Tofu is the number one substitute for protein in vegetarian and vegan diets, and if you eat a plant-based diet you are probably familiar with its flavor, but what is it really made of, and most importantly, is tofu healthy?
Yesterday night I was preparing some crispy tofu nuggets –my absolutely favorite–, and I realized that even though I have been eating tofu for a long time, the fact was that, I did not really know if tofu was healthy or not. Tofu has always sparked debate and especially lately as plant-based diets have become more mainstream. Many people claim that it is super healthy and others say it is genetically-modified and that could actually cause harm to our bodies. But what is the truth?
Ingredients of tofu
This very versatile protein is easy to work with and it takes on the flavors of what you are cooking. But the truth is, apart from knowing it was made from soy, before writing this article I knew quite little about it. Tofu is made of soybeans in a process similar to that of cheesemaking, where the soybeans are curdled and pressed into blocks. Another component of tofu is nigari –a liquid that is kind of the leftover from seawater after they’ve extracted the salt.
The taste of tofu
If you have, like me, tasted tofu right out of the package, you’ve probably thought it was something similar to eating clay. However, you can use any seasoning you like to infuse flavor to it, and frankly, I love its texture! It feels just like chicken. Let’s first look at what’s good about tofu.
- Tofu is made from calcium sulfate and it may be good for your bones.
- It is high in protein.
- Half a cup of tofu contains only around 90 calories and 10 grams of protein.
- Soy protein can reduce de risk of heart disease.
- It boosts the immune system as it contains selenium.
- It helps metabolize fats and protein as it is rich in vitamins B6, B2, and B1.
But wait, is tofu really bad for you?
Now let’s get down to business, we already know that tofu is a great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians and that there are many benefits to tofu. However, tofu also contains natural plant compounds called isoflavones, which can disrupt endocrines. Endocrine disruptors inhibit the healthy production of hormones in the body. So tofu can actually contribute to problems in the reproductive system that can lead to a higher risk of breast cancer because of the high levels of estrogen in the blood. There is controversy over this subject –soy-promoters actually think that isoflavones can help during menopause.
Soy is also a controversial ingredient –around 90% of soy grown in the USA has been genetically modified to resist herbicides which can affect the reproductive health of men and women.
The bottom line is that although it is high in protein and it has a lot of healthy nutrients, it has also been linked to other undesired effects. One of the short term side effects is that it can cause allergic reactions, and the possible long time side effects are infertility and breast cancer. So, it's up to you to run the risks and profit from the benefits!
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