Forget talking turkey; let’s talk tofu! With an uptick in plant-based diets, along with meat shortages due to the pandemic, tofu has become a more prominent protein in the US over the past year. Sales of plant-based foods the third week of March 2020 were up 90%.
While having enough popularity to be continually consumed in Asia for over 1000 years, the American market has mostly viewed tofu as a tasteless something you really don’t need on your plate. But that take denies some of the health benefits of this soybean product.
Like eggs, tofu is a complete protein. It contains calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc plus it’s cholesterol free, sodium free, and low in saturated fat. A 3oz serving of extra firm tofu contains about 80 calories, 4 total grams of saturated fat and 8 grams of protein. That’s less protein than beef, but also less than half the calories. A 3oz plant-based burger has about 15 grams of total fat, 15g of protein and 203 calories.
A 2019 retrospective study that included a total of 330,826 participants showed consuming soy/soy products was inversely associated with deaths from cancers and cardiovascular diseases. The authors concluded: “Soy and its isoflavones may favorably influence risk of mortality. In addition, soy protein intake was associated with a decreased risk in the mortality of breast cancer.”
That’s a lot of pluses. Why don’t we like it? Perhaps because it falls into the “tastes like whatever is next to it” category. While that actually makes tofu wonderfully versatile, it also means some preparation is required to bring it satisfying taste and texture when it’s the main focus. But tofu can also be used to add protein to yogurt, smoothies, shakes, and salad dressings.
My sister has been deliberately adding protein to her diet, so my brother-in-law bought her some high-protein snack bars to take to the office. She shoved one in her backpack. Later that morning, she took it out, took a bite, and thought, that’s pretty good. Wonder what’s in it? She consulted the label.
Big mistake! Once she read the words cricket flour and visualized crickets in her food, she was D-O-N-E done…forever. A tofu smoothie would not have elicited the same response!
Not only is tofu good in a smoothie, it can be used as a dairy-free substitute for ricotta cheese in lasagna or as a dairy-free pudding base. It’s also delicious seasoned, baked, and added to stir-fry or bowls.
Should you rush out and buy some tofu? If you’re not familiar and love to experiment, then absolutely yes! If you want to add some quick protein to everyday foods without adding lots of fats, or insects, then yes! If you have estrogen-sensitive breast tumors or thyroid problems, then it may be best to consult your physician first before incorporating soy into your diet.
For most of us, tofu can be a healthy addition to any meal. It can fill gaps when other proteins are not available. And it can round out a plant-based diet. Those are all great reasons to talk tofu!