Tofu is a popular food in our grocery stores, restaurants, and kitchens. It’s often touted as an amazing health food for vegans, vegetarians and the rest of us.
But scientists and health coaches are advising people to steer clear of this versatile, protein-packed vegetarian option. According to research, it’s harmful and detrimental to your health. But it’s up to you to decide. So, let’s weight the pros and cons of tofu.
What is Tofu?
Even though it’s very popular, not everyone knows what tofu is.
Simply put, soy milk is coagulated, and the remaining curds are collected and pressed together to form what we know as tofu. It’s a similar process to making cheese from milk.
Unless you are purchasing the five percent of soy products made with organic soy, you’re most likely consuming tofu made with genetically modified soybeans. This is the first red flag when it comes to tofu.
Soy crops are genetically modified to resist a strong pesticide called, Round Up. So, when farmers spray their crops with Round Up, it kills everything but soy plants.
While this guarantees a successful soy harvest, it doesn’t guarantee that the soybeans you eat will be safe for human consumption.
The Good Side of Tofu
Tofu is low in fat and carbohydrates and packs the punch when it comes to protein. In fact, tofu contains all essential amino acids. You may also read that it’s a good source of zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
Tofu has phytoestrogens called isoflavones. Because they are similar to the hormone, estrogen, and act in similar ways within the body, some claim that soy-based products, including tofu, can help reduce breast cancer risk.
Thanks to the presence of soy’s phytoestrogens, many older women are encouraged to consume tofu. It’s a way for them to counteract the negative experiences of menopause.
Vegan and Vegetarian-Friendly
Many vegans and vegetarians turn to tofu as their go-to source of protein. It’s completely plant-based, highly versatile, easy to work with, and relatively inexpensive. Plus, it keeps in the refrigerator or freezer for quite a while.
Soy is usually controversial when it comes to breast cancer discussion. But the studies show that when women eat soy products regularly, including tofu, it can help to lower the risk of breast cancer.
Remember those phytoestrogens called isoflavones? They can support healthy bone growth and prevent bone loss.
This makes tofu a desirable food item for women going through menopause as well as other people who wish to maintain optimal bone health.
The Cons of Tofu
While there are some benefits to tofu, it seems like the negative effects of this soy-based product far outweigh the good.
Difficulty Absorbing all Those Nutritional Benefits
It’s true that soy contains magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper.
But it also contains something called phytic acid and antinutrients. These basically make it very difficult for your body to absorb all the vitamins and minerals present in tofu.
Asian societies know this and created fermented soy products that are easier and safer for the body to digest.
The fermentation process breaks down the natural but harmful characteristics of soy before you eat them. Common fermented options include nato, miso, and tempeh. They might not be as convenient to locate as regular tofu, but they are much safer for your digestive system.
Isoflavone is an Endocrine Disruptor
The presence of isoflavone in tofu makes it a potentially harmful food. This phytoestrogen can interfere with thyroid function. Therefore, those with a compromised thyroid should avoid tofu.
But it raises a question for the rest of us: can it complicate your endocrine system even if you’re healthy?
Goitrogens are substances that can lower thyroid function, too. This makes it harder for your body to react to hormones being produced in the body. And this will have an impact on your mood. So, if you’re prone to hypothyroidism, it’s probably best to rethink how much tofu you consume.
Tofu is a Processed Food
Tofu is relatively simple food. It’s made up of soybeans, water, acid, and salt. But it’s still processed food. In fact, the firmer your tofu, the more it's processed. And the production process destroys many of the isoflavones that are good for you.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Tofu contains substances that look like Vitamin B12 but your body can’t utilize them the same way it uses real Vitamin B12. For this reason, tofu can actually lead to Vitamin B12 deficiencies in the body.
Too much soy has left rats sterile and infertile and this can have heavy implications for us, too. In fact, the isoflavones present in tofu could lower a woman’s fertility, interfere with the development of babies and children, and even lead to premature puberty.
Dr. Kaayla Daniel has highlighted the fact that a growing number of people are allergic to soy, which can include tofu products. This is especially true for those made from genetically modified soybeans, which, unfortunately, are the majority.
Better Substitutes to Replace Your Tofu
If you’re used to eating tofu in your diet, it might be frustrating to learn about some of the harmful qualities of this soy-based product. And while it’s best to avoid tofu whenever you can, that doesn’t mean you have to cut soy out of your life for good.
You can opt for fermented soy products like nato, miso and tempeh. Nato (also referred to as Natto) is fermented soybeans and has a distinct cheese-like aroma. It’s loaded with Vitamin K2 and can lower blood pressure – a wonderful vitamin for a healthy diet.
Miso, on the other hand, is a paste made from soybeans and has a salty, buttery taste. Tempeh has a cake-like texture and an earthier aroma, almost like mushrooms. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and proteins, which are safe and easy for the body to digest.
Soy can be harmful to the human body if eaten in the form of tofu and other soy-based products. However, when you eat fermented soy foods, you transform soy into not only a safer product but a nutritional powerhouse for your body.