Finding a great meat alternative is high on everyone’s lists these days, and tofu has become a go-to favorite for vegans and vegetarians alike. Tofu, also known as bean curd, has a healthy reputation with consumers, but while tofu has been claimed to be healthy and safe, there is still a lingering question–what exactly is it? In short, tofu is made from soy and isn’t all that great for you.
Unbeknownst to many, soy is a commonly genetically modified food, and tofu is made from soybeans, water, and a coagulant or curdling agent. According to Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story, soy isn’t a health food, and it does not prevent disease, and it has not even been proven to be safe. Not to mention, numerous scientific studies have linked soy to digestive troubles, malnutrition, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, heart disease, and cancer.
Soy products fall into two groups: fermented or unfermented. Soy milk is unfermented, while miso, natto, tempeh, and tamari are fermented soy products. All soybeans, including organic and non-GMO, naturally contain anti-nutrients, toxins, and plant hormones. However, soy that is fermented is ultimately what makes soy healthy. Unfermented soy is just a rubbery, white piece of potentially heath-hazardous non-meat protein.
There are several types of tofu including fresh tofu, soft tofu or silken tofu, firm tofu, extra firm tofu, processed tofu, fermented tofu, dried tofu, fried tofu, and frozen tofu. However, the healthiest options on the list are the fermented varieties that include pickled tofu and stinky tofu. Pickled tofu, which is also known as preserved tofu or fermented tofu, is made up of tofu cubes that have been allowed to fully air dry under hay and slowly ferment from bacteria in the air. Stinky tofu is a soft tofu fermented in a vegetable and fish brine. Unfortunately, the majority of the tofu consumed in the United States is unfermented.
8. Genetic Modification
Since the introduction of Monsanto’s (the leading producer of GMO foods in the U.S.) genetically modified soybeans in 1994 to the U.S., consumers are almost blissfully unaware they are consuming GMO foods. While food prices continue to rise around the world, the availability of non-GMO soybeans is decreasing, which therefore leads to more Asian and U.S. food manufacturers in Asia to use genetically modified soybeans to make soy foods such as tofu. Genetically modified foods are linked to a number of health problems because they kill off good bacteria in your gut and also damage the digestive system. In a 2011 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe, 19 species of mammals who were fed GMO soybeans and corn were closely evaluated. The 90-day trials indicated liver and kidney problems as a result of consuming GMO foods. The kidneys were specifically affected in 43.5 percent of all disrupted parameters in male subjects while the liver was disrupted by 30.8 percent for the females.
7. Phytoestrogen and Breast Cancer
Tofu contains phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens. These plant-based compounds have an estrogen-like effect on the body, so they block normal estrogen production and have also been linked to breast cancer. There is also scientific research that has suggested that soy might “feed” certain breast cancers since it can behave just like estrogen. The amount of soy consumed also has a lot to do with the severity of the situation, as well as the overall health of the woman.
6. Thyroid Disruption
Tofu is made from soy, and soy contains goitrogenic compounds, specifically isoflavone genistein. Goitrogens are thyroid hormone blockers that are known to interfere with thyroid hormone production and cause hypothyroidism. Precautions should also be taken when feeding soy-based formula to infants, as this can cause early organ damage. A 1994 study showed concerning results, as a patient with congenital hypothyroidism continued to be persistently hypothyroid while on a soy formula diet even though the patient was receiving large doses of L-thyroxine (T4). T4 is a standard treatment for hypothyroidism.
Tofu contains phytate, which has been shown to contribute to tofu’s firm texture, and phytate is essentially a phytic acid bound to a mineral. So what’s the big deal? Phytate and phytic acid are known anti-nutrients, and products like tofu contain several high concerning anti-nutrients, including lectins, oligosaccharides, oxalates, protease inhibitors, and phytates.
4. Cognitive Problems
Soy tofu has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, two cognitive health concerns that deeply impact the brain’s daily functions. An ongoing study of Japanese Americans living in Hawaii found a significant correlation between two or more servings of tofu per week and “accelerated brain aging.” Additionally, the study subjects who ate tofu in mid-life had a lower cognitive function in the later years of their lives. Not to mention, they also had an increased occurrence of both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D Deficiencies
Soy contains B12 analogs, which means that tofu has compounds that resemble vitamin B12. However, the B12 analogs cannot be used by the body in the same way in which B12 is used, which is why foods containing soy can contribute to vitamin B12 deficiency, especially among people who avoid animal proteins such as vegetarians and vegans. Additionally, soy foods like tofu also increase the body’s vitamin D requirements, which ultimately means that eating tofu can cause vitamin D deficiency.Related: 12 Signs and Symptoms You Need More Vitamin B12
2. Digestive Difficulty
Unfermented soy products such as tofu contain strong enzyme inhibitors, which block the pancreatic enzyme trypsin, along with proteolytic enzymes needed for proper protein digestion. Not only does it disrupt a healthy digestive process, but it also causes pancreatic problems. The blocking of these enzymes can cause indigestion, gas, bloating and a whole set of gastrointestinal issues.
1. Potential Heart Issues
Although tofu is commonly labeled as a heart-healthy alternative to animal proteins, there are studies that debunk these claims. In one animal subject study, researchers looked at the effect of a soy diet on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition where the heart muscles become abnormally thick, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that mice who were fed a soy diet exhibited significantly worse HCM than mice fed a soy-free (milk protein) diet. Ultimately, the study found that a diet rich in soy could have profound negative effects on the heart.Related: Symptoms and Risk Factors of Vitamin D Deficiency