Mention tofu, and you’re likely to spark a controversial debate. Researchers and nutritionists on the opposing sides of the debate have supporting proof of how good or bad tofu is for our health. While there are those who claim tofu has nutritional value, others are against its consumption saying that there are health risks that could lead to complications. This causes confusion among many people and we are left wondering, is tofu safe to eat every day?
What is Tofu?
Tofu is a plant-based protein derived from condensed soy milk. The soymilk is then coagulated into curds which are pressed to form the white blocks. Soybeans are mainly produced in the U.S. and a high percentage of the produce is genetically modified (GMO).
This fact alone makes soy bad for your health. GMOs can lead to serious health conditions because the good bacteria are killed to withstand the herbicides used during farming. However, you can still opt for the organic tofu which is safer. There are numerous types of tofu, including silken tofu, processed tofu, fermented tofu, dried tofu, frozen tofu, and fresh tofu. Plus, fermented tofu is the healthiest option and can be consumed without fear of health risks.
Health Benefits of Tofu
Health experts recommend tofu consumption to cancer, diabetes and heart patients. Other health benefits include:
- Weight loss.
- Brain function.
- Reduced wrinkles.
However, there are certain tofu health risks that could have unpleasant effects on our bodies.
Taking a glass of soy milk for breakfast, and then eating a whole block of tofu for lunch, increases the number of plant estrogens in the body which can cause hormonal imbalance, especially in women. Although plant estrogens are not as strong as human estrogens, excessive consumption will affect your body’s ability to produce and utilize estrogen.
Soy contains isoflavone genistein, a type of goitrogenic compound which disrupts thyroid hormone production, causing hypothyroidism. Consuming too much soy disrupts systems that are sensitive to estrogens, such as the brain and the reproductive organs. Since most parents introduce tofu to their kids at an early age, they are exposing them to greater risks which could affect their growth and development.
Phytoestrogens, plant-based estrogens, mimic our body’s estrogen and block the bodies normal estrogen production. Researchers say that eating soy could feed cancer cells since they have estrogen-like effects. This dark side of tofu affects people differently and over-consumption increases the chances of breast cancer. Experts advise breast cancer patients or those who have a family history of breast cancer to avoid tofu entirely. There is confusion concerning the safety of tofu with more evidence now suggesting that regular soy intake can decrease the recurrence of breast cancer. However, more studies are required for conclusive results on how the compounds in tofu can help the body.
May Affect Fertility
There are concerns that tofu could interfere with testosterone production in men, a fact that cold lower their sperm count. A report published in the Journal of Human Reproduction claimed excessive consumption of tofu can affect fertility in men and women. However, the evidence is not sufficient and more studies and trials are needed to get conclusive results. In another study published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, tests on mice that were fed high, medium and low quantities of soy had shocking results. Furthermore, mice that were fed high doses of soy developed reproductive complications, including irregular estrous cycle (menstrual cycles in humans) and early puberty.
Tofu Contains Antinutrients
Antinutrients are compounds found in plants and are known to reduce our body’s ability to absorb the essential nutrients that are plenty in plant foods. Tofu, like any other plant foods, contains antinutrients such as trypsin inhibitors which block protein digestion and phytates which reduce the absorption of important minerals, including iron, zinc, and calcium. Additionally, oligosaccharides cause gas and oxalates promote kidney stones. To reduce antinutrients, you’re advised to take fermented tofu.
Tofu May Cause Mineral Deficiencies
Tofu contains phytates which are known to interfere with the absorption of essential minerals that boost metabolism and promote the normal functioning of the thyroid. Likewise, tofu has compounds that are similar to vitamin B12. These B12 compounds cannot be used by our bodies the way they would the actual vitamin B12. This could promote vitamin B12 deficiency, especially among vegetarians.
Taken in moderation, tofu can be beneficial to your general health. People who experience side effects of too much soy are at a higher risk of cancer and other life threatening conditions. If you have to eat tofu, opt for the fermented variety to reap more health benefits. With inconclusive studies on how tofu affects us, you’d rather be safe and avoid consuming tofu completely or take it sparingly.
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