Tofu or not Tofu?
Would you be amenable to serving tofurkey for Christmas dinner or would you baulk at the idea? Irrespective of your ideologies, dietary inclinations and preferences, tofu is very much worth looking at as an eco-friendly meat alternative. I have to hold my hands up and confess that my knowledge of all things tofu and the like has been fairly negligible to date. I’ve always been a meat lover but have decided to make a conscious effort in 2018 to reduce my consumption for reasons of environment, food sustainability and health. I’d like to moderate my intake of red meat in particular; with all of the chopping and changing and conflicting advice on nutrition that abounds, red meat has been consistently linked to an increased risk of a multitude of diseases, heart disease, stroke and bowel cancer among them. Sooo, I’ve finally begun to consider meat substitutes like tofu and its ilk.
So what is tofu anyway?
Tofu is essentially condensed soy milk, pressed into semi-solid blocks. Akin to cheese production- but with soybeans rather than animal milk- the process involves mixing water, soybeans and a curdling agent.
A 100 gr serving of tofu packs quite the nutritional punch, offering approx. 60-70 calories – 46% of which are derived from protein, 39% from fat and 15% from carbs, give or take. It’s not without good reason that tofu is touted as an excellent low-calorie source of protein, i.e. tofu is low in calories (as well as fat) for the amount of protein it contains, which is a huge part of why it’s so popular with those who don’t eat meat. For illustrative purposes, each 100 gramme serving of tofu provides c. 11 grammes of protein, whereas a 100 gramme portion of minced beef provides c. 9 grammes and the same amount of cheese provides c. 6 grammes.
Tofu is also considered a complete protein, meaning it is a one-stop shop for all of the essential amino acids or protein building blocks. Furthermore, it is jam-packed with many micronutrients including iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium as well as vitamins B6, E, K and folate. It is also an excellent source of fibre.
Regular consumption of tofu, and other soya foods, can optimise cholesterol levels- ultimately leading to a reduction in ‘bad’ cholesterol- to boost cardiovascular health. Furthermore, soya isoflavones (types of phytoestrogens, plant hormones that resemble human estrogen in structure) have been shown to enhance the lining of our blood vessels, again helping to stave off heart attacks and strokes which happen when our vessels become obstructed.
Japanese and Chinese women, who consume over ten times the amount of these isoflavones that Western women consume, experience only a fraction of the troublesome hot flushes that are associated with the menopause.
Regular consumers of soya foods also enjoy better bone health, with significantly lower levels of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) and fewer ensuing fractures. A recent study from the University of Hull in the UK has shown that a diet rich in soya foods can significantly augment bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis after the menopause.
But soya foods have not been without their controversies…
One such controversy stems from the fact that the majority of tofu and other soya food products are produced via bioengineering/genetically modified processes. Thus far, studies have shown GM foods to be safe for human consumption, but concerns exist for many given the relative newness of this technology. If you want to assuage your fears, you could always plump for the ‘certified organic’ options.
The isoflavones/phytoestrogens contained in soya foods have been linked to certain cancers and other hormonal issues in lab settings and in rodents – any such studies involved high levels of isoflavones and the effects have not been borne out in humans.
The American Institute for Cancer Research reported no indication that eating soya is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, countries where soya foods are consumed regularly boast lower rates of several cancers, including those of the breast and prostate, suggesting a protective effect.
Studies have also consistently dispelled the myth that soya foods elevate oestrogen levels in men.
With regard to thyroid disease, soya foods have been shown to pose no harmful effect to those with normal thyroid function. However, for those with an underactive thyroid, the isoflavones contained in soya foods can interfere with the absorption of thyroid hormone replacement medication, so regular monitoring of thyroid function is advised and obviously, you need not make tofu or other soya foods the cornerstone of every meal… Moderation, as always, is key! (Also, regular thyroid function blood tests should be a regular thing for those with an under active thyroid anyway!)
So there you have it – tofu and other soya foods are nutritious and safe… I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and don’t forget to tofu in 2018!