The 4 Most Common Tofu Myths Exposed

Nadine

Contributor

It’s never been more on-trend to make the switch to a vegan or vegetarian diet. In 2016 alone, 5.29 million people in Germany cut meat out of their diet. Last year, over 800,000 Germans adopted a vegan lifestyle by consuming no animal products at all. Tofu is widely eaten throughout Asia and has been adopted by many vegetarians and vegans all over the world as a (if not the) go-to source of protein. But in other parts of the world, the soy product is rarely on the menu. 

There are many myths about the benefits of tofu and other soy products. Let’s delve into them to sort fact from fiction…

What exactly is tofu?

Tofu is made from soy beans, water, and salt. The versatile ingredient has a mild taste, allowing it to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. Nobody knows for sure when tofu was first made, but we know it had made its way onto the dining table in China by 2000 B.C. It could be that it was a by-product from the widely-consumed soy milk. Today, tofu is sold in blocks and comes in many different varieties, ranging in texture from firm to silken.

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Myth No. 1: Tofu is a wonder food that has numerous health benefits

The main component of tofu is soy beans, making it low in calories and cholesterol while high in protein, unsaturated fat, vitamins B1, B2, B6, and E, as well as minerals like potassium, calcium, folic acid, and zinc. 

Catch all that? In numerous Asian countries, where the consumption of soy is particularly high, fewer people are reportedly affected by illnesses like breast or bowel cancer, osteoporosis, or heart problems than in Western countries. The Japanese even attribute their famed life expectancy to the consumption of soy. However, researchers from San Jose State University in California found that all tofu-related studies to date should be considered inconclusive. 

In order for tofu to have a noticeable impact on our health, we would have to consume it in extremely large amounts–about 1kg/2.2lbs per day! It figures that according to the researchers, consuming soy as a preventive measure against heart diseases is unlikely to be effective. Instead, the recommend daily intake of soy protein for adults is max. 25g/less than 1oz, which translates into about 300g/10.5oz of tofu or 800ml/3.33cups of soy milk. 

Fact: To this day, we cannot say conclusively that soy is responsible for a longer life expectancy or has any cancer-fighting properties. We’ll have to wait and see what future studies might find…

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Myth No. 2: Eating tofu might cause hormonal imbalance

Soy is rich in compounds called isoflavones which act like the female hormone estrogen. The myth is that if too much soy is consumed, the thyroid will interpret the isoflavones as estrogen and the body’s hormones could be thrown off balance. An excess of estrogen in the body is thought to lead to higher chances of breast cancer, fertility issues, and effect puberty and menopause. But again, studies here are inconclusive, and it is difficult to say how much soy would need to be consumed to cause these effects on the body.

Fact: While we wait for more from the scientific community, we can only repeat the golden rule of eating: Everything in moderation, or here specifically: 300g/10.5oz of tofu a day!

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Myth No. 3: Tofu is bad for the environment

Many people blame soy consumption for the gradual disappearance of rainforests in South America. But no one is solely responsible for this tragic event: Not the South American farmers, not the governments, and not the consumers—all three contribute to the current state. In Brazil alone, soy cropland has doubled in the last 15 years and around 90 million tons of soy was produced. 

It’s not just soy–any large-scale industrial farming has its impact on the environment. Not only does it convert natural grassland and rainforests into farmland but introduces fertilizers and pesticides that in turn affect our climate and environment. 


Fact: Try to buy local produce (not only for your tofu needs!). Minimal transportation means the product is fresher and the low carbon-footprint means its environmentally friendlier too.

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Myth No. 4: Tofu is genetically modified

According to a study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2012, about 80% of the soy imported to Germany from non-EU states (mainly from the USA, Brazil, and Argentina) is not GMO-free. It’s something for everyone to think about: Genetically-modified soy can be found not only in vegan or vegetarian foods, as it is commonly used in livestock feed. 

Fact: Always check labels! Organically-cultivated soy products should not contain any genetically-modified organism and will be labeled as such.

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Our verdict

Even if tofu isn’t necessarily the wonder food it’s made out to be, a moderate consumption of soy products is harmless for healthy adults. For meat-lovers, swapping in tofu means you get a little more variety in your diet which, in the end, is key to your overall health. If you’ve never cooked with tofu, try our recipe for Mapo tofu, with or without the ground pork, as an easy and flavorful intro to working with the soy protein.


What do you think of tofu? Is it part of your diet or do you avoid it all together? Tell us in the comments below!

Mapo tofu

Mapo tofu

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