress can lead to cirrhosis, liver injuries, and hepatic cancer.

This is when tofu comes in handy. Its rich phytochemical composition eliminates free radicals from your bloodstream and promotes liver health (7).

With all these benefits, you sure would be curious to know the nutritional profile of tofu.

Scroll down to the next section for more details!

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Nutritional Profile of Tofu

Calorie Information
Amounts Per Selected Serving%DV
Calories76.0(318 kJ)4%
From Carbohydrate7.9(33.1 kJ)
From Fat40.0(167 kJ)
From Protein28.0(117 kJ)
From Alcohol~(0.0 kJ)
Carbohydrates
Amounts Per Selected Serving%DV
Total Carbohydrate1.9 g1%
Dietary Fiber0.3 g1%
Starch~
Sugars~
Fats & Fatty Acids
Amounts Per Selected Serving%DV
Total Fat4.8g7%
Saturated Fat0.7 g3%
Monounsaturated Fat1.1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat2.7 g
Total trans fatty acids~
Total trans-monoenoic fatty acids~
Total trans-polyenoic fatty acids~
Total Omega-3 fatty acids319 mg
Total Omega-6 fatty acids2380 mg
Protein & Amino Acids
Amounts Per Selected Serving%DV
Protein8.1 g16%
Vitamins
Amounts Per Selected Serving%DV
Vitamin A85.0 IU2%
Vitamin C0.1 mg0%
Vitamin D~~
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)~~
Vitamin K~~
Thiamin0.1 mg5%
Riboflavin0.1 mg3%
Niacin0.2 mg1%
Vitamin B60.0 mg2%
Folate15.0 mcg4%
Vitamin B120.0 mcg0%
Pantothenic Acid0.1 mg1%
Choline~
Betaine~
Minerals
Amounts Per Selected Serving%DV
Calcium350 mg35%
Iron5.4 mg30%
Magnesium30.0 mg8%
Phosphorus97.0 mg10%
Potassium121 mg3%
Sodium7.0 mg0%
Zinc0.8 mg5%
Copper0.2 mg10%
Manganese0.6 mg30%
Selenium8.9 mcg13%
Fluoride

Tofu is primarily made of proteins, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins like folate, riboflavin, thiamin, and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, and selenium.

The antioxidant properties and related benefits of tofu are because of its bioactive ingredients. Tofu is particularly rich in isoflavones, including glycosides (genistin, daidzin, glycitin) and aglycones (genistein, daidzein, and glycitein). Isoflavones have estrogen-like effects and are linked to many health benefits (8).

The best way to get all these benefits in a bite is to cook with tofu. Like cottage cheese (paneer), tofu can be used in Indian, Asian, Italian, Mediterranean, and other global cuisines.

To give you a taste of tofu, I’ve collected a couple of simple, quick, and delicious recipes. Since they don’t take much time, you can cook these dishes on a busy weekday or a lazy weekend. So, let’s move on to the next section!

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2 Quick And Delicious Recipes With Tofu

1. Basic Pan-Fried Tofu

Basic Pan-Fried Tofu Pinit

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What You Need
  • Extra-firm tofu: 1 (12 oz.) packet
  • Vegetable oil: 2-4 tablespoons in a small cup
  • Green onions: 2 tablespoons, thinly chopped
  • Soy sauce: 2 tablespoons
  • Wok or a skillet: medium-large sized
Let’s Make It!
  1. Place the tofu on a plate and place another plate on the top.
  2. Set a 3-5 pound weight on top. Press tofu for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and discard the accumulated liquid.
  3. Cut the tofu slab into 2×4-inch strips or thin squares about 1/4-inch thick.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  5. Cook the tofu strips in the oil until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
  6. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same skillet.
  7. Add the green onions. Cook and stir for 10 to 20 seconds.
  8. Spread the sizzling hot green onions over the tofu.
  9. Coat these strips with soy sauce. Let them sit until the tofu soaks up flavors – for about 3 to 5 minutes.
  10. Stack the pan-fried tofu strips horizontally in a dish and serve with salad greens or a spicy oriental dip.
  11. Your high-protein, low cal brunch is set!

2. Yummy Grilled Tofu Sandwich

Yummy Grilled Tofu Sandwich Pinit

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What You Need
  • Whole wheat or multigrain or pita bread: 2 slices or rounds
  • Mayonnaise: 3 tablespoons
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste): 3 tablespoons
  • Tomato: 1, sliced
  • Lettuce: 2 leaves (optional)
  • Onion rounds: 2-3, medium sized
  • Firm tofu: 4 slices
  • Soy sauce: 1 dash
  • Salt: 1- 2 pinches
  • Sugar: 1 pinch
Let’s Make It!
  1. Preheat your oven’s broiler.
  2. If you are using pita bread rounds, split them in half so that you have 4 round pieces.
  3. Spread some mayonnaise on one half of each round or slice, and tahini on the other half.
  4. Place the tomato slices onto the mayonnaise halves, and sprinkle a pinch of salt and sugar.
  5. On the tahini halves, place 2 slices of tofu and a dash of soy sauce.
  6. Place the open sandwiches on a large baking sheet.
  7. Broil in the preheated oven until hot and the bread is slightly toasted for about 4 minutes.
  8. Draw the tray out and close the halves of each sandwich together.
  9. Cut the assembly into wedges and serve with crispy fries or tomato salsa or ketchup.
  10. This is how you wrap a working Sunday dinner!

I’m in a food coma just by imagining these dishes on my plate. If this is how one cooks tofu, and given the taste, I’d eat it all my life, every single day!

But is it advisable to do so? Find out in the following sections.

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What Are The Side Effects Of Having Tofu?

  • The phytoestrogens in soy products can interfere with the development of the brain and reproductive systems.
  • Imbalances in estrogen levels can lead to malformations in the ovary, uterus, mammary glands, and the prostate.
  • Isoflavones can pass from mothers to infants through the placenta. Increasing phytoestrogen levels in the infants can cause endocrine disruption during their development.
  • Some rat studies also indicate that administration of isoflavones, like geinstein, in early life can cause estrous cycle disturbances and infertility in female rats. And the male rats in the study had lower serum testosterone concentration and abnormal development of the reproductive tract.

All the above points suggest that soy products like tofu should be consumed within a limit. Tofu cannot be substituted for hormone therapy just because it is rich in phytoestrogens.

So, how much tofu can you consume in a day to avoid such side effects?

According to US FDA and the American Heart Association, daily consumption of 25 g of soy protein and isoflavones has a beneficial effect on your health. Up to 30 g of soy protein in the form of tofu is recommended for all men and women (10).

However, there is little basis to prove the adverse effects of consuming more than 50 g of tofu in a day. Hence, it is better to find (low isoflavone) substitutes for tofu and other soy products.

However, there are somethings to keep in mind when you go tofu shopping. Scroll down.

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How To Buy The Right Tofu? How To Store It?

The next time you head to the grocery store, pick organic or non-GMO tofu.

Store the opened tofu blocks in water-filled tubs in your refrigerator. Change the water daily to avoid spoilage. This way, tofu stays fresh for 3-5 days.

To extend its shelf life, you can also freeze tofu. After the first use, rinse the remnant tofu block in fresh water, let the excess water drain, and leave it to freeze in suitable containers or wraps.

You can freeze-store tofu for about 4-5 months. Defrosted tofu has a light brown-caramel color and a chewy texture. You can add it to soups, salads, barbecue skewers, etc. It tastes awesome!

Lastly, beware of spoiled tofu – it would have a foul smell, a crumbly texture, and would release all of its moisture. Check the expiry date on the package before you buy and follow the storage instructions accurately.

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Just a Min!

If you are not into tofu for any reason, you can replace it with meat, eggs, cottage cheese, mushrooms, chickpeas, or other beans – depending on the dish you are cooking.

You can also use sour cream, ricotta cheese, and yogurt in place of silken (soft) tofu.

In A Nutshell…

Tofu is a healthy and an equivalent substitute for the meat we have in our meals. Due to its rich nutritional and phytochemical composition, tofu has an array of benefits and finds a place in many cuisines across the globe.

Though there is not much evidence about its adverse effects, the phytoestrogens (isoflavones) it contains can be harmful to women and men of all ages. Thus, having tofu in the required portions and combinations is essential.

Try the simple recipes shared here and do write to us giving your feedback. We’d love to hear your comments, suggestions, and valuable inputs. Just leave your thoughts in the box below.

To stay fit, choose tofu!

References

  1. Information About Tofu” Rogel Cancer Center, Michigan Medicine
  2. Role of Dietary Soy Protein…” International journal in Medical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine
  3. Soy intake and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus…” European Journal of Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine
  4. Adult Ovarian Function Can be Affected…”The Journal of Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine
  5. Straight Talk About Soy” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health
  6. Soy foods: are they useful for optimal…” Therapeutic Advances In Musculoskeletal Disease, US National Library of Medicine
  7. Antioxidant and Hepatoprotective Properties of Tofu…” Biotechnology International Research, US National Library of Medicine
  8. Soy isoflavones” Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University
  9. The pros and cons of phytoestrogens” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, US National Library of Medicine
  10. Nutrition and Health Info Sheet: Soy” Department of Nutrition, University of California