Many soy products, including tofu, have gotten a bad rap in the past. Some people avoid soy based products like tofu, because they have heard that it is bad for your health. They may have read that it increases your risk of certain cancers, causes thyroid problems, infertility or sexual abnormalities for example; ‘man boobs’ and early puberty in girls.
Yet some people believe soy to be a superfood boasting many health benefits and ironically helping protect from certain cancers, assist with healthy hormones and so much more...
So what is the truth?
Such a controversial health ingredient.
So is soy good for human consumption?
Let's start with answering; what exactly is soy?
Soybeans are a part of the legume or pea family. They are high in protein and are one of the few foods that have a complete amino acid profile, containing all essential amino acids.
How is soy made into tofu?
Tofu is simply made from curdling soy milk. Very similar to the process of making cheese from milk.
Soy milk is a bi-product of soybeans. To get soy milk, soybeans need to be soaked and then blended with filtered water. Using a sieve, the liquid that is separated from the soy pulp, makes the soy milk.
This is then heated with a coagulant added to ‘curdle’ the soy milk. If making homemade tofu a great coagulant that you may have handy is lemon juice.
Once curdled, separate the liquid from the curdled soy.
You then form the curdled soy into tofu using a cloth or container. Then consume and enjoy.
Pretty simple hey?
Tofu is then made into a variety of products including firm tofu, soft or silken tofu and fermented varieties in the form of Tempe.
Health benefits of tofu;
Tofu is a great plant-based source of protein and has many micronutrients.
Did you know that all 9 essential amino acids are present in tofu? Making it a complete source of protein.
Tofu has been said to aid in improved performance, improved mood, reduced fatigue, quicker recovery time, healthy weight management and so much more.
Tofu is not only just a great source of protein, it also has many important vital micronutrients, including calcium, manganese and selenium. It also contains small amounts of iron, zinc, folate, Vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamine, potassium and Vitamin K.
Most of the claimed health problems associated with soy occur only in species of animals which are unable to digest soy, or in animals which are fed a ‘chow’ based on isolated soy protein as their sole item of diet. This in no way equates to a human being eating a serve each of tofu and tempeh per week, whole soy bean milk on their porridge, and edamame a couple of times per week.
Large, independently-funded and well-conducted studies show that regular consumption of traditional soy foods like edamame (green soybeans), tofu, tempeh, and soy milk made from whole soybeans, reduces the risk of breast, endometrial and prostate cancer, and may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and heart disease.
Robyn Chuter recommends avoiding foods made from isolated soy protein, as some studies have shown that this raises your level of the cancer-promoting hormone IGF-1, whereas traditional soy foods lower it.
So is it true that soy contains a heap of Estrogen which could be bad for our health?
According to Dr Andrew, this is not true. He stated that there is no mammalian Estrogen present in soy but there is phytoestrogen present, which is a completely different structure. Mammalian Estrogen is Estrogen from mammals. For example-humans or cows, where Phytoestrogens are from plants.
Phytoestrogens have been said to have protective qualities and be very beneficial to our health.
Dr Andrew found that research from JAMA 2009, concluded that women with breast cancer who consumed a high amounts of soy decreased the rate of recurrence and lived longer.
Dr Andrew also stated that one hypothesis behind breast cancer is that it is simulated from Estrogen. Estrogen blockers have been used to treat cancers for this reason. He believes that if you are looking to avoid Estrogen, don't avoid soy, avoid cows milk!
So what about man boobs? Does soy give you man boobs? Dr Andrew said that there is not one piece of literature that supports this claim or myth.
He stated that if you look at the population of Japan and the people of Okinawa who eat an abundance of soy, they live the longest compared to that of Australians and other westernised countries.
The thing to be mindful of when consuming any tofu or soy products, is the dangerous additives, preservatives or coagulants that may have been used or added in the making.
Not to mention if it was made with GMO soybeans or non-organic soybeans.
All these factors play a vital role in the safety of consuming the product.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to many adverse health effects on humans and not to mention, the negative environmental effects.
At Garden of Vegan, we strongly encourage any soy products to be as natural as possible, GMO free and only made from certified organic soybeans, with minimal processing.
This is no different to our recommendations for any other food product.
As close to its original state or straight from nature, is always best.
To learn more about GMO and non organic produce, check out the many informative lectures, talks and information from Zach Bush MD.
So how do I know what tofu is the best to buy?
-Stay clear of heavily processed forms of soy and soy isolates.
Unprocessed forms of soybeans like edamame are the purest forms of soy you can eat. Aside from incorporating some organic edamame beans into your weekly diet, stick to more natural forms of soy that are not as heavily processed. This includes tofu and tempe.
-Stick to certified organic and non GMO soybeans ONLY! This is a non-negotiable for us at Garden of Vegan.
-Ensure you read the label and make sure it is actually certified organic and non GMO. Check for any sneaky additives or sugars and keep it as wholefoods as possible.
-Try tempeh. Tempeh is the fermented version of tofu. The soybeans have undergone a fermentation process which has been said to increase the health benefits. Because the whole soy bean has been use in the process, it has been said to have a higher protein, vitamin and mineral content.
So how many times a week should I be eating soy?
Robyn Chuter recommends consuming traditional soy foods like edamame, tofu, tempe or soy milk made from whole soy beans, up to several times per week.
If it's certified organic, GMO free and made from minimal processing, than its safe to consume multiple times a week.
At Garden of Vegan we believe in eating fresh, organic wholefoods daily.
So this raises the question; is tofu considered a wholefood?The term whole or wholefood is used to categorise foods that have been minimally processed.
Robyn Chuter once shared with me, that if you can process a food at home with minimal equipment and additives, than it can be considered a wholefood still.
For example, you can make home made soy milk and home made tofu very simply and easily. All that is needed is the whole soybean, filtered water, a blender and a sieve.
Get some inspiration from Garden of Vegan and try the Jungle Curry or Teriyaki Tofu. They will not disappoint.
It's time to get some organic, non-GMO tofu on your fork.
Dr Andrew; @plantbased_doctor
Robyn Chuter; https://empowertotalhealth.com.au/
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch