What is tofu?
Tofu is the common name for soybean curd, which is produced from the aqueous extract of the soya bean. It originated in China and has since become an increasingly popular source of plant-based protein.1
Tofu Nutritional Breakdown4*
|Dietary Fibre||1 g|
Soy products such as tofu are a good source of dietary calcium and have an absorption rate approximately equal to cow’s milk.4
The Basics of Soybeans
Soybeans contain substances known as isoflavones, which are classified as phytoestrogens. Due to their structural similarity to endogenous (produced within the human body2) estrogen, isoflavones can bind to some of the estrogen receptors in our body. This chemical property of soy products has made many people hesitant to consume soy products. However, isoflavones have been recognized by the US National Cancer Institute to have potentially protective effects from cancer.3
Potential Health Benefits of Soybeans
Results from a comprehensive review show that women experiencing frequent hot flashes/flushes should consider soy foods or isoflavone supplements to alleviate symptoms.
Similarly, post-menopausal women face the major risk of osteoporosis due to reduced estrogen production. Isoflavones from soy can benefit this population because of their estrogenic nature. Isoflavone intake is associated with reduced bone resorption, improved bone mineral density, and reduced bone risk fracture.
Results from one study shows that compared to women who consumed less soy protein and total soy products, those with higher intakes had significantly decreased breast cancer risk.
However, there has also been concern regarding the safety of soy in relation to breast cancer. Due to the estrogenic properties of soy, some believe that soy can cause increased growth of estrogen-dependent tumours such as those present in breast cancer. That being said, this is still a new area of research and studies that have already been published examining the association of breast cancer occurrence and soy isoflavone exposure has found either a protective or no significant association.
In 1999, the FDA approved the health claim that “diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 g of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.”3
Tofu (& other soy products) are a great plant-based protein alternative for many reasons. They are high in calcium, a good source of protein, and provide variety in your meals. Not only that, but the new Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating a variety of protein foods, including tofu.
Some individuals may be concerned about the isoflavones present in soy products, but there have been many more studies showing the benefits of soy than concerns. Similar to all foods, everything should be consumed in moderation. Just like no one eats steak or chicken every single day for lunch and dinner, the same can be said for tofu & soy products. If you’re looking to transition to a more plant-based diet, consider trying other sources of protein such as beans, lentils, or nuts & seeds.