Is tofu actually good for you? We break down the soy-based protein.
Is it OK to include tofu in my weekly diet? I get that question a lot.
So when I came across a New York Times article about the nuances of tofu from their WELL column, I was delighted. The writers did a great job using the latest scientific research to source answers about this very important question. You can find their full article and links to the research HERE.
I thought it might be helpful to highlight and summarize some of the points I found most interesting, and I’ve added a bit more to round out the info.
Tofu Nutrition Facts
Tofu is made of condensed soymilk that is pressed into solid blocks — similar to how cheese is made. It is best to buy organic, because most of the soybeans in this country are genetically modified (GMO) and we just don’t have good data on whether GMOs are actually harmful and in exactly what way).
Tofu is nutrient dense, with three and half ounces of firm tofu containing 144 calories, 17g protein, 3g carb, 9g fat, 53% daily value (DV) calcium, a good source of manganese (51% DV), selenium (32% DV) and copper (42% DV), and a pretty good source of vitamin A (18% DV), zinc (14% DV), magnesium (14% DV) and iron (15% DV). Tofu also has some B vitamins. Tofu is considered a complete protein, having all nine essential amino acids.
Tofu does contain phytates, which reduces the absorption of minerals calcium, zinc and iron. Best to have some soy in the fermented version, miso, tamari (gf soy) and tempeh, which helps to reduce the effects of the phytate component.
Tofu also has isoflavones, which are compounds that are structurally similar to the estrogen hormones. According to nutrition researchers at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health, adding soy to your diet has benefits for heart and metabolic health. And isoflavones are actually weak estrogens that are anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and have anti-oxidant properties. YAY!
Tofu + Cancer
There has been worry for a long time that the isoflavones in soy promote breast cancer. Through research we know that women who eat higher amounts of soy have NO greater risk or LOWER risk of developing breast cancer than those who eat little to no soy. (This research was done by Xiao-Ou Shu, a professor of epidemiology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine). There is also research to suggest it has protective effects with prostate and lung cancer.
Menopause + Aging
There are some smaller research studies that point to soy reducing hot flashes. The WELL article feels it would OK to include 1-2 servings per day of WHOLE food soy into the diet to minimize the impact of hot flashes. There is also limited research to suggest that dietary soy is associated with lower risk of bone issues in post-menopausal women.
Tofu + Heart Health
In a 2020 study, it was found that tofu (and associated isoflavones) has heart benefits and was associated with moderately lowered risk of coronary heart disease.
The article didn’t address thyroid, but it is well researched that soy is a thyroid inhibitor and should be used sparingly if one has a history of thyroid problems.
Soy, along with other plant-based proteins, have lower greenhouse gas footprints than animal proteins.
How To Eat Soy
Our favorite ways to cook with tofu and soy products include:
Crispy Tofu: A quick sauté with garlic, ginger, tamari (gf soy sauce) and a touch of avocado oil. Let tofu cubes (extra firm tofu works best) get crispy and throw it into a bowl or top a salad.
Edamame: A great addition to a salad or a simple side for sushi night. We buy frozen edamame in the shells and out of the shells. Defrost and use as a fast complete protein.
Miso Salad Dressing: Find a quick and easy recipe HERE. Basically, combine oil, miso, rice vinegar, sesame oil, maple syrup and soy sauce. It’s so delicious. We use avocado oil (neutral flavored oil), and gluten free soy-tamari.
I hope this info has given you clarity on where research is today on soy. There are individualized circumstances to consider, but it is not ALL BAD like the media has previously reported. If it suits you, I do think it is a safe plant-based protein to incorporate (again, as long as your body can tolerate it).
Hi! I’m Robin, the founder of Healthy Nest Nutrition. I am a board-certified holistic nutritionist in Denver, Colorado. My passion is helping people find the right diet for their bodies and then showing them how to make healthy nutrition doable and delicious!