What’s On My Plate
Milk extracted from soybeans, when curdled gives us tofu. Since the process to make tofu out of soy milk is similar to that of making cottage cheese or paneer from milk, the two are often confused for each other. While tofu is a plant-based protein, paneer is an animal-based protein, made using cow or goat’s milk. Desperate vegetarians, when there is no paneer dish available, often turn to its cousin tofu which is also known as bean curd. Thanks to being plant-based, vegans may have initially made tofu popular but in recent times tofu has also gained a reputation for being a superfood. Tofu is a rich source of potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and selenium, vitamins B9, B6 and K. Of course then, tofu’s health benefits are massive which is why it earned the superfood badge of honour.
Source of Protein
Dr Swati Bhushan, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Hiranandani Fortis Hospital in Vashi says that tofu is not only a good source of protein for vegans and vegetarians but also for those who are lactose intolerant. Dr Bhushan explains, “Tofu is a good substitute for paneer and meat, both of which are loaded with proteins but contain a high amount of saturated fats (bad fat).” Soy protein, on the other hand, can help prevent triglyceride and cholesterol deposits in the liver, can improve insulin sensitivity by maintaining blood glucose levels. Besides, tofu is known to contain moderate amounts of dietary fibre unlike other dairy and animal products, which have nil or negligible amounts of fibre, she adds. While including tofu in your daily diet has many health benefits, you can't simply load up on tofu and exclude other foods. Dr Bhushan says, “The benefits of soy have been documented in clinical studies and one can include 15 grams of soy protein in their daily diet, especially if one is a vegan, lactose intolerant or simply looking for alternatives to dairy.”
Helps with Weight Loss
Tofu can be the go-to food for weight watchers who are looking for a low-carb source of protein. Dr Bhushan says that protein and dietary fibre help provide satiety and aid weight loss. She explains, “A good source of protein helps to keep one full for longer, thereby helping you avoid binging at your next meal. When made part of a low-fat diet, it can help reduce Body Mass Index (BMI) tremendously and retain muscle mass especially among obese individuals." Tofu also acts as a great energy-boosting food, thanks to the amino acids in it. When made part of your daily diet, tofu can help maintain bone health and also prevent osteoporosis.
Heart’s Best Friend
Dr Bhushan explains, “The good fats along with soy isoflavones and soy protein help improve blood vessel flexibility, maintain blood pressure and prevent plaque formation in the arteries.” That’s not all, tofu is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids which in turn help keep your heart in good shape. The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that foods with at least 25 grams of soy protein when consumed in a day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can help reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Dr Bhushan says that tofu is a highly recommended food for post-menopausal women as they have lower estrogen levels and are at a high risk of mood swings, depression, heart diseases, diabetes and also weight gain. You ask why? Well, the phytoestrogens present in tofu normalise the estrogen levels and in the process help prevent the occurrence of such symptoms and risks. Besides, phytoestrogens also help lower testosterone levels in men, helping rule out the risk of prostate cancer.
Word of Caution
Research suggests that the phytoestrogens in soy, which are similar in structure to estrogen, might not be safe for women especially suffering from breast cancer. Dr Bhushan says that there is no evidence that people who have hypothyroidism should completely avoid soy products but recommends consuming it in moderation. In case of individuals with kidney diseases, she suggests that one should consult a clinical nutritionist to determine the correct amount of tofu for one's diet, as it is loaded with potassium and phosphorus, which need to be monitored in such cases.
Where to Buy
Tofu can easily be found at supermarkets, high-end grocery stores or you could simply order the more exotic varieties online. There are many types of tofu to pick from too. From fresh, soft or silken, firm, extra firm, processed, fermented, dried, fried, and frozen, the supermarket is full of varieties. Though it’s best to go for the fermented tofu. Pickled and stinky are the two fermented types of tofu that are healthier than the others.
Dr Bhushan says, “Firm tofu has the lowest water content, can retain its shape and be stir-fried in minimal oil.” This makes it the most ideal form of tofu especially when it comes to making healthy dishes. Soft tofu, on the other hand, says Dr Bhushan has a higher water content which can be pureed and mashed for use in a variety of dishes as a substitute to paneer and cheese. Silken tofu is the smoothest variety compared to the other types, making it the best choice for dips, smoothies, salad dressings and also desserts and puddings.