Plant-based nutritionist TJ Waterfall on how tofu can transform both your health and training
Packed with protein – and much more
Tofu’s forte is that it’s low in calories but packs an impressive amount of protein. It also has zero cholesterol and a relatively low amount of saturated fat – especially when compared to protein sources from meat and animal products like cheese and eggs.
That’s where the ‘displacement’ theory comes in: if soy foods like tofu are used to replace meat and animal products as a protein source, intake of saturated fat and cholesterol can be significantly reduced, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death globally.
What’s more, tofu is a rich source of powerful antioxidant plant compounds called polyphenols, as well as heart-protecting saponins, which have been shown to improve cardiovascular health through independent mechanisms – not just by lowering cholesterol.
But the benefits don’t end there. Tofu is also a nutrient-dense food, meaning that gram for gram it packs a wide variety of vitamins, iron, calcium, fibre, and essential omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, thanks to their excellent nutrition profiles, recent meta-analyses combining the results of numerous studies showed that consumption of soy products like tofu is associated with reduced risk of both prostate cancer (the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in men) and diabetes.
Primed for performance
Protein also contains all the nine essential amino acids, so it’s a complete plant protein source. This means for anyone looking to increase their protein intake, it can be an extremely useful addition to the diet and help towards goals of building lean muscle without adding to cholesterol intake.
Aside from being a handy source of protein, tofu – just like other plant-based food sources – also helps with exercise recovery. Two elements that slow recovery time down significantly are inflammation and oxidative stress.
Tofu is an excellent source of phytonutrients, including antioxidants and polyphenols, which have been shown to reduce exercise-induced inflammation, oxidative stress and resulting muscle soreness.
Types of tofu
You can buy several different types of tofu, ranging from extra-soft silken to extra-firm. Each form of tofu is useful for different kinds of dishes. For example, soft silken tofu can be blended to create desserts like a high-protein, low-fat cheesecake or mousse. Firm tofu can be cut into cubes or slices and pan-fried or oven-roasted until crispy, to be eaten in stir-fries, curries, or vegetable rice bowls.
Where to buy it
You can find raw tofu in most supermarkets in the refrigerated section. It’s also sometimes available pre-marinated or even pre-cooked. These options can be useful when you’re short on time but bear in mind that as with all pre-prepared foods they’re often made with more salt, sugar, and oil than you would use at home. Another good pointer is to look for organic tofu.
This means it’s made from non-GM soy beans that are grown more sustainably without artificial fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. It also means there are no preservatives or colours added to the tofu (most of the soy beans grown worldwide are used to feed cattle and are genetically modified).