Tofu has its place in a healthy diet

Tofu has its place in a healthy diet

Let’s talk about tofu.

It looked like simple, honest food when it caught your eye at the grocery store. But later, after checking it out online, she began to worry about the complexity of the long-term relationship.

It is true that health experts’ craving for tofu can be viewed as a recurring, and intermittent, craving. It’s also true, despite some rumors you may have heard, that tofu can be an excellent part of most people’s healthy eating pattern.

“It’s a very nutritious food,” said Dr. Kee Sun, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Tofu, sometimes called bean curd, consists mostly of soybeans and water, plus a coagulant such as calcium sulfate, which is pressed into a lump. In mainstream American supermarkets, you’ll likely see quite a few varieties ranked by hardness, which reflects the water content. “Silky” tofu is not pressed and can be as thick as custard, while firmer varieties can be more like soft cheese.

In China, where tofu originated around 200 BC, tofu takes on many additional shapes and flavors – leaves and sticks, fermented and smoked. Throughout Asia, it is served fried, marinated, and stuffed.

Seasoning may vary, Sun said, but “it all falls under the tofu umbrella.”

Nutritionally speaking, tofu offers a lot to love. According to the USDA, half a cup of firm tofu provides 21.8 grams of protein with 181 calories and 11 grams of fat. Most of these fats are of the healthy unsaturated type.

The high level of protein makes tofu a good alternative to animal-derived meat. Federal dietary guidelines include tofu as part of a healthy plant-based diet, and the American Heart Association’s 2021 Scientific Statement emphasizes choosing plant-based proteins for heart health.

Tofu also contains all the essential amino acids your body needs and is rich in minerals and vitamins, including calcium, manganese, iron and vitamin A.

Tofu and other soy foods are also a major source of isoflavones. These are flavonoids – chemicals made from plants that are linked to a variety of health benefits.

But Sun said that tofu, soy products and isoflavones “do not have a consistent positive image in the United States” because of their complex history.

In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration allowed soy products to claim that they protect against coronary heart disease. Then, a 2006 scientific advisor to the American Heart Association concluded that the cardiovascular benefits of soy isoflavones were “negligible at best.”

The FDA began reevaluating the heart health claim in 2007, and in 2017 suggested it be rescinded.

But the search continued. Sun was lead author on a 2020 study published in the journal Circulation that looked at data from more than 210,000 health care professionals in the United States and found that those who ate at least one serving of tofu per week had an 18% lower risk of heart disease than those who did. . Who rarely eat tofu.

And in a 2021 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition of nearly half a million people in China, people with no history of cardiovascular disease who ate soy four or more days a week had lower odds of dying from a heart attack compared to people who ate soybeans four or more days a week. Who never or rarely eat soy.

However, tofu and other soy products make some people wary because isoflavones act like a weak form of estrogen. But Sun said concerns that soy could cause infertility or other problems in men were “not based at all on science.” Likewise, the American Cancer Society sees no risks from eating soy.

“For the vast majority of people, it should be reasonable to introduce tofu into their daily diet without any problems,” Son said.

Son said he and his family eat “maybe three portions a week.” He likes to use soft tofu in soup and hard tofu – frozen and chopped – in a traditional Chinese hot pot.

Food lovers celebrate tofu for its ability to absorb the flavor of whatever is being cooked. “I mean, there are almost limitless ways to incorporate tofu into your diet,” Son said.

However, not all of these methods are useful to you. People should avoid preparations containing excess sugar, salt, or saturated fat. If you did, Sun said, tofu could be “a very healthy food, almost universal.”

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