5 Health Benefits of Eating Tofu

Tofu chunks in a bowl with soy beans.

The benefits of eating tofu are well documented, as it is a great example of how a simple food like soybeans can be woven into human food traditions in a way that is natural, inexpensive, and nourishing. (Image: HandmadePictures via Dreamstime)

The benefits of eating tofu are well documented, as it is a great example of how a simple food like soybeans can be woven into human food traditions in a way that is natural, inexpensive, and nourishing. Tofu is a surprisingly versatile form of soybeans that is made by curdling soymilk so that its proteins become coagulated and then pressed into a sliceable cake. 

Tofu originated in China some 2,000 years ago. It is a traditional component of cuisine in China and in many other Asian countries. In modern Western cooking, it is sometimes treated as a meat substitute.

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Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a food prepared by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness — it can be silken, soft, firm, extra firm, or super firm.

Tofu has a subtle flavor, so it can be used in savory and sweet dishes. It is often seasoned or marinated to suit the dish and its flavors, and due to its spongy texture, it absorbs flavors well.

The health benefits of eating tofu are many.
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is a food prepared by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness — it can be silken, soft, firm, extra firm, or super firm. (Image: Jackbluee via Dreamstime)

Click here to find a variety of tofu recipes!

5 health benefits of eating tofu

1. Rich in nutritients

Tofu provides a wide range of nutrients. Nutritionally, tofu is low in calories, while containing a relatively large amount of protein. It is a complete protein in that it contains all nine essential amino acids, is low in carbohydrates, and its fat content is mostly made up of polyunsaturated fats which benefits the heart.

It is also a valuable plant source of iron and the minerals manganese and phosphorous. In addition to this, it also contains magnesium, copper, zinc, and vitamin B1. And at 434 mg per half a cup, tofu is rich in calcium, which is very beneficial for bone health.

2. Helps prevent cardiovascular disease

According to recent research analysis of the U.S. population and dietary practices within this population, U.S. adults would increase their intake of folate, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron, and fiber if we replaced our meat and dairy intake with soy, including tofu. Replacing meat and dairy with tofu and other soy products would also lower our total cholesterol intake by about 125 milligrams per day and our saturated fat by about 2.4 grams per day. These nutritional changes, in turn, would lower our risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Miso, seaweed, and tofu soup.
Tofu can help to prevent cardiovascular disease. (Image: Akiyoko74 via Dreamstime)

3. Part of a cancer-preventing diet

Many studies provide us with evidence that supports the role of whole soy foods in a cancer-preventing diet. Genistein (an isoflavone phytonutrient in soy) is often a key focus in these cancer-prevention studies. This soy isoflavone can increase the activity of a tumor suppressor protein called p53. When p53 becomes more active, it can help trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells, and it also helps trigger cell cycle arrest (helping stop ongoing cancer cell activity).

Genistein has also been shown to block the activity of protein kinases in a way that can help slow tumor formation, especially in the case of breast and prostate cancer. Importantly, genistein is found in higher concentrations in fermented soy foods like fermented tofu or “stinky bean curd” (compared to non-fermented soy foods like soymilk, isolate soy protein, concentrated soy protein, textured soy protein — also known as TVP — and non-fermented tofu).

4. Aids in the prevention and treatment of obesity

Tofu is useful in the prevention and treatment of obesity. In this context, it is some of the unique peptides (protein breakdown products) in soy that have been associated with obesity prevention and treatment. Some of these peptides have shown the ability to decrease the synthesis of SREBPs (sterol regulatory element-binding proteins), thereby helping decrease the synthesis of certain fatty acids as well as the depositing of these fatty acids in fat cells.

Since fermented soy foods like fermented tofu have increased concentrations of bioactive peptides (versus non-fermented soy foods), fermented tofu may turn out to be the premier form of soy with respect to obesity management. However, it’s important to remember that this fascinating research on soy and obesity is still in a very early stage.

5. Helps to prevent type 2 diabetes

Another area of potential health benefit is the prevention of type 2 diabetes. In multiple animal studies, soy foods have been shown to lessen insulin resistance by increasing the synthesis of insulin receptors. However, this increased formation of insulin receptors only appears to occur in the presence of other dietary circumstances, like a moderate amount of polyunsaturated fat intake.

High levels of total soy intake (approximately 200 grams per day) have also been associated with decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, but only in Asian populations thus far. We have yet to see specific studies on tofu in this regard, but we look forward to more research in this area.

The writer of this story is not a medical professional, and the information that is in this story has been collected from reliable sources — every precaution has been taken to ensure its accuracy. The information provided is for general information purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional health care.

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