Tofu: A hidden gem

26 Mar

Written by: Sarah Heap 

Photo courtesy of: Sarah Heap

Image courtesy of Sarah Heap.

 

Meat substitutes are becoming more popular in North America and not just for vegetarians (Xiao, 2008). This may be due to the fact that some studies have shown that red meat consumption increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer (McAfee, 2010). Restaurants and grocery stores are carrying more meat-free options than ever; making choosing meat alternatives easy and convenient. One such option is tofu, which is made by steaming, cooking, and curdling soybeans (Rutgers, 2003), a type of legume. Soybeans originated in Asia, but are now grown in many Western countries as well (Xiao, 2008). Tofu is sold in the refrigerated foods section of supermarkets and comes in different forms ranging from blocks that are extra-firm, to silken which has a similar texture to yogurt (Rutgers, 2003).

There are pre-conceived notions and hesitation about tofu and meat alternatives in general; namely, they have a reputation of being unappetizing. There may be some truth to this as tofu in particular can have a bland taste and unappealing appearance. However, it absorbs flavours well and can be used in a variety of dishes. Tofu can be used as a meat alternative in sandwiches, soups, stir-fries and salads. As for cooking methods, it can be marinated, grilled, baked, fried, smoked or pickled, to name a few. On top of that tofu is very affordable, especially compared to meat. One package contains around 3 servings and can cost as low as ninety-nine cents in Canada.

It is not only versatile in the kitchen, tofu contains many important nutrients as well. It contains soy protein, the quality of which is comparable to meat protein (Messina, 2010). Soy protein contains all of the essential amino acids making soybeans a complete source of protein, which most legumes are not (Rutgers, 2003). In fact, the United States FDA approved a health claim for foods in 1999 relating 25 g of soy protein per day to a lowered risk of coronary heart disease. Other countries have approved similar claims but Canada is not one of them (Messina, 2010). Soy based foods contain between 2 and 16 grams of soy protein per serving and tofu specifically has 10 g per half cup serving (Eat Right Ontario, 2014). So it is not difficult to consume 25 g per day with multiple servings of these foods.

Soy products have also received scientific attention surrounding bone health and breast cancer.  Although more research is needed, in some cases soy foods may be protective against breast cancer (Fritz, 2013). Compounds in soybeans called isoflavones may delay menopause-related bone loss; however, research in this area is ongoing (Lagari, 2014).

While tofu may not have been your first choice when deciding what to eat, it is extremely versatile, affordable and offers variety to your diet. It is also widely available due to increasing popularity. So, even if you are not a vegetarian, give it a chance!

 

References:

Eat Right Ontario. (2014). The Scoop on Soy. Retrieved from: http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Vegetarianism/The-Scoop-on-Soy.aspx#.Uw6MdXkZdg0 Date accessed: February 26, 2014.

Fritz, H., Seely, D., Flower, G., Skidmore, B., Fernandes, R., Vadeboncoeur, S., et al. (2013). Soy, red clover, and isoflavones and breast cancer: a systematic review. Plos One, 8, e81968. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081968.

Lagari, V. S., Levis, S. (2014). Phytoestrogens for menopausal bone loss and climacteric symptoms. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 139, 294-301.

McAfee, A. J., McSorley, E. M., Cuskelly, G. J., Moss, B. W., Wallace, J. M., Bonham, M. P., & Fearon, A. M. (2010). Red meat consumption: An overview of the risks and benefits. Meat science, 84(1), 1-13.

Messina, M., Messina, V. (2010). The role of soy in vegetarian diets. Nutrients, 2, 855-888.

Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension. (2003). Tofu: Nutritious and Versatile. Retrieved from: http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/publication.asp?pid=FS792 Date accessed: February 18th 2014.

Xiao, C.W. (2008). Health effects of soy protein and isoflavones in humans. Journal of Nutrition, 136, S1244-49.

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