The Benefits of Tofu: An Exaggeration or the Truth?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Tofu is often seen as one of the mainstays of a vegetarian or vegan diet. Many claims, both positive and negative, are made about this food. Whatever side of the tofu debate you are on, there is no gainsaying the many benefits of tofu in a balanced diet.

What is Tofu?

A bowl containing many benefits of tofuTofu is a soybean byproduct. It is made of a combination of soybeans, water, and a curdling agent. A protein-rich food, many taste variations are available by simply adding certain spices and flavorings to your tofu. Tofu has been a part of the Asian food culture for hundreds of years and is fast becoming a staple in vegan and vegetarian diets due to its versatility, nutritional value, and affordability. An added bonus, for the weight conscious, is that it is very low in calories.

Besides the benefits of tofu mentioned, the product is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a great source of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, copper, and phosphorous. There are also traces of zinc. Additionally, the benefits of tofu may even include its ability to fight against certain health conditions.

The Many Health Benefits of Tofu

There are numerous health benefits of tofu in the diet. The good news is, you don’t need to be a vegetarian or a vegan to enjoy them! Protein is not found only in meat and meat products, but in tofu and other soy products and many vegetables as well. An added benefit of protein derived from plants is that it does not have the health implications often associated with frequent red meat consumption.

Many of the seemingly, at times, ‘unrelated’ symptoms of adrenal fatigue may find a positive benefit with the incorporation of tofu and other soy products in the diet.

But what are the benefits of tofu in the diet, exactly?

Tofu may lower cholesterol levels

Saturated fat, as commonly found in most cooking oils and red meat, is linked to higher levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. When comparing tofu to these cooking oils and beef, you find that it has very low levels of saturated fat, but higher levels of unsaturated fats. The isoflavones found in soy products actively help reduce your ‘bad’ cholesterol while having no effect on ‘good’ cholesterol.

High cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular diseases and often cited as the cause of a heart attack.

Tofu may lower your chances of contracting osteoporosis

Benefits of tofu including its isoflavones contentThe isoflavones present in tofu may play an active role in reducing bone loss while increasing your bone mineral density. This is especially important after a woman has reached menopause. The high calcium content found in tofu and other soy products is one of the key ingredients in bone formation. Most people following a western diet may have calcium deficiencies. This may lead to poor new bone formation and other ailments relating to bone health.

Tofu may actively fight at preventing cancer

There is a lot of controversy surrounding this benefit. While early research on this subject of tofu and cancer revealed that tofu may not be recommended if you have cancer, newer research is not singing a different tune. Isoflavones, which are present in tofu and other soy products in large quantities, are deemed as beneficial in cancer prevention. Genistein, the most predominant isoflavone in soy, may help to inhibit cancer cell growth due to its antioxidant properties.

Cancers’ identified as possibly finding a benefit of tofu (and other soy products) consumption include breast cancer (studies show it may decrease breast cancer recurrence), prostate cancer (standing between 32 percent and 51 percent decreased risk), and endometrial cancer (may reduce the risk of occurrence in post-menopausal women). When it comes to lung cancer, it has been found that soy products may prolong the life of postmenopausal women with this condition. Regarding cancers of the digestive system, studies indicate that it lowered the risk of stomach cancer in men by 61 percent, while women come in lower at 59 percent.

Tofu may help manage the symptoms commonly associated with menopause

Research indicates that tofu and other soy products may be of benefit to those going through menopause, relieving certain symptoms like hot flushes, for example. Interestingly, menopausal women from certain Asian countries where soy products are regularly consumed tend not to have the same frequency or severity when it comes to hot flushes as their western counterparts do. The thought trend on this is that soy products contain phytoestrogens that may be of benefit regarding these symptoms. Those with adrenal fatigue may present with estrogen dominance. If that is the case, tofu may not be recommended as it can increase your estrogen related symptoms.

Tofu may reduce your risk of diabetes

Research indicates that the isoflavones found in soy products may have a beneficial effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. Isoflavone supplements have been shown to improve your insulin sensitivity and have a positive impact on blood fats. Tofu is a good source of protein and helps balance your blood sugars and stabilize reactive hypoglycemia, a common symptom of adrenal fatigue.

Tofu may limit liver damage

A study indicates that tofu may help damage to the liver due to free radicals. This is often beneficial in the setting of adrenal fatigue when detoxification pathways can be compromised.

Tofu may aid age-related brain conditions

Studies on different population groups indicate that fewer people suffer from age-related mental illnesses in those areas where higher percentages of soy are consumed as opposed to areas where relatively little soy forms part of the diet. A 2017 study indicates that soy products might be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s because they are relatively rich in lecithin. Lecithin helps with the production of chemicals necessary for neurons to function correctly.

How Safe is Tofu?

Using genetically modified soy can minimize the benefits of tofuThere is a lot of controversy regarding the use of tofu and other soy products. Some researchers suggest high soy consumption may be related to a higher occurrence of breast cancer. When looking at geography and the occurrence of this type of cancer, however, those areas having a higher soy consumption shows women actually having a lower rate of this disease.

Some researchers claim that high usage of soy products leads to an increase in tumor growth. These studies, however, were done on rats, and further research shows that rats and humans do not metabolize soy the same way thereby effectively making these search results invalid.

Unfortunately, many soy products contain additives while many of these products manufactured in the USA are genetically modified. These may have a negative impact on the benefit of tofu. Do ensure you check the labels before buying any processed soy products, including tofu.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The benefits of tofu may help address certain symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue. Healing the condition, however, may be a long, drawn-out process incorporating many different factors such as diet, lifestyle, and addressing other underlying causes such as work stress, environmental factors, and physical issues.

Benefits of tofu