Tofu is a delicious, versatile addition to any meal. From making tofu 'scramble' to tofu 'steaks' on the grill, there are hundreds of ways to cook this versatile food. It's the saving grace for many vegetarians and vegans who use tofu for protein instead of meat and other animal products.
But, is tofu healthy? To understand tofu’s health benefits, we need to start with the very basics.
What is tofu made of?
Tofu is made of pressed curdled soy milk, much like traditional cheese is made, with curdled and solidified dairy milk. This versatile plant-based meat substitute changes in texture and consistency, depending on the method used to process the final product.
Originally called 'Okabe', this superfood was first made accidentally by a Chinese cook, around 2,000 years ago. The cook curdled soy milk by accident when adding a type of seaweed to it.
No, it's not made with seaweed, that was just how it was accidentally invented. These days it's mainly made with gypsum or lemons added to curdle the soy milk.
It is all about the press!
The texture of tofu changes depending on how you press it. The act of pressing tofu removes excess water and firms the finished product up, changing its texture and consistency. The less liquid in the tofu, the firmer it is! That is the secret to its versatility.
We now know what it is, so we can ask, "Is tofu healthy?"
Tofu is made from curdled soy milk, which, as you have guessed, comes from soybeans, beautiful pale Asian beans packed with protein and all nine amino fatty acids! Tofu also boasts a range of macro and micronutrients.
Most notably, tofu contains phytoestrogens, yes, oestrogen for plants. Studies have shown that these oestrogens could bind to the oestrogen receptors found in women, which could help lower their risk of breast cancer, contrary to a rumor that soy can increase breast cancer risk.
There are also claims that tofu and other soy products can help combat heart disease and support women through menopause.
Why is tofu all the rage?
If you have a social media account, you've probably seen at least one friend posting about this fascinating meat substitute. Tofu has become a rising star in kitchens worldwide, and the nutrition of tofu is talked about far and wide.
Tofu is not only healthy, it also absorbs the flavour of whatever you season it with really well, and has a range of textures. This versatility allows any chef worth their salt a range of options to use it in a massive variety of recipes.
Tofu is a great replacement for meat
From South-East Asian curry dishes to BBQs from down South, the recipes are endless. Given that tofu is a healthy replacement for the tasty and sometimes fatty meats such as beef and pork, new doors are opened for foodies with health concerns. Imagine all the yummy flavours of a pulled pork bap, only with all the health benefits of tofu?
What makes tofu a healthy meat replacement? Besides the animal fat content in meat, known to increase unhealthy cholesterol, we should also consider the calories in tofu. In exploring this, we begin to understand why it is becoming a staple for so many health and fitness enthusiasts.
Roasted chicken racks up 131 calories per 3oz, while tofu casually slides in at a modest 79 calories. This makes tofu a go-to choice for people on a calorie-controlled diet, without the risk of compromising on flavour.
Is tofu good for you when you diet?
Clearly, tofu is a fantastic option for people that are on a weight loss journey! However, it’s not a good idea to eat tofu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, just because it’s low in calories.
Moderation is vital in any diet. Spinach is healthy for you, but that doesn't mean you should be eating it as Popeye does! That, too, will throw you off balance. Moderation in a balanced diet goes a long way to helping everyone stay fit, healthy, and disease-free.
The same applies to tofu.When used as a substitute for meat, tofu has a range of benefits for people who want to follow a healthier diet, for example:
- Tofu increases the body's natural insulin levels, so it may be beneficial for those with diabetes.
- It's low in calories and yet nutrient-dense, an excellent combination for weight loss.
- The protein in tofu keeps you fuller for longer, which means you'll be less likely to get cravings and overindulge.
Not all tofu is equal
As with every other manufactured product, different tofu brands have different values. Nutrition in tofu depends on what it's made from and what was added to it.
To choose the healthiest block of protein goodness, opt for organic, with no added preservatives. Or better yet, make your own! This is the best way to make sure no nasty GMO's are present and that you're getting the best nutrition out of your tofu.
Besides preservatives, watch out for the spiced and flavoured brands, especially if you are gluten-free, as some spices use gluten as a filler. No matter what flavour persuasion you prefer, please read the labels and make sure it's full of quality ingredients.
By carefully considering what goes into your tofu, you'll reap the health benefits of adding this delightful food to your life.
How to prepare tofu
The secret to great-tasting tofu lies in the prep work. If you have ever seen someone balance a stack of tins on top of a chopping board planted on top of a block of tofu, you will know how strange it looks!
Thankfully, we've come far in the world of tofu prep. With a nifty tofu press, it is even easier to create memorable meals without a circus-like balancing act in the kitchen. Semi-firm tofu only needs to stay in a press for about 5 minutes, while extra-firm can hang out for closer to 15 minutes at a time.
Healthy and easy meal ideas
Tofu makes mealtimes healthy, simple, and spectacular! It is highly absorbent, so the general rule of thumb is less is more when it comes to flavouring.
Tofu does not require overnight marinades. This saves time and effort when creating quick and simple meals on the fly. Here are some ideas to try out:
If you're concerned about heart disease and cholesterol but love scrambled eggs, keep your tofu on the slightly softer side.
You will need:
- 3 oz soft tofu
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 spring onion
- Salt and pepper
- Your favourite seasoning for eggs
- A slice of health toast, grilled tomatoes, and some sauteed mushrooms to complete the dish
How to prepare the tofu:
- Place the soft tofu and a drizzle of coconut oil in a pan on medium heat.
- Whisk and beat your tofu into a quick scramble adding your favourite seasoning, chopped spring onion, and nutritional yeast.
- You'll know it's ready when it looks and smells delicious!
- Serve with a slice of your favourite toast, some sauteed mushrooms, and grilled tomato for a healthy protein-packed breakfast.
Healthy tip: Add some sprouts or toasted seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower for some crunch, extra flavour, and an added nutritional boost.
If a hassle-free lunch is more your vibe, give this buddha bowl a try.
You will need:
- 1 3 oz block of firm tofu
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa
- 1 avocado - sliced
- 1 handful of baby spinach leaves
- 6 slices of pickled beetroot
- 1 handful of sprouts (beetroot, alfalfa, chickpea, bean, any kind that you enjoy)
- 1 cup of roasted butternut cubes
- Lemon juice and seasoning to taste
- Balsamic reduction
- Place a cube of tofu into a tofu press and allow it to sit for 15 minutes.
- Divide the quinoa into two bowls, and arrange the butternut, beetroot, and spinach leaves.
- Once your tofu is pressed, drain the liquid and remove your tofu, slice, season both sides with your choice of spices, and lemon juice.
- Heat pan over medium heat, add in coconut oil, place slices of tofu in the pan, cooking until golden and cooked thoroughly.
- Add your tofu to the bowls and top with sprouts, and drizzle your balsamic reduction over. For a healthier and earthier bowl, drizzle with tahini.
So, is Tofu Healthy?
Considering all the benefits of tofu, nutrition is at the top of the list. But the taste is not far behind. With all the fantastic meals you could create with a simple block, eating healthy has never been this delicious!
Whether you want to cut back on your meat consumption or simply add a few more heart happy alternatives, the health benefits of tofu are truly there.