Tofu is not the evil some trainers would lead you to believe.
As you can see from several of my healthy recipes, I enjoy tofu.
As a Buddhist, I work towards reducing the suffering of beings by eating less of them. However, as a trainer, I want to make sure I’m eating enough protein at every meal.
- Tofu is an excellent plant based source of protein.
- Tofu is a complete protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids).
- Grown correctly (organic & non-GMO), soy has the least environmental impact per pound of protein, able to produce more than 16 times more protein per acre than beef production.
Approximately 97% of global soymeal prodution is used as animal feed. If you eat the soy instead of the animal that eats the soy, you’re eating lower on the food chain, reducing environmental impact.
If you look around on blogs by those who follow a paleo diet, you’ll read a lot of articles stating that you shouldn’t eat tofu because it’s a “processed” food. I totally agree that healthy food choices meaning eating less processed foods. Tofu doesn’t even come close to qualifying as processed. Tofu has been made and eaten since almost 2,000 years before electricity, let alone modern industrialized food processing. Tofu can be made at home with 3 ingredients: soy beans, water and a coagulant. The most common coagulants are derived from dried sea water, in Japan, it’s called nigari. A food with just 3 ingredients disqualifies the adjective “processed”.
“Trainer science” and the supposedly negative effects of eating soy.
We personal trainers are an interesting lot. We very much enjoy what we do and love helping people improve their lives. Unfortunately, there is quite a lot of information you’ll hear from trainers that doesn’t actually fit with science. The negative effects of eating soy is one of them.
One thing the anti-soy crowd likes to harp on is the volume of soy eaten in Asian cultures. They like to point out that the while the “soy industry” tries to tell us that soy is a staple of Asian diets, the amount of soy in the Asian diet averages only 9 grams per day. However, western and American diets contain only 1 gram per day! So Asians really do eat soy in vastly greater amounts than Americans.
Another of the big points against soy is the isoflavones, which are plant based estrogen-like compounds. On non-scientific web pages you’ll see it mentioned that because these phytoestrogens “mimic” estrogen in our bodies and that soy is a hormone disruptor. Unfortunately for the anti-soy brigade, the science actually shows that isoflavones have a positive effect on health, protecting against cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. When it comes to information about the how various chemicals affect my body, I’m going to trust sources like universities and people with PhD after their name before some blogger who doesn’t list any scientific sources in their articles.
No food is perfect and tofu should not be the center of your diet.
One thing I do agree with the anti-soy people about is the excessive positive health claims about soy that cause people to use soy as their primary protein source. Soy in reasonable amounts isn’t going to cause men to grow breasts or cause your thyroid glands to slow down. Unless there are geographic reasons for your diet to be very narrow, for example Himalayan nomads where altitude and terrain make farming unproductive, you should mix your food intake. In the US, only economics could be a possible reason for a limited dietary intake and if that’s the case, you’re probably not shopping for bulk legumes and grains.
To eat nothing but soy, in the form of tofu and soy milk and products made with soy protein isolates, can cause health problems. For example, too much soy, especially in menopausal women, can increase the risk of hypothyroidism. So mix it up. If you choose to be vegetarian, beans are another excellent source of proteins and minerals. When it comes to milk substitutes, if you eat a lot of soy as tofu, use nut milks instead. It will not only reduce the possible negative health effects from excess soy consumption, but it will give your body a different nutritional spectrum.
|Nutrient||Amounts Per 1 cup Soy Milk||DV||Amounts Per 1 cup Almond Milk||DV|
|Calcium||60.7 mg||6%||450 mg||45%|
A balanced diet is the best approach.
If you’re a through and through meat eater, all this discussion of soy probably doesn’t affect you very much. But there are many people who choose for either ethical, religious or health reasons to be vegetarians. For you folks, balance. Don’t rely on one source of protein. Not only will you keep all the advantages of the various foods without incurring the potential negatives of over consumption, but variety is the spice of life.