Tofu or Not Tofu? That is the Question

tofuTofu is all the rage these days, especially as a protein-rich alternative for those who are cutting back on their intake of meat. It seems that there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with something that is a plant-based food that is easy to prepare and could help those who are seeking a healthier diet, right? Well…while I am a proponent of a well-balanced plant-based diet, I am not a big fan of tofu.

Tofu is an unfermented by-product of soy beans that have been cooked and processed into a liquid (soy milk), this milk is then coagulated to form tofu. We’ve all been told that soy is good for us, that it is even has “cancer-fighting” properties. So, what gives…?

Before 1913, soy wasn’t even listed as a food source in the US, but instead an industrial product. That all changed in the late 90’s, when soy food sales increased from $300 million to nearly $4 billion, according to the Soy Foods Association of North America. This growth came about due to a massive shift in attitudes about soy. And this shift was no accident, it was the result of a massive investment in advertising by the soy industry that’s been wildly successful. It was also no accident that this time-frame coincides with the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) in 1996. Genetic modification is done to impart resistance to the toxic herbicide Roundup. While this is meant to increase farming efficiency and provide you with less expensive soy, the downside is that your soy is loaded with this toxic pesticide. The plants also contain genes from bacteria that produce a protein that has never been part of the human food supply. Today, more than 90 percent of American soy crops are GMO.

From 2000 to 2007, U.S. food manufacturers introduced more than 2,700 new soy-based foods, and new soy products continue to appear on your grocer’s shelves. Soy is in just about everything and is estimated to be present in up to 70% of all food products found in US  supermarkets, including cereals, breads, pasta and most meat (since most animals are fed soy). The most troubling item that contains soy is infant formula.

Alright, all this bureaucratic bullshit aside, let’s look at the nutritional side of soy…

Soy and allergies

Soy is a well-known offender when it comes to food sensitivities and since it is in everything, it can be nearly impossible to avoid. Therefore, sensitive immune systems are under constant attack, which can lead to serious health problems. Disturbingly, it has been discovered that the gene inserted into GMO soy, transfers into the DNA of our gut bacteria and continues to function long after ingested. This means that years after you stop eating GMO soy, you may still have a potentially allergenic protein continuously being produced in your intestines.

Soy contains natural toxins known as “anti-nutrients”

Soy foods contain anti-nutritional factors such as saponins, soyatoxin, phytates, protease inhibitors, oxalates, goitrogens and estrogens. Some of these factors interfere with the enzymes you need to digest protein. While a small amount of anti-nutrients would not likely cause a problem, the amount of soy that many Americans are now eating is extremely high.

Soy contains hemagglutinin.

Hemagglutinin is a clot-promoting substance that causes your red blood cells to clump together. These clumped cells are unable to properly absorb and distribute oxygen to your tissues. This can also impact those with Thrombosis.

Soy contains goitrogens

Goitrogens are substances that block the synthesis of thyroid hormones and interfere with iodine metabolism, thereby interfering with your thyroid function. Thyroid alterations are among the most frequently encountered autoimmune conditions in women and children.

Soy contains phytates.

Phytates (phytic acid) bind to metal ions, preventing the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc — all of which are co-factors for optimal biochemistry in your body. This is particularly problematic for vegetarians, because eating meat reduces the mineral-blocking effects of these phytates (so it is helpful, if you do eat soy, to also eat meat).

Soy is loaded with the isoflavones genistein and daidzein

Isoflavones are a type of phytoestrogen, which is a plant compound resembling human estrogen. These compounds mimic and sometimes block the hormone estrogen, and have been found to have adverse effects on various human tissues. Soy phytoestrogens are known to disrupt endocrine function, may cause infertility, and may promote breast cancer in women.

Drinking even two glasses of soy milk daily for one month provides enough of these compounds to alter your menstrual cycle. Although the FDA regulates estrogen-containing products, no warnings exist on soy.

Infants fed soy formula have up to 20,000 times the amount of estrogen in circulation as those fed other formulas!

Soy has toxic levels of aluminum

Soybeans are processed (by acid washing) in aluminum tanks, which can leach high levels of aluminum into the final soy product. Aluminum has been linked to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

So, it seems that tofu isn’t exactly the “superfood” it has been made out to be. However, not ALL soy is bad. When fermented, as in the case of tempeh and miso, the fermentation process significantly reduces the phytate content as well as the trypsin inhibitors that interfere with enzymes and amino acids. Meaning that fermented soy can provide healthy nourishment.

Bottom line – stick with fermented soy products, check out my Miso Hungry Soup recipe for ways to incorporate these foods into your diet.