7 Health Reasons to Love Tofu: It Lowers Your Risk of Heart Disease, Cancer, More
Tofu has been given a bad rap throughout the years, but now this soy-based protein is enjoying a new popularity, as health-conscious consumers are turning away from meat and looking for plant-based alternatives to add to their daily meals. Want to love it? Let these seven health facts convince you to become a fan of tofu.
Tofu has gone mainstream: During a four-week period that ended March 28, tofu sales were up 66.7 percent versus the same period in 2019, and sales were still brisk in May, up 32.8 percent, according to Nielsen data as reported in Bloomberg. One reason is the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in meatpacking plants around the country, along with growing consumer awareness of the fact that diets high in red meat and dairy have been linked to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
While the pandemic might have catapulted tofu to recent popularity, experts hope this centuries-old, soy-based food maintains its new position on the tables of mainstream America, especially considering its health benefits and versatility in cooking. In case you need convincing about tofu’s super-plant powers, here are seven facts to win you over.
1. Eating soy does not increase breast cancer risk, but actually lowers it
Many people mistakenly believe soy can raise breast cancer risk, or impact the recurrence of breast cancer. Here’s why: Soy is a uniquely rich source of isoflavones, the naturally occurring plant chemicals that are classified as phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), and in one lab test on mice, isoflavones stimulated the growth of tumors. Yet there are flaws in assuming that soy creates this effect in humans. “Not only do mice metabolize isoflavones differently than humans, but isoflavones also differ from the hormone estrogen,” says Mark Messina, Ph.D., M.S., president of Nutrition Matters in Pittsfield, Mass., adding that clinical studies show that neither soy foods nor isoflavones increase breast cancer risk and appear to lower it.
In fact, one study found that higher soy consumption was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer, since the plant version may protect women from making estrogen and drives down breast cancer reoccurrence: A review of "11,000 women from the USA and China show[s] that post-diagnosis soy intake significantly reduces recurrence and improves survival." The European Food Safety Authority and the German Research Foundation have concluded that isoflavones do not adversely affect breast tissue. What’s more, Messina says, “observational studies show women who consume soy after a diagnosis of breast cancer are less likely to die from their disease or suffer a recurrence.”
That may be why the American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, and World Cancer Research Fund International have all concluded that breast cancer patients can safely consume soy. It might even be wise for kids to eat more tofu as well. “Although speculative, eating tofu early in life (childhood or adolescence) appears to reduce breast cancer in life,” Messina says. Soy is among the healthy foods to eat to lower your risk of cancer.
2. Soy can make your heart healthier
In 1999, the FDA awarded soy foods a health claim for reducing risk of heart disease. Why? “Soy protein directly lowers blood cholesterol levels,” Messina says, adding that 25 grams of soy protein a day (there are about 10 grams in one serving of tofu) will do the trick. Soy foods like tofu are high in healthy polyunsaturated fat, and when you replace foods like animal protein that are high in artery-clogging saturated fat, blood cholesterol levels are reduced.
3. Soy has been shown to lower cholesterol and other markers of CVD
4. Soy lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes
5. Soy lowers the risk of prostate cancer
6. Soy improves cognitive function
7. Soy reduces more body fat than non-soy proteins
Tofu comes with other surprising health benefits
Want to build muscle strength? Even find relief from hot flashes? Soy products, tofu included, can do both, according to Messina. “Soy protein promotes gains in muscle mass and strength in individuals engaged in resistance exercise training to the same extent as animal protein,” Messina says. It can also alleviate hot flashes in postmenopausal women.
Tofu contains similar amounts of protein as animal foods
One of tofu’s selling points is its high protein content. It does range slightly from brand to brand, but it’s comparable to animal protein. The range is anywhere from 2 grams of protein an ounce up to about 6 grams an ounce. That’s nearly as much protein as in chicken, which has 8 grams of protein per ounce. That's one reason tofu is so mainstream: You can use it instead of most animal proteins in your favorite stir-fries, salads, or bowls.