Published On By Dimitar Marinov [MD, PhD]

Tofu

Tofu is a nutrient-dense food made from soybeans. It provides protein, healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins and could be a healthy addition to your diet.

You could use tofu in various culinary recipes, such as soups, stir-fries, salads, and desserts. Tofu contains isoflavones like phytoestrogens, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, or certain cancers.

In this article, you will learn about the nutritional profile of tofu and some of the health benefits of consuming them. It also mentions the potential side effects of tofu, proper ways to store tofu, and how to include tofu in your diet.

What Is Tofu?

Originating in China, tofu is made by curdling soy milk and has a mild flavor and a unique texture that may range from soft and custard-like to firm and meaty, depending on the variety.

Tofu could be used as a meat alternative in vegetarian or vegan recipes due to its high protein content. Consuming soy-based foods like tofu may also positively impact your memory and cognitive health.

It could help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which could improve cardiovascular health and minimize the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Nutrition Value Of Tofu

Tofu is a suitable vegan protein source that may provide essential amino acids along with a balanced amount of carbohydrates and fats. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals.

It is low in cholesterol and sodium and contains essential antioxidants that could help prevent cell damage. Here is the breakdown of the nutrient composition of calcium-enriched tofu:

Nutrient Amount per 100g Serving
Calories 144 kcal
Protein 17.3 grams
Carbohydrates 2.78 grams
Fiber 2.3 grams
Healthy Fats 8.72 grams
Manganese 1.18 milligrams
Calcium 683 milligrams
Copper 0.378 milligrams
Selenium 17.4 micrograms
Vitamin A 166 IU
Zinc 1.57 milligrams

The nutrient composition of tofu might vary based on the coagulant used in the production process. Nigari-set tofu contains slightly more fat and potassium but less protein, fiber, and calcium than calcium-set tofu.

Benefits Of Tofu

  1. Contains Isoflavones

    Tofu is a soy-based product and contains compounds called isoflavones. They may function as weak estrogen-like compounds in the body, helping maintain hormone levels. Such effects may help reduce menopausal symptoms in women, like hot flashes and mood swings.

    A 3.5-ounce serving of firm, calcium-set tofu provides approximately 60 mg of soy isoflavones, while a cup of soy milk contains about 28 mg. Isoflavones may promote heart health as they help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

    Some studies suggest that isoflavones may have anti-cancer properties, particularly in minimizing the risk of hormone-related cancers like breast and prostate cancer. However, more research is needed in this area as there are also trials showing no benefits.

  2. Might Help Lower The Risk Of Certain Cancer

    Eating tofu and other soybean-based foods may help reduce prostate-specific antigen levels, which could potentially delay the progression of prostate cancer. However, studies suggest mixed results regarding soy consumption and reduced prostate cancer risk.

    Increased consumption of soy isoflavones is linked to a reduced risk of endometrial cancer. Soy-rich diets containing tofu might help lower the risk of gut cancers by 7% and colon cancers by 8-12%, particularly in women.

    The isoflavones in tofu could help decrease the likelihood of developing ovarian and breast cancer in women. However, the exact impact of soybean intake in preventing the risk of such cancers remains uncertain.

    Scientific evidence regarding soybean intake (in the form of tofu) and reduced cancer risk is mixed. You should consult a doctor to obtain personalized advice on cancer prevention strategies.

  3. It May Help Maintain Stable Cholesterol Levels

    Research suggests that eating soy products like tofu may reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by about 3% to 4% in adults. Reduced cholesterol levels may improve cardiovascular health, which might lower the risk of developing stroke and heart disease.

    Tofu contains a rich content of plant sterols, fiber, and isoflavones. These components may help reduce cholesterol absorption in the intestine, leading to reduced LDL cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

    The high protein content in tofu may also contribute to its cholesterol-lowering effects by improving satiety and potentially reducing the intake of high-cholesterol foods.

  4. It Could Reduce The Risk Of Coronary Heart Disease

    Plant estrogens in tofu may enhance the endothelial function, the inner lining of the heart and blood vessels. Better endothelial function may improve blood vessel dilation, reduce inflammation, and decrease blood pressure, potentially reducing coronary heart disease risk.

    Soy protein in tofu may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Decreased LDL cholesterol may help reduce plaque buildup in the arteries, thus decreasing the risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.

    Tofu contains isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens with antioxidant properties. Isoflavones help lower inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which are potential contributors to coronary heart disease.

  5. May Lower the Risk of Osteoporosis

    Osteoporosis is characterized by weakened bones, making them more susceptible to fractures. Tofu contains calcium, which may help strengthen bones and mitigate the risk of osteoporosis.

    Estrogen levels tend to decline during menopause, which might increase the risk of developing bone issues. Menopausal women may particularly benefit from consuming calcium-rich foods like fortified tofu.

    Consuming calcium-enriched tofu might help increase bone strength, enhance bone mineral density, and mitigate bone loss. Such effects could help reduce the possibility of fractures and lower osteoporosis risk.

  6. Could Reduce Symptoms of Menopause

    Isoflavones in soybeans, including tofu, could mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. As estrogen levels decline during menopause, these isoflavones may help reduce uncomfortable symptoms like hot flashes, irregular menstrual bleeding, and weight gain.

    Estrogen decline during menopause may affect mood and cognitive function. Isoflavones in tofu could help reduce mood swings, anxiety, or depression, which menopausal women may commonly experience.

    Research suggests that adding soybeans to a low-fat, plant-based diet may reduce hot flashes by 84% in menopausal women. The isoflavones in tofu may help support hormonal balance and provide relief during menopause.

  7. May Support Weight Loss

    Tofu has a high protein content that may help you feel satiated with less food and reduce overall caloric intake. Such effects help create a caloric deficit, which is necessary to sustain weight loss.

    Studies found that women with PCOS who consumed a soy-rich diet experienced a noticeable reduction in their weight. However, more research is needed to establish such claims conclusively.

    Tofu has a low glycemic index, which means it may not cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels might help control hunger and reduce cravings, making it suitable to stick to a weight loss plan.

    You could substitute high-calorie, high-fat foods for tofu to help reduce your overall calorie intake.  For example, replacing cream, cheese, or fatty meats with tofu in recipes may lower the calorie content of your meals.

  8. It Could Improve Brain Health

    Tofu contains small amounts of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s may help maintain the structure and function of brain cell membranes, which might improve cognitive health and mental performance.

    Research suggests that consuming soy isoflavones may help improve processing speed, memory, attention span, and overall cognitive function in some adults.

    Consuming soy-rich foods like tofu may help increase equol levels in your body. High equol levels might decrease the incidence of white matter lesions, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

    Folate in tofu may positively impact mental health and help reduce the risk of depression. Including tofu in your diet may help support cognitive function, memory retention, and problem-solving skills.

    It’s important to note that the impact on isoflavones on brain health and cognition is still an area of research that is still evolving, and evidence is not strong enough to make definitive claims.

  9. Might Benefit Skin Health

    Isoflavones in tofu may help delay signs of skin aging by fading the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They could help enhance skin health, leading to smoother and more youthful-looking skin.

    Some studies suggest that soy isoflavones have photoprotective effects, meaning they help shield the skin from harmful UV rays. Such effects may potentially reduce the risk of sun damage and premature skin aging.

    Tofu’s isoflavones may help improve the moisture retention capacity of your skin, improve skin hydration, and prevent dryness. These processes are essential for maintaining healthy and glowing skin.

    Soy isoflavones could help stimulate collagen production in the skin, which might contribute to improved skin elasticity and firmness. It may give your skin a more supple and rejuvenated appearance.

Storage Of Tofu

  1. Drain and Pat Dry: Before freezing tofu, make sure to drain off excess water by wrapping tofu in paper towels and gently pressing it. Once drained, pat the tofu dry to remove any remaining moisture.
  2. Slice and Store: Cut the tofu into slices or cubes, depending on how you plan to use it later. Sliced tofu freezes well and allows for easier portioning.
  3. Airtight Container: Place the sliced tofu in an airtight container to prevent freezer burn. Ensure your tofu container is sealed tightly to maintain its freshness.
  4. Thaw Properly: When you are ready to use the frozen tofu, transfer it to the refrigerator the night before to thaw slowly. The gradual thawing process helps maintain the tofu’s texture and flavor.

Side Effects Of Tofu

  1. Contains Antinutrients

    Tofu contains antinutrients, specifically phytates and trypsin inhibitors. These antinutrients may impact the absorption of essential minerals and interfere with proper protein digestion.

    Phytates might hinder the absorption of minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron, potentially affecting overall nutrient intake.

    Trypsin inhibitors may impede the action of trypsin, an enzyme vital for protein digestion. It might lead to issues like indigestion and reduced mineral absorption.

    Techniques like soaking, cooking, sprouting, and fermentation may reduce the antinutrient content in tofu. Soaking or cooking tofu before consumption might help lower the levels of phytates and trypsin inhibitors.

    Sprouting soybeans before the tofu-making process might decrease trypsin inhibitors by up to 81% and phytates by up to 56%. Other fermented soy products like miso, tempeh, tamari, and natto tend to have lower levels of antinutrients.

  2. Digestive Issues

    Some people may have allergies to soy, which could manifest as digestive issues like bloating, stomach discomfort, or gas. The high protein content in tofu may contribute to digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, or excessive flatulence in some people.

    Tofu contains oligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that may be hard for some people to digest. It might lead to symptoms like bloating, flatulence, and changes in bowel habits.

    You could minimize digestive problems associated with tofu by gradually introducing tofu in your diet. Cooking tofu thoroughly might help break down some compounds that may cause digestive discomfort.

    Opting for fermented tofu products or tofu varieties with lower fat content may sometimes be gentler on the digestive system. If digestive issues persist or worsen, consult a doctor for further evaluation and guidance.

  3. Interactions with MAOIs

    Tofu contains tyramine, an amino acid that may affect blood pressure levels. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) help block the breakdown of tyramine. Combining tofu with MAOIs might lead to dangerously high blood pressure levels or a state of hypertensive crisis.

    People taking MAOIs should consult their doctor before consuming tofu to avoid such adverse reactions. Doing so may ensure safe dietary choices and optimal medication outcomes.

  4. Allergic Reactions

    Allergic reactions to soy may typically appear in infants and children younger than three years. Therefore, parents and caregivers should be vigilant when introducing soy-based products to young children. Soy allergies sometimes persist or first occur in adulthood as well.

    Symptoms of soy allergies might range in severity and may include swelling, hives, itching, abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. In severe cases, soy allergies may trigger anaphylaxis, which requires prompt medical attention.

    People allergic to soy may also experience reactions to other legumes like lentils, peanuts, and peas due to cross-reactivity. It is essential to be aware of potential cross-allergies and take necessary precautions.

  5. Thyroid Problems

    Research suggests a potential link between soy consumption and thyroid function, primarily due to the presence of goitrogens in soy products. Goitrogens in tofu may interfere with normal thyroid gland function and potentially cause thyroid issues, such as hypothyroidism. However, soy consumption generally does not affect thyroid function in individuals with adequate iodine intake.

    Thus, current evidence hints that moderate soy consumption is unlikely to have adverse effects on people with normal thyroid function and diverse diets. However, if you have existing thyroid problems or are taking thyroid medications, consult a doctor to ensure safety and effectiveness.

How To Prepare Tofu?

  • Pressing: Before cooking, press the tofu to remove excess water. Place the tofu block between paper towels and place a heavy object on top. Let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Pressing improves the texture and allows the tofu to absorb flavors better.
  • Marinating: You could marinate the tofu using soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and other spices to infuse flavor. Cut the tofu into cubes or slices or cubes, place it in a container with the marinade, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  • Steaming: Steamed tofu retains its soft texture and may be suitable for delicate dishes. Cut tofu into slices or cubes and place in a steamer basket. Steam for about 10 minutes or until heated through. Serve with a dipping sauce or in soups.
  • Blending: You could blend silken tofu into smoothies, soups, and desserts to add creaminess. Just add silken tofu to a blender with your choice of vegetables, fruits, or other ingredients and blend until smooth.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can Tofu Be Consumed Raw?
    Consuming raw tofu could be generally safe, but cooking tofu could help improve its digestibility and eliminate potential bacteria. Raw tofu may lack flavor and texture, so it is commonly cooked in various dishes to enhance taste and nutrition.
  2. Is Tofu Suitable for a Gluten-Free Diet?
    Tofu is made from soybeans and does not contain wheat, barley, or rye, making it naturally gluten-free. However, you should always check labels for possible cross-contamination or added gluten when consuming tofu.
  3. How Does Tofu Impact Blood Sugar Levels?
    Tofu may have a minimal impact on blood glucose levels due to its high protein content and low glycemic index. The protein content of tofu may delay digestion, helping stabilize blood sugar. Adding tofu to balanced meals might help stabilize blood sugar.
  4. Can Tofu Be Included in a Ketogenic Diet?
    You may include tofu in a keto diet, as it is relatively low in carbohydrates and high in protein and healthy fats. Tofu’s versatility allows for various keto-friendly recipes, providing essential nutrients while supporting the goals of a ketogenic eating plan.
  5. Does Tofu Contain Probiotics for Gut Health?
    Probiotics are live bacterial strains present in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and kimchi. However, tofu does not contain probiotics for gut health, unless it’s fermented tofu.

Conclusion

Tofu has a neutral taste, which could allow it to properly absorb the flavors of spices, sauces, and different seasonings used in cooking. Consuming tofu in balanced meals could help reduce weight, improve heart health, decrease osteoporosis risk, and improve cognitive health.

It may provide a plant-based source of protein, making it a suitable meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans.

However, some people may be allergic to soy products like tofu and may need to limit their intake due to thyroid issues.

Store-bought tofu may be high in sodium or other additives, so it is important to read labels carefully before adding tofu to your meals.

Disclaimer
  • This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
  • It is not recommended to disregard/delay seeking professional medical advice or treatment because of what you read or accessed through this article.
  • The results may vary from individual to individual.
  • Consult your doctor for any underlying medical conditions or if you are on any prescribed medicines before following health tips or instructions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *