What is Tofu? | Is tofu healthy?
What is Tofu?
Tofu is an unfermented soy product, just like soy milk. (Examples of fermented soy products are miso and tempeh.) The soybean itself is a legume derived from the soybean plant. Even if you don’t eat tofu, chances are you’re getting a lot of soy. Soy is used in more and more food products for its structure, as an emulsifier or protein filler.
For the production of tofu, dried soybeans are first washed and soaked. Then they are ground into a paste. This mash is gently boiled. Then it is drained firmly by means of a cloth, leaving a much thicker paste. This is reheated and mixed with a coagulant such as vinegar, which curdles the soy milk into the final product: tofu.
Tofu or not tofu, that’s the question! Tofu is originally from Asia, but is now well established in the West. Many people just like it and it is a great meat substitute for vegetarians. But the health of soy products such as tofu is often hotly debated. Consuming soy is said to impede nutrient absorption and disrupt hormones. There is certainly something to be said about this, but a large part of these views stem from the misinterpretation of scientific research. So it is high time to find out what is true of this now. Does tofu disrupt all kinds of processes in our body or is it just healthy?
Is soy healthy?
The legume soy is rich in many nutrients that promote our health. First, we’ll look at micro and macronutrients, and then we’ll dive deeper into the estrogen and anti-nutrient controversy.
Micro and macronutrients
Soy products such as tofu are high in protein and low in fat or carbohydrates. And soy milk does not contain lactose, a great advantage as lactose intolerance is very common.
Soy products such as tofu are a good source of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin E and folic acid. Tofu is also packed with pectin, a dietary fiber that has a positive effect on cholesterol.
The vegetable protein
To determine whether tofu is really a good meat substitute, we will take a closer look at the protein content. Soybeans contain 35% protein. Because tofu also contains a lot of water, this drops to 13 grams of protein per 100 grams. Due to the water content, tofu is easily digestible and you can easily eat a little more of it. With a serving of 200 grams you immediately have 26 grams of protein.
The proteins in soy also contain all essential and non-essential amino acids. So you do not have to worry that these proteins would be inferior to animal proteins.
Protection against cancer
Research shows that soy products can have a protective effect on prostate cancer, among other things. This effect was only found for unfermented soy products. Soy milk and tofu consumption was associated with a 30% reduction in prostate cancer risk. Other foods that can help prevent prostate cancer are tomatoes and broccoli. And also the risk of ovarian and cervical cancer can be reduced by eating soy.
What is the effect of phytoestrogens in soy?
Phytoestrogens are equivalent to plant estrogens and are found in at least 300 plant foods. These plant estrogens can have an effect on the estrogen balance in the body, that’s true. But is it therefore negative?
Estrogens in the human body are mainly known for the female sex characteristics. They regulate the menstrual cycle and are important for fertility and pregnancy. When menopause sets in, estrogen levels drop by as much as 95%.
Also Read this: What is hummus | is hummus healthy?
But men also have a small amount of estrogen in the body. The hormone is also important for good bone density.
The effect of vegetable estrogens
The effect of plant estrogens on the human body is not one-sided. It’s not like it increases or decreases overall estrogen levels. The reason for this is that our body has different estrogen receptors, alpha receptors and beta receptors.
Our bones mainly contain beta receptors. As a result, soy has pro-estrogenic effects in this place. The consumption of soy increases the mineral density in the bones. A single serving of soy per day lowers the risk of fractures.
The liver contains almost exclusively alpha receptors. And soy mainly binds to beta receptors. With a normal consumption of, for example, 1 cup of soy products per day, this does not pose any problem. Only with an excessive consumption of, for example, 30 cups of soy products per day could there be a negative effect on the liver. Nobody eats this amount, of course.
Unfortunately, this is probably the reason why there are so many side effects of estrogen medications. The doses here are much higher than normal. “The dose makes the poison.” So it is not the case that when a large amount of something is harmful, a small amount is probably not good. Just think of vitamin C, a very important vitamin for our resistance. But in very high amounts, this vitamin is very harmful to our body.
Anti-nutrients in soy
Many plant products contain anti-nutrients. Not only soy, but also rhubarb, chocolate, beets, beans, spinach, berries and grain products such as bread. Wouldn’t it be a bit crazy to suddenly declare all these foods unhealthy?
The best-known anti-nutrient, which is indeed also found in soy and therefore tofu, is phytic acid. Anti-nutrients such as phytic acid are said to bind to minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, making them no longer available to the body. The good substances in our diet would therefore no longer end up in the body.
But several more recent studies show that this negative effect only occurs if you take a lot of these anti-nutrients and your overall diet is very unhealthy.
While it was previously thought that these phytic acids would bind to calcium and thus lead to weak bones, the opposite appears to be true. The phytic acids would even protect against osteoporosis. Phytic acids have many similar properties to vitamins. Phytic acid inhibits the effect of free radicals and protects against colon cancer. Thus, the concern of anti-nutrients is more like a negative reputation based on outdated studies.
In summary: is tofu healthy?
Tofu contains complete proteins, unsaturated fats and many vitamins and minerals. Concerns about the effect of estrogens and anti-nutrients seem unfounded. In fact, recent research shows that the opposite is true. Soy consumption has a balancing effect on the effects of estrogen and even protects against cancer.
Only those who have a soy allergy should avoid soy. But this is only 1 in 2000 people. A large minority compared to people with lactose allergy or celiac disease, that is 1 in 100.
Undoubtedly, there are many studies that contradict each other. What is important to still see the forest for the trees is to remain critical and to be careful with the interpretation of research results. And if you really don’t know anymore, use your gut feeling. Soybeans are good for your intestines!