My diet is plant-based. While I’m not 100 percent vegan or vegetarian, the majority of the food I eat comes from plants. Yes, tofu is plant-based, but soy is also one of the few plant-based foods that get mixed reviews from doctors and other “experts” in the health and wellness industry.
Since soy is a bit controversial, I use moderation. Soy makes up a small percentage of my diet. With all soy products including tofu, I make sure I buy a non-GMO, organic brand. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), 93 percent of all soy cultivated in the US is genetically modified. Yikes. Corn and canola oil are also among the most common genetically modified foods.
Research suggests that soy can play a role in lowering cholesterol and the risk for heart disease. It also contains two groups of phytochemicals; saponins and isoflavones. Generally speaking, phytochemicals are good. Phytochemicals are produced by plants and are promoted for the prevention and treatment of many health conditions like high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. Good stuff.
However, research suggests that isoflavones, a type of phytochemical found in soy, mimic the actions of estrogen. This is where the controversy begins. Some research suggests that the estrogen-like effect is beneficial, especially for women and breast cancer patients. Other evidence suggests that soy is harmful for the same groups of women.
While soy is not a super-food, like kale for example, I believe that it is more likely that a moderate amount of unprocessed (edamame or soy beans) or lightly processed (tofu or soy milk) soy will neither significantly increase my risk for health issues or provide substantial health benefits. I eat it because I like the way it tastes and because it is a good source of protein. It is important to eat a variety of foods and tofu is an easy, affordable and minimally processed option.
As for the tofu-turkey, soy cheese, soy hot dogs and other heavily processed soy products out there, I steer clear. Not so much because of the soy but because they are heavily processed. Those products are obviously soy-containing processed foods. What about isolated soy protein – a common ingredient in some energy bars? Gotta read those labels!
I like this baked tofu as a snack (pictured below) or as part of a meal (pictured above).
14-ounce organic, extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil for pan
Remove tofu from container and wrap in kitchen towel
Place heavy object on top of wrapped tofu to drain excess water for 30 minutes
Mix soy sauce, ginger and rice vinegar in small mixing bowl
Remove tofu from towel and slice into equal sized squares or whatever shape you desire – about ¾’’ thick
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Soak tofu in marinade while oven preheats – I use a large 8x6x2 Pyrex container
In a large pan, pour about 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Use your fingers to spread it evenly around the pan. The bottom should have a tiny coat of oil
Place tofu onto pan – tofu can touch, but do not overlap the pieces
Place pan in oven
Flip tofu every 12 to 15 minutes.
Bake until tofu is firm on the outside – about 60 minutes
Remove pan from oven – serve tofu warm, room temp or straight from the refrigerator