Tofu has been around for thousands of years and has become popular in recent decades due to its health benefits. It can be cooked in myriad ways and it adds a different texture to dishes like stir fry and soups. Today, it is a staple of many vegan diets. Learn more about the health benefits of tofu.
What is Tofu?
A common soy product originating in Asia, tofu is made by curdling fresh soymilk. It’s then pressed into blocks or pieces. Both soft and firm varieties of tofu are available, depending on how much water has been extracted from the soybeans during processing. These different types of tofu can be used in a variety of ways, from stir-fries to soups to desserts!
The first step in making tofu is soaking soybeans. Soybeans are soaked overnight before being ground into a slurry that will eventually become soymilk—the liquid remaining after pressing the soybean pulp. To make soymilk, producers add coagulants such as calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride to remove more of the liquid from the beans.
Next, producers introduce an acid to create curds. The curds are then separated from the liquid and made into blocks, which we call tofu.
Health benefits of tofu:
Tofu is an incredible source of essential nutrients and micronutrients like selenium, manganese, and calcium. It’s also a good source of protein, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
In addition, it makes for a great addition to any weight loss diet because it’s low in calories but extremely filling and satisfying.
A 3.5-ounce serving of tofu can offer up to:
- Calories: 70
- Carbohydrate: 1.5 grams
- Protein: 8 grams
- Fat: 4 grams
- Dietary fiber: 1 gram
- Manganese: 0.6 milligrams, or 31 percent of the daily requirement
- Calcium: 201 milligrams, or 20 percent of the daily requirement
- Selenium: 9.9 micrograms, or 14 percent of the daily requirement
- Phosphorus: 121 milligrams, or 12 percent of the daily requirement
- Copper: 0.2 milligrams, or 11 percent of the daily requirement
- Iron: 1.6 milligrams, or 9 percent of the daily requirement
- Magnesium: 37 milligrams, or 9 percent of the daily requirement
- Zinc: 0.8 milligrams, or 6 percent of the daily requirement
- Folate: 19 micrograms, or 5 percent of the daily requirement
Health Benefits of Tofu
1. Rich in protein and calcium
Tofu is a soy-based food that is often used in the vegan diet. The protein in tofu comes from soybeans, whereas other proteins might come from other sources.
Tofu is high in protein and calcium which helps to build strong bones and increase bone density. It also provides nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, and potassium.
The health benefits of tofu include it being a rich source of calcium and iron for vegans and vegetarians who need to watch their consumption because they are mostly on plant-based diets. It contains about 10% of the daily value of iron as well as a good source of vitamin B12.
2. Prevents cardiovascular conditions
The high levels of isoflavones in tofu—compounds that have been shown to lower cholesterol—make it an effective weapon against heart disease. Tofu contains a type of isoflavone called genistein, which was found in one study to reduce both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as increase HDL (good) cholesterol by as much as 20 percent.
In another study, researchers evaluated the effects of consuming tofu, which is high in protein and other cholesterol-lowering nutrients such as selenium and vitamin B12. The results showed that those who consumed tofu had better blood pressure, decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, improved blood lipids (fats), reduced triglycerides levels, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved endothelial function (a measure of heart health).
Additionally, tofu has plenty of magnesium to help keep blood pressure low. In fact, according to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, soy products like tofu can help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering your bad cholesterol and increasing your good cholesterol.
That’s not all: A 2013 study published in Phytotherapy Research showed that eating more soy may also help reduce artery blockage due to plaque buildup. All told, incorporating more tofu into your diet could be a simple way to ward off heart disease.
3. Help prevent breast and prostate cancer
Tofu contains isoflavones, a type of antioxidant known for its ability to fight cancer. In particular, these compounds can stop free radicals from damaging healthy cells, which often leads to cancer development. Additionally, according to a study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, tofu contains genistein (as well as daidzein), two phytoestrogens that help slow tumor growth and prevent metastasis by blocking cell division.
While more research needs to be done on whether or not soy has an effect on breast cancer risk, it’s clear that consuming soy foods like tofu could help lower your risk of developing certain types of cancers.
And even if you already have cancer, eating tofu may help keep tumors from growing larger.
The National Cancer Institute reports that patients with breast, colon, and prostate cancers who consumed soy protein isolate had slower tumor growth than those who didn’t consume any soy at all.
4. Reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes
High-fiber foods like tofu may help reduce blood glucose levels. Research suggests that a diet high in fiber, especially soluble fiber, can help lower your body’s glucose response to food.
In turn, lowering your glucose response may help prevent insulin resistance and associated disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
That said, not all types of tofu are equal—it’s best to stick with traditional fermented and non-GMO varieties to reap these benefits. Also, avoid processed soy products, which often contain unhealthy additives.
And remember: no matter how much you love tofu, it won’t be able to make up for an otherwise unhealthy diet! Be sure to include plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats in your diet.
In addition, tofu is also rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium—all important for healthy blood sugar levels.
5. Improves kidney function
A study on the effects of tofu consumption on kidney function was conducted by researchers from Aichi Prefectural University.
The study showed that those who ate more tofu had 50% higher levels of creatinine clearance than those who ate less tofu. Creatinine is a waste product that gets removed from the blood by the kidneys and it is a good indicator of how well your kidneys are functioning.
In addition, those who ate more tofu also had significantly lower levels of albumin – which is an indication that their kidney function improved as well.
6. Help prevent osteoporosis
Soy protein and calcium may be the best way to prevent osteoporosis and related fractures. Tofu soy isoflavones have been shown in animal studies to reduce bone loss, which explains its use in Asian countries that have a high incidence of osteoporosis. Tofu soy isoflavones also help strengthen bones by increasing bone mineral density.
In this study, researchers found that those who had been eating tofu as their main protein source had a lower risk of developing hip fractures as well as a higher bone mineral density than those who ate plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans, or legumes.
7. Improves the symptoms of menopause
Menopause can cause a variety of symptoms that occur within the first few years after menstruation decline. The most common symptoms are hot flashes, weight gain, mood swings, bone loss and changes in sleep quality.
Menopause is the time during which women transition through their reproductive years from having menstrual cycles to not having them anymore. It is generally defined as one year after a woman’s last period ended.
Although the process of menopause is inevitable for most women, there are ways to cope with it. One way to ease the symptoms is by eating a well-balanced diet that includes tofu. Tofu is full of protein and other nutrients that can help to regain ideal body weight.
8. Promotes longevity
A 1999 study by Johns Hopkins University found that seniors who ate tofu or drank soy milk had a lower death rate than those who did not. The risk of death from heart disease was also reduced in these individuals.
Soy is also thought to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which can help prevent strokes and heart attacks later in life. And since low intakes of soy are associated with bone loss, regular consumption may even help protect against osteoporosis. All these factors can help you live a long and healthy life.
Tasty Ways to Prepare Tofu
While tofu may not be everyone’s favorite food, it has a lot to offer in terms of nutrition and versatility in the kitchen. If you’re looking to add more tofu to your diet, there are plenty of ways to prepare it and make it taste good enough that you want to eat it again and again. Moreover, its ability to soak in flavors makes it the perfect vehicle for so many dishes. Here are 10 tasty ways to prepare tofu.
Sauteed with Veggies
Sautéing tofu is one of my favorite ways to eat it. The technique involves cooking a sliced or cubed block of tofu in a small amount of oil until all sides are crispy and golden. This can be done in either a skillet or a wok over medium-high heat, and it’s delicious when paired with veggies like bell peppers, onion, carrots, mushrooms, and spinach. It’s just another reason why I love plant-based eating so much!
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about how to prepare tofu is probably stir-frying, but there are so many other options. First, cut your block of firm or extra-firm tofu into any shape you desire. Then marinate it for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours (the longer you marinate, the more flavor will seep into your tofu).
Next, grill it over medium heat for about 10 minutes per side. When choosing what sauce to serve with grilled tofu, think outside of Asia! Try experimenting with vegan barbecue sauce, honey mustard, or even spicy salsa.
Baked tofu is one of the easy ways to enjoy tofu. This preparation doesn’t require any marinating, which means it comes together quickly.
Place a block of firm or extra-firm tofu on a baking sheet and bake in an oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, drain the liquid, and slice into cubes. Eat as a substitute for meat in pasta dishes or salads.
Start by cubing up your tofu into 1/2-inch pieces. Then, coat it with olive oil and your favorite seasonings (we recommend spices like oregano, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes). Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes.
Add your tofu cubes and let them sit undisturbed for 2–3 minutes. Once you start seeing some brown spots on all sides of each cube, flip them over and let them brown on that side as well. Once they’re golden brown on both sides, remove them from the heat and serve hot!
As an ingredient in other dishes
If you’re looking for a healthy way to incorporate more protein into your diet, try incorporating baked or grilled tofu into recipes instead of meat. It can replace ground beef in tacos, chili, sloppy joes, and even shepherd’s pie. It can also replace chicken in soups and salads or serve as a stand-in for fish fillets in casseroles.
Make sticky rice with tofu
To make sticky rice with tofu, first, cook one cup of sticky rice following your usual method. Then cube 1/2 cup of firm tofu and press it between several layers of paper towels. Next, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok over medium-high heat.
Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add cubed tofu and stir-fry for 5 minutes until golden brown. Drain off any excess oil from the wok, then add cooked sticky rice to it along with 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 tablespoons water.
Stir fry for about 3 minutes until thoroughly heated through before serving hot.
Eat tofu as a side dish
Tofu is a low-calorie, plant-based protein that can be used in many different recipes. If you eat it as a side dish, there’s no limit to what kind of cuisine you can create with it. Instead of eating your tofu alone or mashed up in a bowl of rice or noodles, prepare your favorite Asian dishes with tofu as a side dish.
Get creative with tofu
Tofu makes for a perfect addition to smoothies—not only does it provide an extra serving of protein, but its neutral flavor means it won’t overpower other ingredients. Whether you prefer your smoothies sweet or savory, tofu will deliver great results every time.
My favorite tofu recipes:
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