Health Benefits of Tofu

The popular plant-based protein is full of health benefits.

Tofu, or bean curd, is the product of curdling soy milk and forming the curds into blocks, like cheese. The food originated in China and quickly became popular throughout several countries in Asia. It was considered a cheap source of protein packed with essential nutrients.

Depending on its pressing, tofu is available in silken, soft, firm, extra firm, or super firm varieties. It can also come in fermented, smoked, and seasoned forms. Nutrients in tofu can promote heart and bone health and cognitive function, among many other health impacts.

Benefits of Tofu

Soybean-based proteins—like tofu—have a number of health benefits. Addiing tofu to your diet can be tasty and good for you.

Prevents Coronary Heart Disease

The isoflavones, organic compounds known as polyphenols, in tofu help keep your heart healthy. For example, one study examined data from more than 100,000 people. The researchers found that eating at least one serving of tofu per week lowers the risk of coronary heart disease compared to eating tofu less than once per month.

Lowers Cholesterol Levels

Tofu is also known to help lower LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), as well as modestly lowering triglycerides and modestly increasing HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol). Researchers analyzed 46 studies and found that soybean significantly reduces "bad" cholesterol by about 3% to 4% in adults.

Promotes Memory and Brain Health

Although the research is not completely clear, some evidence suggests tofu and other soybean-based foods help improve cognitive function—such as memory and problem-solving skills.

One study suggested that equol, a metabolite produced in the gut from consuming soybean products, may help reduce the risk of dementia. People who consumed high quantities of equol from eating soy products had half the amount of white matter lesions—a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease—as those with low equol levels.

The folate found in tofu can also have a positive impact on your mental health. A folate deficiency links to a high risk of depression.

Eases Symptoms of Menopause

The soybean component of tofu may have benefits for people going through menopause. Researchers found that adding one-half cup of soybeans to a low-fat, plant-based diet reduced hot flashes, a symptom of menopause, by 84%.

During the times leading up to and around menopause, the amount of estrogen in your body decreases. Isoflavones found in soybeans, and tofu, mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen on the body.

Therefore, by adding tofu to your diet, you may be able to help curb any uncomfortable symptoms. Those symptoms include hot flashes, heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding, and mood changes.

Lowers Risk of Osteoporosis

Calcium strengthens bones, and some tofu is enriched with calcium. Strong bones are essential to preventing osteoporosis. The bone condition is a common side effect of menopause due to decreased estrogen.

May Lower Risk of Certain Cancers

Some studies suggest that regular soybean intake helps slow the progression or decrease the recurrence of certain cancers.

A study found that people diagnosed with prostate cancer may find that eating tofu, and other soybean-based foods, keeps their prostate-specific antigen levels low. That helps the cancer progress slowly or not at all.

But the evidence surrounding the effect of soybean on prostate cancer is conflicting. Another study discovered that eating soybean-based foods might increase your risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

Meanwhile, isoflavones found in tofu lower the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. However, the effects of soybean intake on preventing breast and ovarian cancers among people who are postmenopausal remain elusive.

Nutrition of Tofu

A one-quarter block—or 81 grams—of raw, firm tofu contains the following:

  • Calories: 117 calories
  • Fat: 7.06 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 11.30 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 2.25 grams
  • Fiber: 1.86 grams
  • Protein: 14 grams

Tofu has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that can be man-made or occur naturally in different foods. They can help prevent or delay cell damage in some cases.

The soy product also contains several vitamins and nutrients—including calcium, manganese, vitamin A, and iron. Essential amino acids, the molecules that proteins are made of, are another type of nutrient in tofu. These amino acids have to come from food and can provide the body with energy.

Risks of Eating Tofu

There are some things to be aware of if you decide to add tofu to your diet.

Allergic Reactions

Keep in mind that soy is a common food allergen, particularly in young children. Allergic reactions to soy typically appear in infants and children younger than three years. But many children outgrow soy allergies during childhood.

Digestive Issues

Tofu can cause gastrointestinal issues. Some common side effects of soy include digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea.

Interactions with MAOIs

You should also speak to a healthcare provider about consuming tofu if you take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Tofu can interact with the medication due to one of its amino acids, tyramine.

Tyramine helps balance blood pressure. However, MAOIs block the protein that breaks down tyramine. Combining tofu and MAOIs could lead to dangerously high blood pressure depending on your dose.

Possible Thyroid Issues

There might also be some concern regarding soybean-based products and thyroid failure for people taking thyroid medications. However, some research has found no statistically significant changes in participants' thyroid functions after consuming those products.

Tips for Consuming Tofu

Before you cook and enjoy it, make sure to store and prepare your tofu properly.

How To Store Tofu

If you want to try tofu but don't plan to use it right away, you can freeze it. To do so, you would need to drain the water off, pat it dry, and slice it. Put into an airtight container, tofu can be stored for up to three months in the freezer. Then, when you are ready to use it, put it in the refrigerator to thaw overnight.

How To Prepare Tofu

It comes packed in water, so the first step is to get rid of as much liquid as possible by pressing it. It can have a soft or crunchy texture, depending on how you prepare the ingredient. Generally, the variety of tofu determines how you should cook it for the best results. For example:

  • Medium and soft varieties: Ideal for recipes that involve crumbling or mixing
  • Firm and extra firm varieties: Best for grilling or pan frying—as well as baking and sautéing
  • Silken tofu, which is mostly liquid: Great for soups, dips, sauces, puddings, and smoothies

A Quick Review

Tofu is a nutritious soy-based product. Incorporating tofu into your daily meals and snacks can bring several health benefits. Those benefits include brain health promotion, ease of menopause symptoms, and heart disease prevention.

However, eating tofu has some risks, as it might lead to digestive issues or interact with certain medications like MAOIs. For those who can eat soy, tofu is a versatile ingredient and can be used in everything from stir fry to smoothies.

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