Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
January 24, 2007

10 Things to Know about Tofu

By Mark Sisson
24 Comments

Soy. Tofu. Tempeh. Make that steaming rubbery gray squares of questionable origin.

I get a lot of questions about this bland food product we call by various names. Do I eat tofu? Is it healthy? Is it manna from heaven? Or will it cause your voice to jump an octave and your hormones to rage out of control?

I don’t want to claim to “set the record straight” on this topic, which is something a lot of people do in the health world (make that every area of life, right?). Science and experience are always revealing new information and insights, so I don’t like to be assumptive by claiming one food is definitively bad or good for all eternity.

That said, here are 10 important things I think everyone should know about tofu:

1. Hill of beans

Whole soybeans, or edamame (in-the-shell version), are a great plant protein source. I eat soybeans regularly and I think this is a great way to eat soy because beans are unprocessed, fresh, and whole. Soybeans do have a bit more fat than other beans, but they are a hearty protein and contain valuable phyto-nutrients. Soybeans do contain plant estrogens and phytic acid (more on that in a moment), so no, tofu is not a “miracle” health food. But it’s also not evil, unlike fat-free devil’s food cookies.

Flickr: property of fil_himself

2. What’s this about black beans?

Did you know that douchi, the black beans commonly used in Asian cooking (think black bean sauce), are actually just fermented soy beans? Fermented foods are very high in nutritional value, so I recommend getting some sort of fermented food in your diet daily (organic sugar-free yogurt, kefir, kimchi and fermented olives or vegetables are great examples). Fermented foods reduce cholesterol and improve digestion and immunity.

In general, I recommend fermented soy products such as black beans because other, processed soy products like soy milk and tofu contain phytic acid, which does inhibit some nutrient absorption (hence the soy controversy).

3. Soybean oil

Soybean oil is heavily refined and ought to be avoided. This junk won’t do you any health favors at all. Aside from anti-nutritive compounds in soybean oil, most soybean oil contains some level of dangerous trans fat (even the “trans-free” varieties are still heavily refined and contain chemically-modified fat molecules). You’ll notice this worthless oil in most processed foods, which is why I advocate sticking to fresh, unprocessed meals. You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to eat healthily – salads, steamed veggies and grilled fish take just minutes to prepare once you learn to make them.

4. Soy nuts, chips, and snacks

Here is where we can make a really important distinction. Take even the healthiest food and turn it into a processed snack, and it is no longer healthy! Whether soy is a miraculous heart-healthy food or not, processing anything destroys valuable nutrients and enzymes and usually means added fat, sugar, and chemicals. I see people purchasing and eating unhealthy snacks every day simply because there is a trendy ingredient or some sneaky marketing. Sun chips and pita chips are examples. Somehow, these items garner the reputation of “healthy” and “wholesome” even though they are processed, nutritionally-deficient, and usually high in refined (trans) fat. An apple is healthy until you dunk it in caramel sauce. Soybeans are healthy until you turn them into faux nuts.

For example, chocolate-covered soy nuts are not healthy just because they are made from soybeans.

Revival Soy Nuts

5. Soy milk

Though I’m not a big fan of dairy, I don’t recommend making soy milk a regular part of your diet. Soy milk contains phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of nutrients. It’s also rather high in sugar and is so heavily processed, it can hardly be thought of as a “health” food. It’s probably fine once in a while for those who are not sensitive to plant estrogens and who don’t like dairy milk, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to include it in the diet. Remember, there simply is no magic bullet for health.

6. Tofu

By now, tofu – in all its slippery and firm incarnations – has made its way into the mainstream of the American diet. Sort of. The texture is something we may never fantasize about, but it is a nice occasional alternative protein source, especially for vegetarians and people who want to avoid too much meat (given the way meat is produced these days). I say occasional because, remember, it is a highly-processed food. Many types of tofu – especially “mock meats” – are really akin to processed deli meats and sausages. Of course, tofu comes from a bean and doesn’t contain antibiotics, added hormones and animal products, but it’s still – all together now – a processed food. In fact, I really don’t think tofu is much different from a slice of low-fat cheddar. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

7. Tempeh

Here’s where soy gets healthy (finally!). Fermented soy products are rich in isoflavones, which are excellent for the heart and may even prevent cancer. The good news is that you can find fermented soy milk and tofu if you look for it (and grocery stores will often start carrying it if you just ask). Tempeh is a chewy, nutty, meaty type of soy product that is loaded with isoflavones, so I do recommend this. I think it’s a lot tastier than tofu, too.
wikipedia commons

8. Miso

Miso is a fermented, thick soy paste. It’s great for soups and contains high levels of isoflavones and acts as a probiotic.

9. A little perspective

Removing certain parts of the soybean – say, oil, or protein – and expecting this to render fabulous health results is where we go wrong, I think. In general, any highly-processed food just isn’t what nature intended, and contributes to disease and obesity. This applies to many foods – yogurt is another great example. We hear that the fermented cultures are good for the gut, but Big Moo delivers what is more like glorified dessert than a health food. Full of sugar, gums, thickeners, dyes, chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, yogurt becomes about as healthy as a candy bar.

10. The estrogen factor

Oh, the studies. There’s always a study for every side of a contentious health issue, and soy is no exception. One study shows that soy is dangerous for boys during puberty. Another shows that soy may help menopause symptoms. Another shows that soy may inhibit fertility. Yet another shows that soy may help prevent cancer and heart disease. I recommend doing a search for soy at vitasearch.com. Type “Is soy healthy?” into Google and you’re going to get a lot of conflicting information. I prefer to stick with the studies so I get accurate information. That doesn’t mean the studies aren’t biased or wrong themselves from time to time, but at least I know I’m looking at something that was held up to a scientific standard.

In other words, I don’t have the last word on soy – no one really does. I think controversial foods become so because we simply expect far too much. We learn about a possible benefit, and before you know it, food manufacturers are adding soy protein to lollipops. When you stick to fresh, unprocessed, organic, whole foods, 99% of nutrition and health worries simply disappear.

[tags] is soy healthy, tempeh, miso, fermented food, soybeans, edamame, soy nuts, tofu, protein, isoflavones, mock meat, vegetarian, vegan, soy milk [/tags]

TAGS:  hormones

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
trackback

[…] – Tempeh: a fermented soy product. Fermented foods are nutritious and tempeh is not as processed as tofu. Unlike tofu, tempeh has a really satisfying, chewy texture. You can read about my views on soy protein here. […]

trackback
[…] I believe another serious aspect of this problem is that the human body is designed to be omnivorous – subsisting on a healthy mix of animal flesh, vegetables, seeds, nuts and fruits. I am firmly against the modern diet rich in sugars, refined flours and processed starches. I think occasional whole grains are fine, but based on my background in biology, neither burgers nor burger buns are the road to the blessings of good health. I believe humans are meant to eat some meat – whether fish, fowl or livestock – based upon the facts I have observed in… Read more »
trackback

[…] some people and mild allergic reactions in some others. Furthermore, the jury is still out on the health benefits of soy, particularly among those whose intake is unusually high in an effort to consume more protein (say, […]

trackback

[…] more…look at what at what Mark had to say on his site, Mark’s Daily Apple, in his post 10 things to know about tofu.  In my opinion he really hit the nail on the head here…”I think controversial foods […]

trackback

[…] is another big topic. Read Mark’s 10 Things to Know about Tofu and Scrutinizing […]

trackback

[…] – Dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, some awful concoction of rice, veggies and blocks of soy protein. Couldn’t even finish it, and felt like complete shit afterwards. Lesson learned, don’t be […]

trackback
5 years 5 months ago

[…] foods ought to be part of everyone’s diet, vegetarian or not. Tempeh is one that is chewy and delicious, even to die-hard burger fans. It’s healthy and a much better […]

trackback
trackback
5 years 2 months ago

[…] – Dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, some awful concoction of rice, veggies and blocks of soy protein. Couldn’t even finish it, and felt like complete shit afterwards. Lesson learned, don’t be […]

trackback
5 years 1 month ago

[…] to avoid them unless they are fermented, e.g. traditional soy sauce and tempeh. Read Mark’s 10 Things to Know about Tofu and Scrutinizing Soy. Print Friendly Posted in […]

trackback

[…] this is just my opinion so do some research and decide what is best for you! Related Articles: 10 Things to Know about Tofu | Mark’s Daily Apple. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted […]

trackback

[…] Below is 10 facts about tofu & soy – From http://www.marksdailyapple.com/10-things-to-know-about-tofu/#axzz1wKeQsKVh […]

trackback
3 years 6 months ago

[…] technically off the table but tempeh is as good as it can get when it comes to soy, it is discussed here. Luckily I already really liked it, and it’s easy to cook with, though for some people the […]

trackback

[…] Sisson over at Mark’s Daily Apple wrote up a thoroughly informative article about tofu, soy beans, and processed foods in general. […]

trackback

[…] 10 Things To Know About Tofu […]

trackback

[…] foods ought to be part of everyone’s diet, vegetarian or not. Tempeh is one that is chewy and delicious, even to die-hard burger fans. It’s healthy and a much better […]

trackback

[…] ways. It is essential to get enough protein and eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and beans. Tempeh is the best form of soy protein. Protein is not a macronutrient, and a lot of the animal forms of protein also come with essential […]

trackback

[…] is a GREAT article about how each of these different types of protein affect your […]

trackback
[…] A vegan diet isn’t healthy just because you’ve replaced steak and chicken for tofu and all your cow’s milk for soy milk. “To emulate the Japanese, Americans started making all kinds of soy products, and it became an unnatural product,” explains Tara Mayo, a student of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. “The Japanese don’t eat soy products, they eat the beans and they make their own tofu, but it isn’t the overly processed product we have in America. To get milk from an almond is easy: you soak almonds in water. But to get milk for a soy bean? It… Read more »
trackback
[…] A vegan diet isn’t healthy just because you’ve replaced steak and chicken for tofu and all your cow’s milk for soy milk. “To emulate the Japanese, Americans started making all kinds of soy products, and it became an unnatural product,” explains Tara Mayo, a student of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. “The Japanese don’t eat soy products, they eat the beans and they make their own tofu, but it isn’t the overly processed product we have in America. To get milk from an almond is easy: you soak almonds in water. But to get milk for a soy bean? It… Read more »
trackback
2 years 6 months ago

[…] less likely to work. Don’t think you’re getting off easy if you’re vegan – tofu is heavily processed and actually not at all as healthy as it makes out to be. You need enough fats – they can […]

trackback

[…]  for your taste buds and better for you nutritionally as well. Check some readings about soy:  here, here and […]

trackback

[…] 10 Things To Know About Tofu […]

trackback

[…] Fermented soy products (natural) include: miso, soy, and naturally brewed soy sauce. Unfermented soy products (processed) include soy milk and tofu. These unfermented soy products contain phytic acid, which does inhibit some nutrient absorption. There is a much larger list out there of fermented vs unfermented soy products, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about so I am sure if you google, you will find. (source:) http://www.marksdailyapple.com/10-things-to-know-about-tofu/#ixzz409fyXXrd […]

wpDiscuz