How healthy is tofu, really?

Is tofu good for you?

How healthy is tofu, really?
Source: Pexels/Valeria Boltneva

Is tofu good for you? Short answer: yes. But let’s get into it.

Soy-based foods have gotten a bad rep recently because they have higher levels of isoflavones, which are plant-based compounds similar to the estrogen hormone. Because of this, some people are afraid that higher isoflavone levels increase the risk of cancer, could negatively affect fertility or could give men more feminine characteristics (have you heard the newer term soyboy to demean a man?).

"The thought that soy products like tofu can lead to cancer has been debunked, and soy may even help prevent cancers like prostate and breast," says nutrition writer Brittany Lubeck, M.S., R.D. She also explains that many of the negative results of soy products come from tests on animals and other non-human subjects. "Human studies on soy tend to show positive results."

It turns out that soy-based foods are totally safe to consume on a regular basis. Things like tofu are actually really great for you! While isoflavones do kind act like estrogen, they’re also shown to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. And it’s one of the few sources of protein that contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs.

“It’s almost a no-brainer that people should choose tofu and other plant-based proteins instead of animal-source proteins,” says Dr. Qi Sun, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Like many vegetables and plant-based foods, tofu also contains anti-nutrients. That may seem like a scary word, but an anti-nutrient is just a compound that lowers your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. Tofu contains two anti-nutrients: phytates and Trypsin inhibitors. These shouldn’t be a concern for anyone with a varied, nutrient-rich diet, but if you have a very restrictive or nutrient-poor diet, then these anti-nutrients can make it a little harder to meet your nutrition needs. Strangely enough, phytates can also be good for you as a natural iron regulator.

So, eat up tofu lovers!