What is tofu?
Before we discuss the health benefits of tofu, let us first explain what this food is and how it’s made. Tofu is a staple source of protein in countless Asian countries, including China and Japan. The tradition of making tofu got its start two thousand years ago in ancient China, and the very name of the food comes from the Mandarin word dòufu, which means “bean curd.”
Tofu is made by boiling soybeans in water and then adding some kind of coagulant to the milky liquid so that it forms curds. The next steps are similar to cheesemaking: the curds are drained, pressed into molds, cut into blocks, and subsequently packaged. As you can see, making tofu is pretty straightforward and doesn't require much processing and the use of preservatives.
Therefore, when shopping for tofu, choose a product with a short ingredient list. A typical tofu ingredient list should include soybeans, water, seasoning, and some kind of coagulant, such as magnesium chloride, calcium sulfate, or delta gluconolactone. As promised, we list the nutritional information and the benefits of eating tofu below.
1. Tofu is super nutritious
*the percentages refer to the RDI - Reference Daily Intake
Tofu is one of those rare plant foods that contain all the amino acids our body needs to survive and thrive. One serving of tofu is worth just 70 calories and a whopping 8 grams of protein. As Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist, explained in a statement, “Just like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, tofu contains good amounts of all the amino acids your body needs to manufacture its own protein supply.”
This means that you can replace the chicken in your stir-fry with tofu and still get all the proteins you need to stay healthy. But proteins aren’t the only nutrients in tofu that make eating it worthwhile. We’ve summed up the nutritional profile of tofu in the chart above.
Tofu is also rich in a group of nutrients that were experimentally proven to strengthen our bones, help keep our memory sharp, and may even promote weight loss and longevity. We’re talking about isoflavones, the antioxidants present in soy.
Lastly, depending on the type of coagulant used, tofu can offer up to 30% of one’s daily dose of calcium, and we don’t need to tell you just how important this mineral is for our bone health. To read more on the roles of calcium for the body, read our previous article Surprising Reasons to Consume Calcium.
2. Eating tofu is healthy for the heart
Unlike red meat and sandwich meats that are bad for the entire cardiovascular system, tofu is actually beneficial for the heart and the arteries. This is precisely why the American Heart Association recommends eating tofu and other soy foods.
For example, a 2020 study of 289,900 participants found that the risk of developing coronary heart disease drops by 18% in women who eat one or more servings of tofu every week. A different study observed a 10% reduced risk of heart disease among those who consumed 50 g of soy protein daily. Lastly, tofu contains a group of compounds called saponins, which were found to prevent heart disease.
3. A reduced risk of developing diabetes
Soy protein is also involved in improving blood sugar controls according to in-vitro and animal model studies. There are a few human studies that confirm the ability of tofu and other soy products to improve insulin sensitivity and, including in diabetes patients. Isoflavones, the antioxidants in soy we mentioned earlier, are implicated to be responsible for this beneficial effect.
A study in healthy postmenopausal women showed that a daily 100 mg dose of soy isoflavones reduced the participants’ blood sugar levels by 15% and insulin levels by 23%. In case you were wondering why so many of these studies include postmenopausal women, isoflavone supplements were first used to relieve symptoms of menopause. We now know that these antioxidant compounds are also beneficial for everyone, no matter their sex or age.
4. Tofu may protect us from some cancers, including breast cancer
There is a common misconception that soy contains estrogen. This is not true. In reality, soy contains phytoestrogens, which are similar to estrogen but not identical to it in terms of their effect on the human body. This distinction is crucial, as phytoestrogens actually have a balancing effect on our hormones and pose no danger for humans.
One review study of 174 research articles, for example, found no link between phytoestrogens and an increased breast cancer risk. On the contrary, the American Cancer Society claims that tofu and other soy foods guard against breast cancer. According to research, women who consume soy products once a week or more actually have a 48–56% reduced risk of breast cancer.
Likewise, soy products, and especially tofu, have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and cancers of the digestive system.
5. Tofu is super easy to use
Though this last benefit isn’t medical, we find that it’s still a very important point to make. Tofu is extremely versatile and easy to prepare. If you know how to prepare chicken, you’ll know how to cook tofu, too! But before you run to the store, let’s show you how to buy, store, and prepare tofu.
Unlike chicken or meat, tofu can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Depending on the dish you want to prepare, you can choose between three main forms of tofu - silken, firm, and extra-firm tofu. Silken tofu is the softest and the creamiest of them all, and it’s typically used in desserts, sauces, dips, and the like. Think of it as an alternative to cream cheese.
Extra-firm tofu, on the other hand, is quite dense and dry, and so it is perfect for slicing and frying up, much like you would a streak. Lastly, firm tofu is the most versatile of the bunch. It’s a bit softer than extra-firm tofu, but it’s still quite dense, so it’s great for both scrambling like eggs or pan-frying.
Tofu is easy to store. You can refrigerate an open package of tofu for up to a week or freeze it for up to 5 months. An open block of tofu should be stored by covering it with water.
1. Tofu usually comes packed in water. You need to rinse and press it with a clean kitchen towel until you get as much water out as possible before cooking.
2. Since tofu has a mild and bland taste, it’s best to season or marinate it before cooking. The tofu will soak up the flavors of the spices and sauces in just a few minutes.
3. The easiest way to prepare tofu is by simply pan-roasting it until it becomes golden brown. You can also cut it into cubes and add it to a stir-fry instead of meat or seafood. For even more inspiration, check out these yummy recipes that feature tofu:
-This Savory Kabocha Tofu Pie is a Vegetarian's Dream
-A Recipe For Tofu That Makes It As Delicious As Chicken
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