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benefits of tofu

Tofu: Benefits, Risks and Meals

The benefits of tofu are plentiful, but many people don’t actually know what tofu is, never mind the advantages of introducing it into your diet. If you want to know more about tofu, as well as how to cook it in some tasty meals, you’ll want to keep reading.

In this article, we will cover:

Just before we get stuck in, do you have a strong interest in nutrition? If so, you may be the perfect fit for our level 4 course in advanced sports nutrition course. If you’re interested in a career in the health and fitness industry, why not browse through our range of courses in our downloadable course prospectus.

Before you go on, download your FREE food diary below to track all of your nutrition with ease!

 

What is Tofu & How is it Made?

Tofu is a food popular among vegetarians and vegans, it's a great meat alternative made from condensed soy milk. This product is pressed into what you might find a little more familiar, a delicate white block of tofu. 

Tofu has been around for many years, in fact it is rumored that the creation of tofu was an accident, and this was due to the unplanned combination of fresh soy milk with nigari. 

Nigari is a byproduct of making salt from seawater that contains magnesium chloride as the main component. But what has this got to do with tofu? Well, nigari is what gives this food its form by allowing the condensed soy milk to take on and keep the solidified appearance of tofu that we know today. 

The soybeans that are commonly used to make tofu are largely genetically modified, and though this may seem like a scary title, there is actually no reason to be concerned. In fact, it is commonly said that there is no reason to deem them as harmful for human consumption.

Although, if you don’t want GMO soybeans in your diet, there are plenty of options out there, all you need to do is look out for tofu that is labelled as organic. So, now that you know what tofu is made out of and how it reaches the final form as what we see on our shelves, let’s move onto discussing some of the benefits of introducing tofu into your diet.

Benefits of Tofu

If you've landed on this article, chances are you're wondering something along the 'what are the benefits of tofu?'. Well, we're here to tell you that the health benefits of tofu are copious.

Though there are some mixed reviews regarding what tofu can do for, or do to, our body, the following section should help to minimise such confusion by sharing a clear list of benefits. So, without further ado let's get into the top 10 benefits of eating tofu.

#1 Lowers LDL Cholesterol

By introducing tofu into your diet, there is a possibility that you can lower your LDL cholesterol, also known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Although it isn’t by a huge margin, this is a great example of how you can make small changes that add up to greater rewards. You can expect to see around a 3% reduction in LDL cholesterol by adding soy foods into your diet, particularly tofu.

There are other factors that make tofu a great alternative to food such as red meats, for example the fact that it is naturally cholesterol-free and importantly, low in saturated fat. 

This is a key feature of tofu that lowers the risk of LDL cholesterol as having a lot of saturated fats in your diet has been shown to increase LDL cholesterol, which in turn, leads to more serious health problems. Such problems include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Of course, you should want to avoid any cardiovascular issues at all costs, so it's important to note that it will take more than simply eating some tofu to make a significant difference in your cholesterol. So, take this as advice to begin introducing tofu as a meat alternative a few times a week whilst also reducing your red meat intake. 

If you want some tips on phasing out meat, read our article on the benefits of a vegan diet for advice on how to lead a plant-based lifestyle.

#2 It Contains Essential Amino Acids

The essential amino acids are those that the body cannot make on its own and therefore, we must consume them from foods. Luckily, tofu contains all 9 of these essential amino acids!

In case you’re unaware of what these are exactly, they are as follows:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

All amino acids play a vital role in our body being in the best shape possible and are often referred to as the building blocks of the all important proteins. There are a total of 20 amino acids, which are not only used for building proteins, but also the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

Of these 20 amino acids, 9 are the essential amino acids listed above, and the rest are classified as non-essential due to the fact that our body can make them. From muscle growth to immune function, you need all of your amino acids for proper bodily function. Therefore, the fact that tofu contains all of the amino acids that your body can’t make on its own means that consuming this food has benefits for improved bodily function!

For a more indepth look into amino acids, be sure to head over to our article: amino acids: benefits, structure and foods here.

#3 It is High In Protein 

Among all of the nutritional benefits of tofu discussed so far, one of the reasons it is so widely consumed is its high protein content. In just a half cup of tofu, there are approximately 7 grams of protein.

The fact that this food is also high in protein adds yet another reason to introduce tofu into your diet. If increasing your protein intake is a personal goal of yours, you should know that high protein is more predominant in the firm type of tofu, and this kind also presents higher calories and nutrients. 

This kind of firm tofu is therefore beneficial for those who enjoy working out and weight training, but want to maintain their calorie intake to avoid losing weight. Eating high protein tofu is also beneficial for anybody trying to introduce a calorie surplus while keeping their diet nutritionally balance, avoiding things such as high saturated fats.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to lose weight, you can still reap the benefits of eating tofu by simply choosing a lower calorie type. Tofu types such as silken and soft tofu have more water and thus, present less calories, but this comes with a lower protein content. Protein can actually make you feel fuller for longer, and so although firm tofu does have more calories, its higher protein content can aid weight loss by making you feel less hungry between meals.

The fact that all kinds of tofu contain a beneficial amount of protein is part of what makes it such a good alternative for those cutting down on their meat intake. If you’re vegan or looking to reduce your meat intake and you want to know how to get more protein into your diet, read all about the best vegan protein sources here.

#4 Reduces Risk of Certain Cancer

Though there are mixed reviews on how soy is related or not related to certain cancers, there is a recurring argument when it comes to breast cancer. Some research has suggested that the high level of isoflavones that are in soy could have the potential to suppress breast cancer cells.

Though it is unclear as to which soy produce has the effect on cancer reduction, there is indication of tofu being a key player through association. The theory behind this association can be explained by evidence that there is a low incidence of breast cancer in Asia, where tofu is a staple food and has been for many years. 

However, cause and effect can not be determined as there are other variables that may cause some testing to be biased. For example, those that have a high intake of tofu, often follow a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits, which is of course both balanced and healthy.

More often than not, a good diet manifests itself in good health, and so it could be that a better overall diet is the reasoning behind the correlation between tofu intake and the reduction in cases of cancer that is seen in research.

For more great resources on nutrition and to learn how to take advantage of healthy food for a healthy life, we recommend the following articles:

#5 Reduces Risk of Osteoporosis

Some evidence has suggested that the benefits of eating tofu everyday may just get more significant with age. Osteoporosis is a common problem with aging, particularly in women after the menopausal time period. This is due to the fact that the female body makes less estrogen throughout and following menopause. Estrogen is what protects against bone deterioration, so with less of this, the weaker and more brittle bones get.

Soy rich foods, such as tofu, have chemicals that are called isoflavones, which have a similar working function to that of estrogen. One study conducted by the University of Hull gave 200 women within 2 years of starting menopause either 30 grams of soy protein alone, or the same amount of soy with 66 milligrams of isoflavone everyday over 6 months. 

Markers in their blood found that women on the diet including isoflavones showed that they had lower levels of one marker, suggesting that the rate of bone loss was slowing down, and ultimately, lowering their risk of developing osteoporosis. 

This is a useful way of utilising the health benefits of tofu, as brittle bones are of course more prone to injuries like fractures and breaks which at an older age, can become much more problematic.

If you’re interested in how your bones can be improved by your diet, read our article on L-Glutamine: benefits, side effects and uses here.

#6 It’s a Great Meat Alternative

Tofu is a great meat substitute, it acts as a blank canvas that you can morph into just about anything. You can season tofu and allow flavours to do the hard work, or you can even deep fry it - which is a popular way of adding it into meals like stir frys.

There are countless things you can do with tofu in comparison to meat since meat has a distinct taste and for the most part, a consistent texture. However, tofu is much more versatile and adaptable, so depending on the type of tofu you opt for, how you cook it, and what you season it with, you can make meals of varied textures and flavours.

Not only is the taste great, but as discussed a little earlier, this is a meat alternative that will provide you with a sufficient amount of protein, almost as much as you would have if there were meat on your plate. More often than not, there is a higher protein count in meat, but this does not undermine the nutritional power of tofu.

Tofu, while having less protein than meat, still provides a sufficient amount for bodily function while reducing carbon footprint and environmental impact. Besides the fact that tofu is also full of essential amino acids and nutrients, it is a tasty way to help you lose weight while keeping your macronutrients right, so why not swap your beef steak for a tofu steak!

#7 Improves Kidney Function

The benefits of tofu don’t end there, as there are even talks of it improving your kidney function. 

Research has suggested that plant protein can help kidney function by:

  • Decreasing protein in the urine.
  • Slowing the decline of kidney blood flow.
  • Reducing severity of kidney tissue damage compared to animal proteins.
  • Reduction in kidney cyst growth.

You can rest assured that if you have existing kidney issues or are seeking out everyday changes that could help you on the  road to better health, introducing plant based alternatives such as tofu could be a great start.

Of course, whether your issues are severe or not, you should consult your GP before making any drastic diet changes, and ensure to monitor your health along the way.

#8 It’s a Blank Canvas

As we mentioned earlier, tofu is essentially a blank canvas. No matter what type you opt for you can add seasoning and spices until you have a protein fueled food that fits in perfect harmony with the rest of your meal.

Due to its unique texture, you can make tofu so that it suits your preferences and compliments the rest of your meal. For a more salty and flavoursome meal you may opt to deep fry the tofu, giving it a lot more texture and taking away the more delicate nature of silky tofu especially. 

On the other hand, you can keep the delicate nature of tofu and add it to curries or just about anything for that matter. Some of the most popular ways of cooking tofu include:

  • Grilled tofu
  • Baked tofu
  • Crispy tofu

And, some of the most popular spices to season your tofu with include:

  • Turmeric
  • Dill
  • Paprika
  • Cajun
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cinnamon

If you need some guidance on seasoning when you’re on a diet, read our article on the best herbs for weight loss here.

#9 High In Calcium

With calcium almost always being linked to dairy and cow's milk, you may think that there is a lack of such in vegan alternatives such as tofu, however this is not the case!

As you are probably aware by now, Tofu is rich in many nutrients, and calcium is one of them. Whatsmore, it's usually easier than you think to get your calcium intake whilst eating a plant-based diet. 

To compare a vegan diet with a meat and dairy diet, let's say your dinner consists of a tuna steak with some vegetables or carbs. 100g of a tuna steak holds 37 mg of calcium, compare that with a 100g of a tofu steak, which holds 350 mg of calcium!

As you can tell, this is a huge difference and it goes to show how you don’t need to eat the typical dairy go-tos such as milk, yogurts and cheeses to get your calcium intake!

#10 Can Help with PCOS & Endometriosis 

PCOS and endometriosis are common conditions among many women and diet can impact the severity of the condition itself. More specifically, those with these conditions are at a higher risk of developing more serious issues such as diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Soy is said to be a helpful substance when protecting against these more serious health implications due to the soy isoflavones that naturally occur in soy. Studies have looked into this theory, for example one had 70 women between the ages of 18-40 take part in a trial that measured their hormone and lipid levels, as well as biomarkers of insulin resistance and inflammation. The reason for this was that that insulin resistance, in regard to PCOS, is the driving factor of type 2 diabetes and is a common problem in those women who suffer.

The women were split into two groups, one of which had a supplement of soy (which was equivalent to 500 milliliters of soy milk) and the other a placebo. It was concluded that the women with the soy supplements had lower biomarkers of insulin resistance and tended to have lower levels of testosterone, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, or fats in the blood.

Overall, soy arguably has the power to make the likes of endocrine disorders less harmful to the body, even if it is subtle. 

Risks of Tofu

There are of course both benefits and risks of tofu. Now that we’ve listed the benefits, it would only be right to ensure we make you aware of how eating tofu could present some risks to certain people.

These risks are very minimal but nonetheless, are worthy noting for the ‘what if’ factor when it comes to certain intakes of tofu. We should make it clear that a lot of these problems have conflicting research, in other words, some studies have indicated clear benefits while other research has found otherwise. 

To begin, there are some additives in tofu that can affect the health value of the substance itself, but this is usually in the case of things such as tofu sausages, which are often processed. Whilst this seems like a risk associated with tofu, it is actually a result of the additives included in some products and not the tofu itself. So, choosing less processed versions of tofu would enable you to avoid any risks this may come with. If this is a concern for you, we suggest sticking with things like raw tofu cooked yourself, soymilk and tempeh.

This next risk of tofu is specifically for men but has not gotten enough attention to have sufficient research carried out, meaning that there is no reliable evidence to support or against the claims. That said, it is thought that there is a possibility of the phytoestrogen in tofu having a feminising effect. This leads to the concern of gynecomastia (breast development in men), and could even impact fertility.

Do note however, that this impact is minimal and it is not enough to suggest that soy should be avoided by infants or men. Like any food there are potential risk factors, but there isn’t any hard evidence to suggest that this is something to worry about. There are, however, plenty of benefits with reliable research behind them that suggest incorporating tofu into your diet can have a positive impact on your health. 

If you’re looking for new additions to your diet, why not check out our list of the best healthy high fat foods here?

Tofu Meal Suggestions

Since you’re looking for the health benefits of tofu, you may want to know how to make some meals with such a versatile ingredient. So, we have gathered some recommendations for all kinds of eaters! 

Crispy Tofu

One of the key benefits of eating tofu is the way you can change the consistency to your preference. Crispy tofu is perfect as a side dish, a starter or even as a protein in a stirfry.

Crispy tofu is vegan and gluten free, the perfect side for those looking for minimally processed foods while still being tasty! 

Breakfast Tofu Scramble

If you’re a vegan, you may miss the mornings with a coffee and some scrambled eggs on toast; well, fear not as a healthy alternative is found in tofu. By adding the following ingredients, you can scramble up a delicious breakfast feast to prepare you for the day. All you'll need is:

  • Finely sliced onion
  • Garlic
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Tomato

Tofu Burger

By simply crumbling up your tofu and drying it out, you can have a tasty tofu burger. Like we mentioned, one of the great benefits of tofu is the fact that it is a blank canvas that you can do just about anything with! 

So, with that in mind, why not try some seasoning with mint, basil, cilantro and for a kick, sriracha! You can add whichever spices you please and mould it into a patty before adding your favourite burger dressing and toppings - then, dig in!

FAQs

Can I Marinade My Tofu?

One of the many benefits of tofu is the fact that preparing it is nowhere as time consuming as meat. If you have prepared meat before, you may have had the joy of marinating meat before, and you may want to do the same with your tofu steak.

However, it is actually unnecessary to waste any time on waiting on tofu to marinade, this is due to the consistency of tofu itself. The thickness and texture of tofu means that it is unlikely to absorb much of the marinade anyway. Instead, all you need to do is toss the tofu in whatever seasoning and marinade before you cook it to give it a flavourful outer coat and texture.

Is Tofu Gluten Free?

Yes, tofu in its natural raw state is gluten free but you should always look out for any tofu based products that have additional ingredients that could make it have gluten. For instance, you may get gluten free noodles in a stir fry with tofu, however if you have soy as your dressing, this would add gluten to your meal.

You can’t be totally carefree when it comes to tofu products and gluten, so always check the label.

How Do I Dry My Tofu?

One of the great benefits of tofu is that it’s actually easier than you think to prepare. It may seem like a lot of work to dry your food out, season it, coat it etc, but this is not a lengthy process! Infact, though it may seem counterintuitive, you can soak your tofu block in boiling water, allowing more moisture to escape the block and forcing it to rise to the surface; this means that you can then easily blot off any excess moisture before cooking.

Before You Go...

If you arrived at this article wondering, 'what are the health benefits of tofu?', we hope that you are now well informed on all the reasons why you should incorporate it into your diet. Remember, you don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to enjoy the benefits of tofu, anybody can take advantage of the versatility and health impact of the food!

Before you go, if you have a real passion for food and how it works with the body, why not take our level 4 course in advanced sports nutrition? Or, you can sift through all of our courses that we offer here in our downloadable course prospectus. 

Written by Kimberley Mitchell

Editor

Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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