If you are a meat lover who wishes to cut down on the consumption of meat, an option would be to include tofu in your diet. Prepared from soybeans, tofu is rich in proteins, low in fat and is a wonderful replacement for meat. Also known by the name bean curd, tofu is an important element in East and Southeast Asian cooking. This is a very versatile product that is bland in taste and can be used to prepare many sweet and savory dishes. Tofu is said to have originated in China well over 2000 years ago and was introduced into other Asian countries and later to other parts of the world as well. It forms a major source of protein for the Buddhist monks and the diet of vegetarians in the East Asian countries.
Tofu is also known as bean curd at many places. It is addressed by similar names across Asia – đậu phụ (Vietnamese), 豆腐 dòufu (Chinese), 豆腐tōfu (Japanese), 두부 dubu (Korean), tauhu or tahoe, tahu (Malay, Indonesian), tokwa (Filipino), தஹு or tahu (tamil).
What is tofu made of? How is Tofu prepared?
Tofu is manufactured in the same way as cheese. It is made by adding a coagulant to soy milk and resultant curd is pressed to make it firm. Pre-made soy milk is available in the market. You can also make fresh soy milk by soaking dried or fresh soybeans and then grinding it, boiling it and straining it. The coagulants used in the manufacture are mainly of two types – salt coagulants and acid coagulants. Although not widely used, enzyme coagulants are another type of coagulant that has been found to be useful in preparing tofu. Once the coagulant is added, soy milk separates into whey and curd. The curd is collected, strained of excess liquid and then pressed to form blocks of tofu. Try out some recipes of Tofu – Tofu marinade, tofu pasta, silken tofu with soy souce, tofu desserts, baked tofu, tofu scramble, etc.
Tofu – Nutritional value
Tofu is low cholesterol, low fat and low sodium product that is rich in protein and other nutrients. It is a complete food in that it is high in nutrients and contains all the vital amino acids that cannot be produced by your body. Tofu is also an excellent source of calcium and magnesium and contains good amounts of minerals like Copper, Iron, Phosphorus, Magnesium, potassium, and Selenium. Tofu contains Isoflavones, which is a kind of plant hormone that has been found to have many health benefits and the potential to lower the risk of many conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.
Health benefits of Tofu
Tofu happens to be one the most nutritious foods that have high amounts of proteins and less amount of fat. In addition to being protein rich, they contain several nutrients that can do wonders to your health.
Tofu lowers cholesterol
Certain foods can help lower the bad cholesterol in your body and reduce your risks of heart diseases and strokes. Tofu is one such food item that is found to have a lowering effect on your cholesterol levels. Besides lowering the LDL levels, it also helps in maintain levels of good cholesterol or HDL.
Tofu and heart health
When it comes to food items that are healthy for your heart, tofu is considered to have the ability to lower the incidences of heart diseases. The isoflavones and soy protein present in tofu are found to lower cholesterol. In fact studies indicate that the regular consumption of tofu can result in an overall cholesterol drop of up to 30%. By lowering LDL levels, tofu can considerably reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart diseases.
Tofu helps in preventing Atherosclerosis
Arteriosclerosis is a condition that causes your blood vessels to thicken and harden thereby losing their elasticity. Atherosclerosis is a kind of arteriosclerosis that is caused by the accumulation of cholesterol and fat in your arteries leading to the restricted flow of blood. If not treated, this condition can lead to severe medical emergencies like stroke and heart attacks. Atherosclerosis is preventable by exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and by eating a nutritious diet. Since tofu is a low fat food having nutritional components that help in reducing cholesterol, adding it to your regular diet can help in inhibiting or preventing the occurrence of atherosclerosis.
Tofu and cancer
Isoflavones in tofu have been found to have an important role in lowering the risks of certain types of cancers like breast cancer and prostate cancer. It is thought that Genistein, a category of isoflavones found in tofu may help in preventing the growth of cancerous cells in your body. Although research on the ability of tofu to prevent cancer is still going on, studies conducted so far reveals that it is extremely helpful in protecting you from various types of cancers.
Tofu helps in weight loss
Then amount of calories that you consume is an important factor when it comes to losing weight. For effective weight loss, the amount of calories that you intake should be less than the amount that you burn daily. Since tofu is low in calories, making it part of your diet can help in weight loss. Tofu is rich in protein content, which makes you feel full even after eating small amounts. This is very beneficial when you are trying to lose weight.
Tofu and bone health
Tofu is a rich source of calcium and magnesium, both of which are needed for healthy and strong bones. Moreover, isoflavones contained in tofu are considered to be able to slow down the breakdown of bones. In fact these hormones are used in the treatment of osteoporosis. According to a study published by the Oklahoma State University in the year 2003, soy protein has been found to be very useful in helping the formation of bones and also in helping your body retain its calcium content. Studies also reveal that bone mineral density increased significantly in post menopausal women who consumed soy protein regularly.
Tofu helps in delaying the aging process
Tofu has exceptionally high levels of isoflavones, which have powerful antioxidant properties. The human body creates free radicals that attack cells and cause damage to the cells. The oxidative stress caused by these free radicals is a main factor that contributes to aging. The antioxidant properties of tofu help in delaying the process of aging, by eliminating the free radicals in your body.
Tofu helps to prevent menopausal disorders
In women going through premenopausal state, the estrogen levels are found to either increase to a very high level or decrease to a very low level. The imbalance of this hormone can lead to many problems like hot flashes, mood disorders, sleeping difficulties, dizziness, headaches etc. Tofu contains two isoflavones that helps in maintaining the correct balance of estrogen and has health benefits for women. During menopause, the production of natural estrogen in women drops significantly. Regular consumption of tofu helps in boosting the activity of estrogen and thus reduces the various symptoms of menopause. The isoflavones in tofu is also beneficial for lowering the risks of developing osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Tofu helps promote breast milk
Tofu has phtyoestorgen which helps in secretion of milk from mammary glands. In China, tofu soup is given to women after pregnancy to promote lactation.
Tofu boosts your immune system
The proper and healthy functioning of your immune system is vital in protecting your body against diseases effectively. Of the various factors like exercise, nutrition, state of your mind and environment that play a role in strengthening your immune strength, the role of nutrition is of utmost importance. The high protein content and the presence of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients in tofu can boost your immune system and keep you safe from diseases.
Tofu and diabetes
Doctors recommend regular exercise, a healthy weight, and a nutritious diet to manage diabetes. Tofu is a low fat, low calorie and low cholesterol food that contains high levels of soy protein and other nutrients. This makes it a very healthy food choice for people with diabetes. According to the Diabetes food pyramid, it is important for a diabetic to take 4 to 6 oz. of meat or meat substitutes daily. For people who wish to avoid meat, tofu is a tasty and healthy alternative. Tofu has a wonderful balance of nutrients that helps in lowering blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Tofu for skin care
Tofu helps in keeping your skin moist, especially for women after menopause tofu is helpful. It also helps in removing signs of aging including wrinkles. Tofu contains saponin which helps remove dead skin cells and clear skin pores. Proteins in Tofu help improve skin elasticity. Make tofu skin mask at home by mixing tofu with yoghurt and honey.
Tofu to prevent hair loss
Human hair is made up of protein – keratin. Tofu is wonderful source of protein, especially to vegans. It helps in providing vital nutrients required for hair growth and reducing hair loss. Adding tofu to your diet can help save your lost hair.
Bean curd cleanses body
Bean curd is considered to have cooling and cleansing effect on body. It removes intestinal toxins and promotes gastrointestinal health.
Side effects of tofu protein
Some people are allergic to soy protein. Tofu contained the highest amounts of isoflavones which resemble human hormone estrogen. While these phytoestrogen are of great benefits to women, body building people on protein diet prefer to keep soy protein limited in their diet. They believe Tofu could feminize men. Some researchers belive that soy phytoestrogen can compete estrogen receptors in brain. Excess dose of soy protein should be avoided according to some researchers.
Selecting and storing tofu
Tofu comes in different textures including soft, firm and extra firm. It is available in sealed containers (non-refrigerated) and also in individual packages (refrigerated). Soft tofu is smoother in texture and hence is good for making sauces, desserts and salad dressings. Firm tofu and extra firm tofu have a firm texture and is ideal for grilling, baking and stir frying. All form of tofu except the ones that comes in sealed containers should be kept in the refrigerator immediately. Tofu available in sealed container should also be refrigerated once the container is opened. It is recommended to rinse the tofu well, store it in a container filled with water, and refrigerate it. Tofu can be kept fresh for a week by replacing the water daily. Tofu that is kept in the freezer will stay fresh for up to 5 months.
A common misunderstanding is that vegetarians do not get good amount of protein from their diet when compared to non-vegetarians. Tofu is an excellent source of protein and a great substitute for meat. It is easily available and very inexpensive too. Not only is tofu rich in nutrients, it also helps in improving your overall health and in preventing many diseases.Image Credits: Flickr - Craig Dugas, Flickr - Rober Couse