Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Soyfoods such as tofu make a healthful addition to a balanced diet

Many consumers shy away from tofu and soyfoods such as soymilk.  I find people often do not know how to prepare it or simply are nervous to try it.  Sometimes, individuals try one form of tofu, decide it takes too different and then never try it again.  And, many clients I see are nervous about the health effects of soy.

A great place to learn more about the health benefits and research on soy is www.soyconnection.com.  A team of health professionals, including dietitians, professors and authors are available to answer your questions on soy foods.

As far as the basics, the FDA recognizes soy protein as heart healthy and allow the claim on food labels stating, “25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk of heart disease.”  Additionally, soyfoods are usually low in saturated and trans fat, making them more heart healthy than many animal proteins.  It seems soy may also lower the risk of prostate, breast and colon cancers, osteoporosis and other bone problems as well as help alleviate hot flashes associated with menopause.  In addition, soy is usually very easy to digest (aside from those individuals with a soy allergy) and is very satisfying.

There does, however, continue to be controversy about whether soy foods are safe.  Since soy foods contain isoflavones (a type of phytoestrogren, or plant-based estrogren), many consumers are fearful soy may increase the risk or severity of hormone sensitive cancers such as breast cancer.  However, most research continues to find natural soy foods safe and healthy, when consumed in appropriate amounts.  The American Cancer Society deems up to 3 servings of soy foods daily for patients with breast cancer as safe.  As a side note, one serving of soy foods is equal to one cup of soymilk, or 3 to 4 ounces of tofu – which both supply about 20-35mg of isoflavones.  A 2008 research review in the British Journal of Cancer concluded that the amount of soy consumed by most Asian populations provides a protective effect against breast cancer.

All in all, I recommend a balanced diet where soyfoods play a role – not in high doses and not just on occasion.  When possible, it is best to choose organic versions of soy, since non-organic soybeans are often contaminated with pesticide residues (in fact, they are one of the most contaminated crops of all the foods we eat).  Additionally, organic versions contain no genetically modified organisms.

So, if you wish to incorporate soy as a healthy part of your diet, here are some delicious tips:

  • Try warmed soymilk in your coffee.  It is best to warm it first so it does not separate.
  • Add vanilla soymilk to oatmeal to have the nice vanilla flavor and a pop of protein without the need to add sugar or brown sugar to the oatmeal.
  • Chocolate soymilk has less sugar than most cow’s milk based chocolate milks.  You can even warm it up for a soy hot cocoa!
  • Add raw cubed super firm tofu to anything as a replacement for meat, eggs or cheese!  On top of salads, in burritos, as baby food or as a vegetarian chicken/egg salad!
  • Sautee cubes of firm tofu with vegetables and your favorite sauce (consider Asian-inspired cuisine).  Serve with whole grain brown rice.
  • Cube large squares of super firm tofu and thread onto skewers with veggies.  Throw them on the grill after marinating.
  • Use soft tofu where you might traditionally use ricotta or goat cheese.  On top of salads or in stuffed shells with spinach are two great ideas.
  • Use silken tofu in fruit-based smoothies.  For example, a combination of silken tofu, banana, strawberries and a splash of orange juice makes a tasty, protein-rich smoothie.
  • Make a frozen pie with silken tofu.  There is a great recipe for a Frozen Peanut Butter Pie on www.nasoya.com.
  • Add grilled or sautéed firm tofu cubes to salads, in fajita wraps or in a breakfast burrito.
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