Tofu was created centuries ago in Asia from mainly soybeans and water. Today, it is one of the most popular plant-based foods and an easy substitute for animal products like chicken and eggs.
“Tofu has a high amount of protein in it, which makes it a really good alternative for animal [based] protein,” says Jamie Mok, a registered dietitian nutritionist and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
According to the American Heart Association, tofu also contains essential vitamins and minerals like:
- Vitamin A
The plant-based food also has isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen, says Mok. Soy products and isoflavones aren’t looked at favorably in the U.S. due to a complicated history, according to the AHA.
Some people associate isoflavones with the development of certain cancers like breast cancer and prostate cancer. The concern stems from the link between increased levels of estrogen and a higher risk of those cancers.
This has caused many to raise an eyebrow at tofu as a healthy alternative. Here’s what Mok says — and research shows — about whether or not tofu qualifies as a healthy food.
Is tofu actually healthy?
If you consider its minerals and vitamins alone, tofu is a healthy choice for people to consider, says Mok.
But “a misconception is how soy impacts hormone levels,” she says, “And [that] eating too much soy may be causing some health issues.”
Mok says this is untrue. Though soy contains isoflavones, they’re similar to human estrogen “but much weaker,” she says. Isoflavones are also very different from synthetic estrogen which may contribute to certain health issues, she notes.
“Research shows that these plant chemicals [isoflavones] are neutral, or even have some health benefits to help regulate estrogen [and] protect against breast cancer,” says Mok.
After analyzing studies with a combined 9,514 breast cancer survivors in China and the U.S., researchers found an association between eating soy isoflavones post-diagnosis and a 25% lower risk of tumor recurrence.
And over the years, reviews have been mixed about if eating soy products is actually beneficial for heart health. But recent research support this claim as well.
A 2020 study published in the medical journal Circulation found that among 210,000 U.S. men and women, people who ate tofu at least once a week were 18% less likely to develop heart disease than those who hardly ate tofu at all.
3 simple ways to prepare tofu
Now that you know about the potential health benefits of tofu, you may be wondering how to prepare it. Many people aren’t blown away by the taste of tofu, but thankfully there are some ways you can jazz it up.
Here are a few of Mok’s suggestions for preparing tofu:
- Use softer tofu products in puddings and custards
- Make a crispy tofu in the air fryer
- Marinate, season and coat extra-firm tofu with cornstarch, then bake it in the oven
Soy can be a great, healthy choice to include in your diet in moderation, says Mok. Eating 25 grams of soy protein a day is what the Food and Drug Administration recommends for its heart health benefits.
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