Tofu: Health Benefits, Concerns And Recipes Using The Vegetarian Staple

Tofu can be a great way to add texture to your meals and cut down on the amount of expensive meat you're buying.

But what exactly is tofu and is it any good for your health?

What Is Tofu?

According to Aisling Pigott, a spokesperson from the British Dietetic Association, tofu is "a tasty and versatile food for vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike".

Traditionally used in Thai and Chinese cooking, tofu is made by curdling fresh soya milk that has been made from soya beans. It is then pressed into squares and cooled.

Health Benefits

"Tofu is a low fat and high protein food," says Pigott. "It's also often high in iron and calcium."

According to the NHS, iron is an essential mineral that helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Calcium is key to keeping bones and teeth strong and can also ensure that blood clots normally.

Charlotte Stirling-Reed, from SR Nutrition, agrees that tofu could be beneficial to health, particularly to vegetarians.

"It's a great source of protein and micronutrients," she tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "It also contains fibre, beneficial polyunsaturated fat and is low in saturated fats."

Soya beans (which tofu is made from) have also been linked to reducing hot flushes in people going through the menopause and even reducing the risk of breast cancer.

But Stirling-Reed warns that studies around these two areas are "very confusing" and controversial, so should be taken with a pinch of salt until more conclusive research is carried out.

Health Concerns

There are conflicts of opinion surrounding the health benefits of tofu and whether or not is really is a "superfood".

"Some studies may have suggested benefits to eating soya and soya products such as tofu, but others also show no associated benefits and, even more concerning, is the fact that there are also some studies showing negative associations from eating soya," Stirling-Reed says.

Blogging on HuffPost Healthy Living, Dr Joseph Mercola says fermented soya from organic soya beans can be a beneficial part of your diet. But most westerners consume unfermented soy, mostly in the form of soya milk, tofu, TVP, and soya infant formula, which can be problematic.

He claims that unfermented soya products increase your body's vitamin D requirement, contain high levels of aluminium, (which is toxic to your nervous system and kidneys), and interfere with protein digestion (which may cause pancreatic disorders).

"Soya's anti-nutrients are quite potent. Drinking just two glasses of soya milk daily provides enough of these compounds to alter a woman's menstrual cycle. But if you feed soya to your infant or child, these effects are magnified a thousand-fold," he adds.

"Infants fed soya formula may have up to 20,000 times more oestrogen circulating through their bodies as those fed other formulas. You should never feed your infant a soya-based formula."

As Stirling-Reed says, "the jury is very much still out with regards to soya", therefore it's probably best to consume tofu in moderation, as part of a varied and balanced diet.

How To Eat It

You can bake, fry or grill tofu to create a range of different textures. Traditionally it's put with Chinese or Thai flavours and is great in a stir-fry, but it can also form the basis of a tasty soup.

Scroll through the slideshow below for a whole host of recipe ideas and cooking instructions.

The Best Tofu Recipes