Is Tofu Good for You?

Italian herb crusted tofu.

Italian herb crusted tofu.

 

One of the most common complaints I get on my blog is my use of tofu. It seems that every time I post a recipe including that flubbery goodness I get inundated with comments and direct messages about how terrible it is for your health and why I should disavow the food completely. So let's dive into this debate and figure out once and for all if tofu is bad for you. 

So the main reason tofu has been vilified is because it is made of soy beans, which contain phytoestrogens. Many believe that these phytoestrogens mimic the effects of estrogen, a hormone produced by our bodies, and can increase your risk of breast cancer.  The truth is, that the phytoestrogen found in soy is different than the estrogen we produce, and several peer-reviewed studies have actually found that soy consumption could be correlated with a decreased risk of breast cancer. For example, this research published by the British Journal of Cancer does a meta-analysis of 8 different studies, and finds a significant trend of increasing protective effect with increasing soy food intake in Asian people. According to this study, however, there was no correlation to breast cancer risk with the 11 soy-consuming Western populations studied. This could have to do with the findings of The Journal of Nutrition which suggest that moderate consumption of soy from early life may lead to a decreased risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence.  Asian diets are generally higher in soy products, so Asian women typically are exposed to soy products from an earlier age, which explains why they may experience an increased protective effect, compared to the neutral effect found on Western women.

But these studies mostly focus on a moderate consumption of soy (around two servings a day), what if you eat a TON of soy? Research suggests that consuming 7-18 servings of soy a day could make IGF-1 (insulin growth factors) factors comparable to meat eaters, thus increasing risk of certain cancers. To put that into perspective, one serving of soy would be 1/2 cup of soybeans, 1/2 cup of tofu or 1 cup of soy milk. So in order to consume enough soy to raise IGF-1 levels to that of a meat eater, you'd have to eat 3.5-9 cups of soybeans, 2.5-6 blocks of tofu or 7-18 cups of soy milk  (or any combination of the three) EVERY day.  But, as Dr. Greger of Nutritionfacts.org suggests, those eating a vegan diet may have an increase of IGF binding protein, meaning that more of the IGF found in the blood might be unavailable to stimulate as much cancer growth. Watch this video by Nutritionfacts.org to get a more in depth review of this topic. 

All in all, I don't believe that eating soy has a negative effect on your health. Like any food, you should eat it in moderation and be sure to eat a varied diet to ensure that you get all the nutrients you need. But ultimately what it comes down to is choice, and if you feel uncomfortable eating soy, then don't! There are plenty of other healthy plant based proteins that you can consume instead like lentils, beans and other legumes. There is no one right way to be vegan and above all you should eat in a way that makes you feel your best both mentally and physically. 

Below is a video by Unnatural Vegan that I watched to help me get a better grasp on this subject and that I used to write this article. There are a ton more sources in the bio of her video that you might want to check out to help make up your mind, plus she goes way more in depth with the science and different types of soy that I did not mention in this post. 

Let me know your thoughts down below! Do you eat soy?

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