When switching to a plant-based diet, many new vegans actively seek an ingredient that will replace the ‘meaty’ texture they’ve become used to on a non-vegan diet.
If you search online, you’re sure to find meat alternatives that, while replicating the texture, tend to be highly-processed and unsuitable for regular consumption.
But if you’re looking for a replacement that will give you adequate amounts of protein, there’s no better ingredient than tofu.
What is Tofu?
Tofu, also popularly called bean curd, is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the curd that comes out into solid white blocks. These blocks can be pressed in different ways to produce varying degrees of softness, from silken (extremely soft) to extremely firm.
Is Tofu Vegan?
As mentioned, tofu is made entirely from soy milk and is 100% vegan. And while it’s been a staple of Asian cuisine for generations, tofu was only recently introduced in the West and has quickly gained popularity.
However, as is the case with any foods which pose a threat to the meat industry, tofu has been falsely accused of being unhealthy.
The myths surrounding tofu include the beliefs that tofu causes breast cancer in women and that it even leads to the development of breasts in men.
These ideas have been perpetuated in an attempt to stop people from accepting that there can be a safe, plant-based alternative to meat.
But tofu isn’t just a ‘safe’ product; it comes with a whole array of health benefits. Here are a few.
Health Benefits of Tofu
1. Great For Muscle Recovery
Tofu is packed with protein and contains most amino acids required by the body to build and repair cells. After a workout or any form of intense activity, eating tofu is a great way to give your body the energy and nutrition needed to replenish and repair the cells.
And unlike meat, tofu is also rich in fiber, which aids in digestion and helps your body absorb the protein effectively.
2. Better Oxygen Absorption
Tofu is rich in iron, which is required by the body to produce a protein called hemoglobin. This protein is found in the red blood cells and is responsible for absorbing oxygen from the lungs and circulating it throughout the body.
Another important protein, myoglobin, is also synthesized with the help of iron and is found in muscle tissue. Myoglobin helps muscles to absorb oxygen effectively so they can function optimally.
Both oxygen absorption and utilization can be significantly enhanced by making tofu a part of your regular diet.
3. Stronger Bones
Unlike milk, which can actually reduce bone density and may lead to osteoporosis late in life, tofu supports healthy bones by enhancing bone density.
It contains exceptionally high amounts of calcium — up to 86% of the recommended daily intake can be absorbed from just one cup (126 gms) of tofu. This makes it an essential ingredient for women post-menopause as there is a tendency for the bones to get weaker.
Additionally, tofu is also rich in isoflavones, an antioxidant that has been proven to reduce post-menopausal difficulties in women.
4. Cleanses the Body
Tofu is rich in a vital mineral, one which we barely get enough of on a regular diet — potassium.
Potassium helps regulate fluid balance in the body, prevent water retention, and maintain a healthy pH level. It also regulates muscular contractions and nerve signals, ensuring that the body is functioning optimally.
Most importantly, potassium helps remove toxins from the body by moving nutrients into cells and squeezing waste products out.
You can increase your potassium intake by eating tofu, just two or three times a week. It will help rid the body of harmful substances and offset the effect that too much sodium may have on blood pressure.
These are just a few of the health benefits offered by tofu, and there are many more reasons to include it in your diet. Consumption of tofu has also been found to lower the risk of certain types of cancer, prevent heart disease, and even reduce the risk of diabetes. On the other hand, the consumption of high-protein animal products has been linked to these same diseases.
Hence switching to tofu can make our lives significantly healthier and more fulfilling. But switching to tofu isn’t just good for the body; it’s great for the environment and the animals as well.
Tofu is made using soybeans, which require far less farm space than any animal agricultural unit. On animal farms, forest land is first cleared to make space for the animals, after which more land is cleared to grow crops to feed these animals.
Water wastage on animal farms also tends to be a lot higher. The animals themselves require a lot of water to stay hydrated, but apart from this, water is required to clean the pens and wash the animals. Most of this toxic water either seeps into the soil after being used or finds its way into rivers and streams, polluting water bodies.
All of this environmental damage could easily be avoided if people decided to derive their protein from tofu instead of animal products.
The production of tofu is a straightforward process that primarily involves the acquisition of soybeans and human labor. Coagulating soy milk to form beancurd is entirely ethical. The only thing to worry about is whether the workers are being paid fair wages for their efforts.
Animal farms, on the other hand, aren’t so civil. Animals in slaughterhouses live hellish lives, with every day being a nightmare they cannot escape. And while this is a well-known fact and more people are slowly becoming aware of it, it’s difficult to change without first changing our consumption patterns.
Even the production of seemingly harmless products like milk and eggs carry a heavy price. Many activists even feel that these secondary animal products are crueler as the animals are kept alive for years just to be exploited.
On the other hand, eating tofu does not involve harming, maiming, killing, or exploiting another sentient being. This makes the consumption of tofu a lot more ethically viable than its non-vegan alternatives, and this reason alone is enough to make the switch.
An Array of Recipes
One of the most exciting aspects of tofu is its versatility and the fact that it can be prepared in numerous ways. It also serves the purpose of being an additional ingredient in many dishes, adding a thick, creamy texture as and when required.
Based on how it’s extracted, tofu can be made in four different ways:
Silken tofu is the softest of all types of tofu and made a little differently from regular tofu. While making regular tofu, the whey is pressed out during the process.
In the preparation of silken tofu, the soy milk is solidified in a container as a result of which the whey and the curd don’t separate. This makes for velvety, soft-textured tofu that works really well while preparing puddings, salad dressings, and even smoothies.
This type of tofu is aged and pressed a bit, but while it’s denser than the silken version, it’s still relatively soft and light. This is the perfect ingredient to add to light dishes, like soups and broths.
Firm tofu and extra-firm tofu are prepared in the same manner with a few variations based on the kind of firmness required. The soy curd is pressed to release the excess liquid (whey) using a muslin cloth. Firm tofu is great for rice preparations and can even be fried and scrambled.
As mentioned, extra-firm tofu is prepared by squeezing out whey permeate from soy curd. A much heavier weight is used for the squeezing to maximize firmness.
Extra-firm tofu can be easily cut into slices or cubes to be used in cooking and is excellent for pan-frying, stir-frying, baking, grilling, and scrambling.
These are a few simple ways tofu can be prepared, and you’re sure to find numerous other ways as you experiment with the ingredient. The versatility of tofu lies in the fact that, if prepared correctly, it can effectively absorb all the flavors used while cooking, allowing for a diverse range of dishes.
Conclusion – Start Eating Tofu
As you can see, tofu is vegan, healthy, versatile, and indirectly beneficial to the environment and the animals. It may take a few tries before you figure out how to cook with this ingredient, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be amazed at the number of new dishes you’ll have access to.
More than merely being a replacement for meat, tofu can help you lead a healthier lifestyle by giving your body a variety of much-needed nutrients. So include it in your diet and watch as it changes your life for the better.