Health Benefits of Tofu, According to Nutritionists

While some people unfamiliar with tofu may associate it with tenderness, the plant-based protein has long been a beloved staple food in Asia and is gaining popularity worldwide for many good reasons.

Whether you’re #TeamTofu or not, learning about the benefits of tofu may tempt you to eat more of the food. So keep reading to discover these benefits — plus, how to prepare it in a way you’ll be begging for seconds, regardless of your dietary preferences.

What is tofu?

Tofu is a plant-based protein derived from soybeans, explains Laura Iu, RD, CDN, CNSC, a New York-based registered dietitian. Soybeans are a legume that originated in China but has become popular in the United States and other parts of the world.

First, soybeans are soaked in water and mashed, then the liquid is strained to obtain soy milk, Alex Caspero, MA, RD, a registered dietitian and plant-based chef in St. Louis, said earlier. To shape. The soy milk then goes through coagulation, which is the process of turning a liquid into a solid form by adding an acid such as lemon juice, and the resulting curd is pressed into blocks of tofu, explains Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in South Carolina.

Tofu food

You can attribute some of the health benefits of tofu to its vitamin and mineral content. For starters, it’s filled with bone-strengthening calcium and mood-boosting magnesium. Tofu is also considered a complete protein, as it contains all nine essential amino acids, according to research published in Medicine. Quick refresher: Your body can make most of the necessary amino acids, except nine, which you must get through food. The only problem? Most complete proteins are animal-based, making it a bit challenging for plant-based eaters to get enough protein. However, with all nine amino acids, tofu can help people refuel without foregoing their diet. (Fun fact: Pistachios are another vegan and vegetarian-friendly complete protein.)

More specifically, the soy-based product contains nearly 22 grams of protein per 1/2 cup, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Why is this bad? Because proteins are essential to keep seemingly every system in your body running smoothly. It provides calories, transports compounds into cells, supports vital chemical reactions (producing energy, for example), and more, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Eating an adequate amount of protein in your diet can also help you feel full for longer. “As is the case when high-protein foods are consumed, eating tofu can support weight management goals because protein can help people feel full, potentially helping them eat fewer calories in the long run,” Manaker says.

Here’s the nutritional profile for 1/2 cup (126 grams) of raw firm tofu, according to the USDA:

  • 181 calories
  • 3.5 grams of carbohydrates
  • 22 grams of protein
  • 11 grams of fat
  • 3 grams of fiber

Health benefits of tofu

Supports Bone Health

You’ve probably heard about the importance of calcium and drinking milk for strong bones from every “Got Milk?” commercial you watched as a child. But news flash: You don’t have to drink the drink exclusively to score this essential micronutrient. Try tofu instead, which has 861 milligrams of calcium per serving — which is pretty close to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 1,000 milligrams of calcium, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Eating tofu can support bone health, thanks to the calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other bone health-supporting nutrients it contains,” Manaker says. Not consuming enough calcium can contribute to low bone mass and osteoporosis, a condition that can result from weak bones, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moreover, studies show that the consumption of soy products (such as tofu!) can contribute to ‘optimal bone health’.

Lowers cholesterol levels

Although cholesterol is necessary for the production of healthy cells, the type of cholesterol you eat makes all the difference. ICYDK, some protein sources, such as red meat, are high in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, which can lead to clogged arteries and an increased risk of heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Tofu, on the other hand, is cholesterol-free, making it a particularly good option if you’re trying to lower your cholesterol intake. But wait, there’s more: The plant-based protein has also been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol thanks to its isoflavone content. Isoflao-what?

Isoflavones are plant compounds that act like estrogen, Manaker says. They occur naturally in soy and therefore in tofu. Several studies have shown that these powerful compounds lower LDL levels, helping to prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke, which can be caused by large amounts of these “bad” things, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And at that point…

Reduces the risk of heart disease

As just mentioned, the isoflavones in tofu may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, in part because of the isoflavones’ ability to lower LDL cholesterol. But that’s just one way the compounds — and again, tofu — can help keep your ticker ticking. The other? By inhibiting pro-inflammatory cytokines, or proteins that can cause inflammation that can contribute to chronic conditions (see: Cardiovascular Disease), a study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health shows. The study, which involved a total of 200,000 participants, found that women who ate tofu more than once a week lowered their risk of heart disease by 18 percent — a result of the heart-friendly effects of the isoflavones in tofu. Pretty impressive, huh?


Can boost your immune system

Vitamin C is great and all but have you heard about zinc? Well, there’s no better time to get to know the trace mineral than when talking about the health benefits of tofu, as the soy product contains 2 micrograms of zinc per serving. And while that number may not sound like much, it’s actually 1/4 of the RDI. That’s quite remarkable because zinc “supports the immune system by regulating the function of several key components” [in the body]such as macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, and T lymphocytes,” Sandy Younan Brikho, MDA, RDN, founder of The Dish on Nutrition, previously told me. To shape. Neutrophils find, trap, and kill harmful germs, Brikho says, while T lymphocytes destroy other cells that have become cancerous or are attacked by viruses. This means that zinc (and, in turn, tofu) can play a key role in warding off pathogens and protecting your body from disease. Meat products, such as beef, poultry and seafood, are typically high in zinc, making it difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get the mineral in their diets. Fortunately, studies have shown that tofu is a great source of the mineral.

Potential risks of tofu

There is a lot of controversy surrounding eating soy-based food items, including tofu. Some people believe that eating too much soy can increase the risk of breast cancer, interfere with thyroid function, or “feminize” men (who naturally have lower estrogen levels than women) because of the estrogen-like isoflavones. However, the research is “mixed and inconclusive,” Iu said.

For example, while some studies have raised concerns that consuming soy could negatively affect men’s hormone levels, other studies have shown that soy is unlikely to affect testosterone or estrogen levels in men. While the first studies in rats found a link between consuming soy and breast cancer, a meta-analysis of 35 studies in humans found no correlation between the two. Meanwhile, studies from the 1950s have linked isoflavones to thyroid disruption, while others report that foods containing isoflavones do not increase the risk of thyroid or breast cancer. Some people believe that soy can worsen thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism, as it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the medication used for the condition. But again, there’s no evidence to support that people with hypothyroidism should avoid soy products, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Rather than focusing on a single food, it’s more important to look at the bigger picture and try to eat different protein sources,” Iu says. “Too much of anything can be harmful (even water!), and ultimately adding soy products like tofu and edamame can be nourishing and healthy.”

If you’re concerned about whether tofu is a good addition to your diet, talk to a doctor or nutritionist for advice. However, as a general rule of thumb, it’s okay to eat tofu every day. “The Food and Drug Administration has recognized that 25 grams of soy protein per day can help lower cholesterol levels,” Manaker says. “Some experts recommend eating four servings of soy a day for heart health, including tofu. Eating soy products, such as tofu, every day appears to be safe and may also provide some health benefits.”

How to eat tofu

The health benefits of tofu alone make it worth trying, and the food is super versatile too. “Tofu can range from soft to extra firm, and the difference is the water content,” says Iu. “What you buy depends on what you want to cook.”

Here’s how to determine which one to pick, according to Iu.

  • silk tofu contains the most water and has a soft texture. It’s perfect for making desserts, such as puddings, and adding to smoothies; it can also be used as an egg substitute thanks to its soft feel.
  • Medium-firm tofu contains a moderate amount of water, which makes it less durable in dishes, such as stir-fries. But it’s great for dishes like mapo tofu, a popular Chinese dish, where the tofu can break down in the sauce and really enjoy its flavor.
  • Extra firm tofu contains the least amount of water and its firmer texture resembles that of some animal protein products, making it ideal for stir-fries.

Tofu Recipe Ideas

Once you’ve chosen your type of tofu, you can enjoy it in a wide variety of meals. And because tofu is mild in flavor, it easily takes on the flavors of other seasonings. Make sure to drain the excess liquid that is in most tofu packages so that it becomes crispy and absorbs all the spices better. “Place your tofu between paper towels and cover it with a heavy book or block,” recommends Manaker. “In no time, your tofu will be ready to be sliced ​​and enjoyed.” Once that’s out of the way, here are a few creative ways to enjoy the health benefits of tofu.

In a salad. If you’re looking for different ways to use your air fryer, try crunching your tofu and tossing it on a salad to make it more filling and delicious.

As a taco filling. Cook extra firm tofu with a little oil and you have a golden, crunchy creation that will take your tortilla to the next level, trust.

In stir-fry. Replace chicken or meat in your rice or noodle stir-fry with tofu on your next meatless Monday. “For beginners, I recommend extra firm tofu, which is great for stir-frying and grilling,” says Iu.

In desserts. You can make a high protein dessert that you would never suspect contains tofu thanks to the mild taste of the food. For example, pudding or chocolate mousse are a great way to soak up the food, Iu says.