Tofu, also called bean curd, has gained popularity over the years especially as a vegetarian- and vegan-approved source of protein. It seems to have a healthy reputation with consumers, but what is tofu exactly? The truth is tofu is made from soy, and the majority of the time soy is bad for you.
Soy is actually one of the most commonly genetically modified foods in the world, 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 is not a health food, does not prevent disease and has not even been proven safe. Furthermore, numerous scientific studies link soy to digestive troubles, malnutrition, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, as well as heart disease and cancer.
These are some of the main reasons why soy protein makes my list of the 10 health foods you should never eat. But is all soy bad? The important thing to know is that soy products fall into two groups: fermented or unfermented. Unfermented soy products include tofu, edamame and soy milk, while miso, natto, tempeh and tamari are fermented soy products. All soybeans (even organic, non-GMO ones) naturally contain antinutrients, toxins and plant hormones.
However, fermentation is what makes soy products health-promoting. Without fermentation, what is tofu? It’s just a rubbery, white piece of questionable and health-hazardous non-meat protein.
What Is Tofu?
People often wonder what is tofu made of? It makes perfect sense why tofu is often called bean curd since it’s made by curdling soy milk (from soybeans) and then pressing the resulting curds into soft, white blocks. The process of making tofu is relatively similar to the way that cheese is made from milk. Tofu nutrition is impressive, and that’s why many people assume it’s such a great health food. Per serving, it’s low in fat and calories yet high in protein, amino acids, iron and calcium.
So what is tofu’s downside? I’ll tell you why gaining these nutrients from eating tofu is not worth the negative repercussions below.
There are actually many different types of tofu, including fresh tofu, soft or silken tofu, firm tofu, extra firm tofu, processed tofu, fermented tofu, dried tofu, fried tofu, and frozen tofu. The healthiest options on this list are the fermented varieties, which include pickled tofu and stinky tofu.
Pickled tofu, also known as preserved tofu or fermented tofu, consists of dried tofu cubes that have been allowed to fully air-dry under hay and slowly ferment from aerial bacteria. Stinky tofu is a soft tofu fermented in a vegetable and fish brine. Unfortunately, most of the tofu eaten in the United States is unfermented, and unfermented tofu really shouldn’t be consumed.
8 Reasons to Not Eat Tofu
1. Genetic Modification
In 1994, the first genetically modified soybean was introduced to the U.S. market by Monsanto. While food prices continue to rise around the world, the availability of non-GMO soybeans is decreasing, which is leading more Asian and U.S. food manufacturers in Asia to use genetically modified soybeans to make soy foods like tofu. Today, at least 90 percent all soy grown in the United States is genetically modified. This is such an alarmingly high amount that it’s no wonder it’s so challenging to find soy products that are non-GMO.
Thanks to Monsanto, the leading producer of GMO foods in the U.S., the majority of soy products are made from Monsanto Roundup Ready Soybeans. These soybeans are genetically engineered in such a way that their DNA is changed so the soybean plants can withstand the herbicide glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. First grown commercially in 1996, Roundup Ready Soybeans allow farmers to spray their entire crops with glyphosate to kill the weeds but not damage the soybean crops.
Genetically modified foods are linked to so many health problems because they kill off good bacteria in your gut and also damage the working of your digestive system. In a 2011 review published in Environmental Sciences Europe, 19 studies of mammals, fed GMO soybeans and corn, were evaluated. The 90-day trials indicate liver and kidney problems as a result of consuming GMO foods. Kidneys were specifically affected by 43.5 percent of all disrupted parameters in male subjects while the liver was disrupted by 30.8 percent for the females.
It’s actually become harder to find this original study since its publication. I’m sure that’s because it makes people highly concerned about consuming genetically modified foods like tofu.
How scary that eating GMO foods can so directly and majorly impact our vital organs! Even if you buy tofu that is not made from genetically modified soybeans, there is still a variety of other substantial health concerns.
2. Phytoestrogens and Breast Cancer
Tofu contains phytoestrogens — or plant-based estrogens. These compounds have an estrogen-like effect on the body so they block normal estrogen production and have been linked to breast cancer. Some scientific research finds that soy might “feed” certain breast cancers since it can behave just like estrogen. It might depend on how much soy is consumed as well as the overall health of the woman, but if you have breast cancer currently, are a survivor of breast cancer or you have a family history of breast cancer, I would definitely avoid tofu and other unfermented soy products entirely.
3. Thyroid Disruption
Tofu is made from soy, and soy contains goitrogenic compounds, specifically the soy isoflavone genistein. These goitrogens are thyroid hormone blockers that can interfere with thyroid hormone production and specifically cause hypothyroidism.
Many parents think they’re making a healthy choice when they opt for soy formula for their babies. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood shows how the intake of soy products can negatively affect us starting at a very early age, especially for people born with congenital hypothyroidism. As this 2004 study shows, infants fed soy formula have a prolonged increase of thyroid stimulating hormone compared to infants fed non-soy formula.
An earlier study in 1994 showed similarly concerning results. 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 conventional treatment for hypothyroidism.