What is Tofu? The Surprising Benefits For Your Health
If you’re looking for healthy foods to add to your diet either to replace unhealthy options or to boost your already healthy diet, you’ve probably come across tofu in your research. There are a lot of conflicting beliefs about this food, but overall it is beneficial for your health and can be a great addition to a healthy diet.
This soy-based food has been around since the Chinese Han dynasty and has been modified throughout Asian cultures before making its way into mainstream vegetarian and vegan diets. To help you figure out if this food is right for you and your diet, understand that facts about the food as well as the benefits that it can have for your overall health before making any decisions.
Tofu Facts And Uses
Sometimes known as bean curd, tofu is a food that is made by coagulating soy milk and forming blocks with the resulting curds. The flavor is pretty subtle so it can be used in different recipes and take on various flavors that it’s cooked with. Tofu has been found in Asian cuisines and has made its way into mainstream western cuisines as more people look for vegetarian and vegan options to fulfill their nutritional needs.
To that point, tofu is low in calories and contains a good amount of protein, iron, calcium, and magnesium (depending on how it’s made). It’s also gluten-free and has no cholesterol. The nutrients in the food make it a good option for those looking for healthy food options for strict diets like low-calorie diets, vegan/vegetarian diets, or low cholesterol diets. Specifically, one block of hard tofu (about 122 grams) can contain:
Along with this, there are also small amounts of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, thiamin, selenium, manganese, and choline. These are all essential nutrients that can benefit your health in the long run. Since it’s a complete source of protein, tofu is also full of amino acids, polyunsaturated fats, and healthy omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.
You can purchase tofu at most grocery stores or health stores either in bulk or individual packages. It can be frozen, refrigerated, canned, or jarred so you can buy it based on your personal preference. In general, tofu doesn’t undergo a lot of processing so you’ll want to choose a product that has the shortest ingredients list on the packaging. The least process and healthiest options will list soybeans, water, coagulants (usually calcium sulfate, delta gluconolactone, or magnesium chloride), and possibly seasonings depending on the product.
There shouldn’t be any other chemicals or preservatives on the list. It should be noted that fresh tofu and processed tofu are available. Fresh tofu is made directly from soy milk and is found refrigerated and usually immersed in water so it stays moist. Processed tofu is made from fresh tofu but with more processing so it can be packaged differently for a longer shelf life.
Fresh tofu is available in different varieties that can be used for different things. The type of tofu depends on how much water comes out of the tofu curds that form from the milk. Here are the four main kinds of tofu available:
1. Extra soft: Sometimes known as mild tofu, here soy milk is mixed with saline water with sea salt or seawater to form curds. These are loose, soft curds that are usually sold in tubes to be boiled and eaten that way. It can also be added to dips or smoothies.
2.Soft (silken): This is undrained and unpressed tofu that is made from coagulating soy milk but without curdling it. It’s traditionally made with seawater and is used as a substitute for dairy or eggs in things like smoothies and desserts. There are some cases where soft tofu can be used alongside pickled foods or hot sauce to create a savory dish. It is also used in breakfast dishes across Asia. Generally speaking, this is great to use in soups and casseroles.
3.Firm: This tofu is drained and pressed into blocks. It’s probably what most people think of when they hear “tofu.” It has a texture similar to that of raw meat and bounces back when pressed. The outside skin that forms is tougher than the interior of the firm tofu which resembles a sort of custard in terms of the texture. This is usually made with seawater instead of magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate. The moisture is then squeezed from the coagulated milk and then pressed into the tofu blocks.
4.Extra firm: Sometimes called dry tofu, this is a variety of tofu that has had most of the moisture removed. It’s firm and slightly rubbery (think of something similar to paneer). It can be crumbled easily or sliced thinly to use in recipes. This can also be served cold or stir-fried.
If using tofu blocks, be sure to rinse them before using them in any recipe. You can then use the tofu by following whatever recipe you like. Any leftover tofu can be immersed in water and stored in your refrigerator for up to one week, but you should change the water daily. If you’ve bought tofu but don’t plan on using it, you can freeze it in its original packaging for as long as five months in most cases.
There are also tofu products that you can find in most grocery stores. For example, chicken substitutes, tofu sausage, and tofu burgers are popular in vegan and vegetarian diets as they offer a substitute for popular meat dishes. No matter how you prepare your tofu, you’ll be benefiting from the nutrients present in the food.
The Health Benefits Of Tofu
Plant-based foods, in general, are considered to be beneficial for your health when incorporated into a healthy diet. They can help you lose weight, control diabetes, and lower your risk of heart disease and other conditions. Similarly, they can enhance your hair and skin while also giving you more energy. There are also specific benefits that tofu can provide.
Thanks to the isoflavones present in tofu it is believed that tofu can lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your risk for cardiovascular disease. By choosing soy-based tofu over animal protein in your diet, you can greatly impact your cholesterol and lower your risk of high blood pressure as well as atherosclerosis in the process.
The main isoflavone in soy is called genistein. This has antioxidant properties that are believed to help stop the growth of cancer cells linked to breast and prostate cancer. It is important to note, however, that soy and tofu have to be consumed in moderate amounts (less than two servings per day) if you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer as soy can take on a similar structure to estrogen and increase the risk of breast cancer. However, more research needs to be done on this so if you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your doctor before adding tofu or other soy-based foods to your diet.
There are also studies that show that tofu and soy, in general, can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t have to do with your blood sugar levels but instead has to do with your kidney function. In most type 2 diabetes patients, kidney disease often occurs. This leads to your body excreting too much protein in your urine. Studies have shown that consuming soy protein instead of animal protein can benefit these patients because less protein is excreted from the body when it’s soy-based protein instead of animal protein.
Similarly, tofu can also benefit people with kidney problems since soy can enhance renal function. If you have kidney problems or are undergoing a transplant or dialysis, adding tofu to your diet can help with your renal function. There have also been trials that show that soy-based foods can have a positive effect on biomarkers in people with chronic kidney disease.
The same isoflavones that help with cholesterol levels can also help reduce bone loss and aid in increasing bone mineral density in people. This has shown to be especially true in post-menopausal women. Similarly, soy-based foods like tofu can also help relieve symptoms linked to menopause including hot flashes. This is due to the phytoestrogens in soy.
There are also studies that show that the coagulants used in the production of tofu can help lower your risk of liver damage that can be caused by free radicals. Tofu can also benefit those at risk for or dealing with age-related brain diseases including nonverbal memory issues including Alzheimer’s.These preliminary studies say that the lecithin content in tofu can help your body make phospholipids phosphatidic acid as well as phosphatidylserine which play important roles in neuron functioning in the body which is crucial for proper brain functioning.
While there is still a lot of work to be done to prove just how beneficial tofu can be for your health, it’s clear that adding it to your healthy diet can help you in some ways. Consider adding it to your diet to replace animal protein and try out some great recipes or tofu-based foods and see how it can help you. Remember, talk to your doctor before adding or removing anything from your diet that can affect your health, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.