More and more people are eating vegetarian or vegan food, which is why tofu is also becoming increasingly popular. Because the so-called bean curd from China is considered a nutrient-rich meat substitute. But is tofu really healthy?
There is currently a lot of discussion about the question of whether tofu is healthy and how sensible it is to eat. Especially because the soybean-based product is very popular as a meat substitute. But first, some history facts: Like many soy foods, tofu originated in China. Legend has it that it was discovered around 2000 years ago by a Chinese chef who accidentally coagulated soy milk when he added the coagulant nigari. Introduced to Japan in the eighth century, tofu was originally called “Okabe”. Its modern name did not come into use until around 1400. In the 1960s, interest in healthy eating brought tofu to western countries. Since then, numerous studies have demonstrated the many benefits of soy and tofu.
How healthy is tofu? The nutritional values
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a good source of protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also a valuable vegetable source of minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc. The food also contains vitamin B1. This speaks in favor of classifying tofu as healthy.
Nutritional values of a portion of tofu (100 grams):
- Energy: 349 kJ (84 kcal)
- Protein: 16 g
- Carbohydrates: 3g
- Fat: 5g
The micronutrient content of tofu can vary depending on the coagulant used. The classic ingredient nigari adds more magnesium to the soy milk product, while calcium, which is also often used, increases the calcium content.
Tofu: popular and healthy?
Tofu contains phytoestrogens called isoflavones. They are similar in structure to the female hormone estrogen and therefore mimic the effects of estrogen produced by the body. They naturally bind to estrogen receptor sites in human cells. As a result, many women choose to include tofu in their diet as they approach menopause. During this time, the body’s natural production of estrogen decreases. This can cause various uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, and mood swings. Eating soy products such as tofu can slightly increase estrogen levels in the body and is said to help relieve symptoms.
But by no means everyone praises tofu as healthy and also see a danger in the increasing popularity of soy products. On the one hand for health: tofu and all other soybean-based products contain large amounts of oxalate. People who have or have had problems with kidney stones should avoid excessive consumption of soy products. Because the oxalate ingested with it can promote the formation of kidney stones. The isoflavones contained in tofu are also not without controversy – after all, they can have a lasting effect on the hormone balance. However, the research situation is not clear here. However, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment basically recommends that “according to the current scientific knowledge, the intake of isoflavones in the context of a normal soy diet at normal consumption levels can be regarded as harmless.”
Problematic soybean cultivation – however, tofu is the lesser evil
Critics repeatedly point out that the increased demand for soy is becoming a problem in some countries. About 80 percent of the world’s soybean production comes from the United States, Brazil and Argentina. And as with many other crops, large areas of forest often have to be cleared for the cultivation of soybeans – this can also lead to the displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples in the corresponding regions. However, tofu or the human consumption requirement for soy products only plays a subordinate role. In 2018, the WWF estimated that around 80 percent of soybeans are processed into meals and used as inexpensive animal feed. The increasing demand for (cheap) meat is therefore mainly responsible for the mass cultivation of soy for animal feed production. Nevertheless, when buying tofu, consumers can of course also make sure that they choose products made from beans grown in Europe – or those whose sustainable production can be proven by appropriate seals.
Recipes: Prepare tofu healthily
Tofu is a key ingredient, especially in Thai and Chinese cuisine. It can be prepared in different ways. Its texture can vary from smooth and soft to crunchy. Of course, whether tofu is healthy when you prepare it also depends on how much fat and additives you add.
Tofu is not only popular with vegetarians. Even those who want to do without meat from time to time will find varied substitutes in the soy product. Due to its neutral taste and different consistencies, it can be processed with almost all types of flavors and foods. The firm variety is best for baking, grilling, and roasting, while soft tofu is suitable for sauces, desserts, shakes, and salad dressings.
Experiment! For example, try slicing, marinating and grilling tofu, or chopping it into small pieces and frying it with garlic until golden. Crispy tofu is easy to make in the oven.