Is consuming tofu and other soy products actually doing more harm than good for our bodies? Many health professionals are debating this issue, and to be honest no matter how much scientific evidence is given on either side, I don’t think that there may ever be a definite right answer. So my job is to present the information that I use to pass judgement on what I decide to put into my body so that you too can make an educated decision on whether soy is right for your own body.
There are two sides to the story, and I want to make it clear that BOTH positions are correct. Yes, some tofu and soy products are very harmful, can negatively affect your body’s normal functions, and therefore should be avoided. But notice how I said “some.” You see, soy’s degree of “harmfulness” is highly dependent on a few major factors:
- The origin of the product (USA, China, etc.)
- How processed the product is (fresh soymilk vs. factory altered soy extracts flavored with upwards of 15 different chemicals to make it into “cheesy flavored beef jerky”<–haha I only use this ex. because, believe it or not, that’s what I saw at the Asian market today…bleh!)
- If you currently have, have had, or are genetically susceptible to breast cancer
FACTOR #!: ORIGIN OF THE PRODUCT
We go to farmers markets to meet the men and women whom we trust to provide high quality food, and we try to buy as local as possible to make sure that we’re getting the purest and freshest. So why should soy products be any different? I think it’s actually quite easy to forget about looking at the factory location or to find out where the soybeans are sourced from because there are so many other things to pay attention to when purchasing: what firmness, how many calories, the price, should it be seitan or tempeh or tofurkey? More attention is paid to these things typically precede your analysis of whether buying tofu from China, vs Korea vs USA is best. I mean tofu and soymilk are asian…so the asian brands should be okay?! Not so much. Being just as choosy about tofu as your spinach or apples is crucial if you want to decrease your chance of encountering health issues.
Buy U.S. made brands as much as possible to avoid the chance of chemicals and preservatives. Just think, in order for tofu made in China to be shipped overseas and then across the country to your local grocery store, there has to be some degree of preserving ingredients to maintain “freshness.” Not to knock any brands down, but if you have the choice of buying a product more local to you, I advise that you buy that. I am lucky to not only have a soyfood factory only 10 minutes away from my house, but I am extremely fortunate that the factory is owned and still run by my 82 year old grandparents. They have put over 30 years of their efforts to build it in to the success it is today, and they swear that the one thing that’s gotten them to this level is quality and love for their customers. My family and I have grown up eating their tofu, soymilk, beancurd skin (yuba), and other products and are as healthy as can be. No heart problems (25 grams of soy protein is shown to reduce risks of heart disease when partnered with a clean diet), low cholesterol levels, nothing! It’s called Soyfoods of America located in the city of Duarte, CA and their product brand name in grocery stores (mostly asian markets such as 99 Ranch, etc.) is Furama. I am unbiased as I am about to use Furama products throughout this run about what to look for when purchasing.
Research the brand before you buy. Here is an excerpt from Soyfoods of America’s website which explains their mission and basic info of locality:
Family owned and operated since 1981, Soyfoods of America has been dedicated to manufacturing and providing you with the best quality and most wholesome soy products possible.
We use only top quality identity preserved soybeans for all of our products. The soybeans are grown in the wide open plains of the United States. We do not use imported soybeans.
Our soymilk manufacturing system is Swiss designed and is one of the most modern and versatile in the United States. We manufacture both conventional and organic soymilks, and all our soymilks are kosher.
FACTOR #2: Hor processed is it? is it Non-gmo??
Something unique about Soyfoods of America is that they are by no means a large scale factory. They remain Mom and Pop style, but are able to stay competitive with other brands because of their dedication to organic and wholesome ingredients. They love their customers and ALWAYS strive to give people truly good, healthy food. They want you to have it so fresh that during normal business hours customers can actually come to their factory and buy all types of tofu and soymilk hot off the machines! So fresh and so delicious…nothing beats eating warm tofu 5 minutes after being made. My poor grandma would have a heart attack if she saw anything chemical or foreign go into her products, which makes myself and fellow consumers feel great about our purchases. So the next important thing you want to look for before you buy is whether it is organic and if the soybeans are Non-GMO. Those are two big buzzwords that you WANT to see in the packaging or on the company’s website! GMO stands for genetically modified and it is during this chemical composition transitions that your Franken-food Monster comes alive with all of its chemically oddness. You want your soy to be as pure and unadulterated as possible. No additives. No Yellow 5 or cheese powder (I’m still shuddering about that soy jerky). Below is another excerpt from Soyfoods of America’s FAQ section of their website showing the kind of language you want to see when researching:
Are the soybeans you use non-gmo? Yes, all the soybeans we use are identity preserved and are not genetically modified.
Are all of your soybeans grown in the United States? Yes, we believe in supporting the American farmer and all the soybeans we use are not only purchased from American companies, they are also grown in the great wide plains of the United States. We also believe they are the best soybeans money can buy.
Do you use any preservatives or artificial ingredients? No, we do not use any preservatives or artificial ingredients. That is why products made by Soyfoods of America are more wholesome than many other soy products on the market. We like to keep it simple and all natural.
Do your products need to be refrigerated? Yes, our products need to be kept under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They are fresh products that are minimally processed and do not have preservatives.
Why does your Furama brand soymilk taste different from other ones in the American markets? Furama brand soymilk is Asian style. For Asians, a beany flavor means more soy per serving. That means it’s healthier and better for you! Most soymilks have about 6g of soy protein per serving. Furama brand soymilk has 9g of soy protein per serving. That’s 50% more soy and quite a difference!!
So your checklist before purchasing tofu or any soy product:
- organic (if possible)
- additives? see ingredients on the list you don’t know?
- level of firmness
FACTOR #3: Estrogen Levels and Breast Cancer
If your breast tissue is cancerous, chances are that it is an invasive form of breast cancer (about 2/3 of cases are) and will be both estrogen receptor positive (ER+) and progesterone receptor positive (PR+). In this case you must check with your doctors before consuming large quantities of soy. Increased estrogen in the body will bond to these estrogen receptors on cancerous tissue, therefore increasing the risk of breast cancer. Foods such as soybean oil, pork, black tea, and even corn oil to name a few are all foods that doctors recommend to avoid if ER+/PR+ breast cancer is a concern. Men generally shouldn’t have a problem with soy consumption, but should check with their doctor before you consume large quantities of soy.
“Compounds that regulate ER or PR expression, oppose the production of estrogen in the body (i.e., oppose aromatase) or inhibit estrogen binding to estrogen receptors are among those used to treat this type of breast cancer. Foods high in dietary sources of carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene” are shown to oppose estrogen production. As a general rule of thumb, as along as you follow a balanced diet full of fruits and dark leafy veggies you will get all of the vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body. A list of foods can be found by clicking on that link.
ALL OF THAT ASIDE…
Soy protein is an excellent alternative protein source for people who are vegetarian, vegan, or looking to cut down on saturated animal fats. Legumes, tofu, seitan, tempeh are all different ways to get the important amino acids required to build lean muscle mass and keep your body healthy. Experiment with all of them!!! The fun thing is that all of these products are relatively bland on their own, yet they absorb flavors like a sponge! Try a couple of meatless nights with your family and see if everyone can enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
If this wasn’t enough information or if you want to learn more, this blog post by Chris Baclig does an absolutely PHENOMENAL job explaining things in further detail and going over some additional topics. Feel free to ask me any questions as well, and if you’re lucky enough to live in Southern California let me know if you want to go to my grandparents factory to pick up some HOT, FRESH, tofu! (Or you can just go buy it at most asian grocery stores haha)