Despite the many potential benefits of this popular plant-based protein, there are a few tofu health risks to consider as well.
For starters, the majority of soy produced in the U.S. is genetically modified. Some people opt to minimize exposure to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) due to concerns about nutritional differences, antibiotic resistance and an increased risk of food allergies. Selecting organic tofu can ensure that you’re getting the highest quality possible while avoiding consumption of GMOs.
Soy allergies are also incredibly common. If you have an allergy to soy, it’s very important to avoid tofu and other soy products. Furthermore, if you experience any negative symptoms like hives, rashes or itching after consumption, discontinue use and talk to your doctor.
Those with a history of hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast cancer, may opt to avoid soy products due to their content of soy isoflavones, which can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. However, more and more emerging research has found that intake of soy foods is not associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
In fact, one study published in Nutrition and Cancer even found that regular consumption of tofu was tied to a lower risk of developing breast cancer in premenopausal women.
The effects of tofu on brain function have also been a subject of controversy. While some studies have fond that phytoestrogens can help improve cognitive function and memory among older adults, a 2008 study out of Loughborough concluded that a higher intake of tofu was associated with worse memory, due to either its phytoestrogen levels or the presence of potential toxins. Therefore, more research is needed to understand how tofu may impact brain function.
Tofu also contains phytates, which are largely responsible for its firm texture. Phytates are a type of antinutrient that can bind to minerals like calcium and zinc and prevent their absorption in the body. It also contains trypsin inhibitors, which interfere with the digestion and absorption of protein.
Fortunately, this should not be much of a concern for most people, as soaking, sprouting, cooking and fermenting tofu can significantly slash the antinutrient content.
Finally, soy contains goitrogens, which are compounds that can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. For this reason, it’s important to keep soy intake in moderation and enjoy as part of a balanced diet, especially if you have a history of thyroid issues.
If you’re looking for other plant-based protein sources, here are some great alternatives to tofu: