Tofu, or bean curd, is a popular food derived from soya. It is made by adding a mineral salt (usually, calcium sulfate) and water to a soybean mash. In fact, it is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it – in much the same way that traditional dairy cheese is made by curdling and solidifying milk. The liquid (whey) is discarded, and the curds are pressed to form a cohesive bond.
The mineral salt makes the protein and fiber in the soy mash turn thick and smooth. Depending upon the amount of water it contains, tofu may vary in consistency. Tofu is rich in calcium and is an inexpensive source of protein, making it a good vegetarian substitute for meat or dairy products. Plain tofu has almost no taste, but it readily absorbs the flavor of herbs and spices added when you prepare a meal. Tofu is a versatile food and an important part of East Asian cuisines. In fact, it’s the main way that soy foods are eaten in China, Japan and Korea.
The Story Behind Tofu
It is said that tofu came to Japan during the Nara period (710-794) when Buddhist priests went to China as envoys, and when they returned, they brought back with them the method for making tofu. For the Buddhist priests, who were forbidden to eat the flesh of living creatures, tofu was a highly valuable source of protein. At this time, only the aristocracy (including warriors and priests) enjoyed tofu, as with many other foods at this time in history, and it wasn’t until much later that tofu spread throughout the country to the general populace.
Tofu and it’s Introduction to America
The soybean was established as a commercial crop in the United States in the 1920s, but it was first used as hay and sometimes green manure. Americans didn’t truly start growing and eating soybeans until World War II, when the crop replaced imported fats and oils, which were blocked by disrupted trade routes. Soybean production blossomed during the 1960s, when America produced 75 percent of the world’s supply. Science followed suit, with medical studies beginning in the 1960s and rising to a fever pitch that continues to this day.
Tofu Nutritional Benefits
A 4-ounce serving of tofu provides about 43 percent of your daily allowance for the essential amino acid tryptophan. It also supplies one-third of your daily allowance of iron, which is required for oxygen transport, and manganese, which is necessary for proper nerve function and bone growth. The same serving provides 15 percent of your daily requirement for selenium, a powerful antioxidant mineral, and 15 percent of your daily requirement for heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Four ounces of tofu also contain 10 percent of your daily requirement of calcium — important for bone growth and nerve and muscle function — and 8 percent of your daily requirement of magnesium, which promotes muscle relaxation.
1. Beauty Benefits Of Tofu
Protein creates skin cells. These cells are replenished in a four week cycle which continuously replaces old cells with new cells. Consequently, people must constantly replenish protein. However, when animal protein is ingested, fats that include saturated fatty acids are also absorbed into the system. This results in the secretion of excess fats through the skin, causing the pores to open wide. In order to maintain a smooth complexion, it is considered beneficial to take vegetable proteins such as those contained in typical soybean products such as tofu.
Additionally, constipation, another ailment frequently seen in women, also causes skin problems, so it is important to ingest fiber to invigorate intestinal activity. Okara, the by-product of tofu, retains all the dietary fiber, so eating tofu together with okara is ideal for healthy skin.
2. Tofu Benefits During Menstruation
Tofu is also an ideal food during menstruation. The calcium and B vitamins contained in tofu help to soothe the nerves, and a stable mentality helps to resolve irritability. Some women also experience stiff shoulders and coldness in the hands and feet during menstruation. Eating “yu-dofu” (boiled tofu) will warm up the body and alleviate the coldness while the unsaturated fatty acid in the tofu will lower cholesterol and improve circulation.
3. Tofu Benefits During Pregnancy
Tofu can be beneficial for women suffering a loss of appetite during pregnancy due to morning sickness. Protein is an essential nutrient for the development of the unborn child, the placenta, and for sustaining and increasing amniotic fluid.
4. Tofu Benefits During Menopause
Women seeking relief from menopause symptoms and to minimize risk for osteoporosis and other post-menopause-related health conditions often turn to tofu and other soy products. A review of previously published research that appeared in the July 2011 issue of the journal “Menopause” found soy isoflavones may offer modest relief from menopause symptoms, though studies have produced mixed results.
5. Tofu For Cardiovascular Health
Tofu provides protein with little of the saturated fat and none of the moral indigestion that comes with meat. Moreover, in the past decade, research has emerged suggesting that scarfing down soy may also play an active role in extending our lives. In 1999, soy protein earned a highly coveted FDA-allowed health claim: Diets that include 25 grams—about a pound of tofu—a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. Add to this the number of studies showing that soy protein might also help protect against prostate cancer.
6. Tofu For Circulatory Health
Proteins in tofu offer cholesterol-lowering and blood-thinning benefits, according to Towson University. A study published in the April 2012 issue of “Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology” found that phytoestrogen compounds in soy foods, such as tofu, reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, the bad form of cholesterol. Isoflavones also decrease elevated blood pressure and prevent blood clot and arterial plaque formation by improving function of the inner linings of blood vessels. However, noted researchers, the potential health benefits you derive from eating tofu depend on your body’s ability to convert the isoflavone daidzein into its active form, called equol, a process that relies on a certain population of intestinal bacteria and may only occur in one out of three people.
7. Tofu For Preventing Breast Cancer
Eating soy foods during adolescence and pre-adolescence may help prevent breast cancer later in life, according to a review study published in the November 2012 “Journal of Adolescent Health”. A retrospective study of soy consumption in 15,600 Japanese women found that those who consumed moderate to high levels of soy foods had lower rates of breast cancer after menopause; however, soy consumption didn’t affect cancer rates in pre-menopausal women. Tofu might increase malignancy of existing breast cancer in some women, according to a study published in the December 2012 “Journal of Biological Chemistry”. In the tissue culture study, equol promoted growth and reproduction of human breast cancer cells. These preliminary results indicate that women whose digestive systems are capable of converting the isoflavone daidzein to equol might need to avoid tofu and other soy products if they develop breast cancer.
The Side Effects of Tofu and other Soy Products
Among the many health problems linked to a high-soy diet are:
• Thyroid problems, including weight gain, lethargy, malaise, fatigue, hair loss, and loss of libido
• Premature puberty and other developmental problems in babies, children and adolescents
• Brain damage
• Reproductive disorders
• Soy allergies
You can read about the history of research about soy and their products here. The Men’s health published an article about the side effects (estrogen excess) and how it took a toll on a guy in this article. Finally, this article shares the common perception about soy, tofu and other related soy products and why maybe potentially harmful for us.
The GMO Concern
Genetically modified (GM) soybeans have reached 90% market penetration in the United States, and if you are purchasing non-organic soy products, including tofu, you are likely to be consuming soy that has come from a genetically modified plant. Since 1998, nearly a dozen patents have been approved for genetic modification of soybeans, mostly to increase their resistance to herbicides and pesticides that growers expect to spray on the plants during cultivation.
If you are wanting to decrease your exposure to GM foods, choose certified organic tofu since the current USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) organic regulations prohibit any use of genetic modification. You may find some versions of tofu in the marketplace that are not certified organic but contain the words “GMO free” on the packaging. This labeling information would also indicate the absence of genetic modification in the soybeans used to prepare the tofu. You can also check out this link to find non-gmo products.
Soybeans, tofu, and other soy-based foods are an excellent alternative to red meat but eat soy in moderation. In some cultures, tofu and soy foods are a protein staple. But if you haven’t grown up eating lots of soy, there’s no reason to go overboard: Two to 4 servings a week is a good target; eating more than that likely won’t offer any health benefits. Try to buy non-gmo as possible and eat fermented products like tofu than isolated products like soy milk or soy skim milk.