Even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan there are plenty of reasons to eat tofu. If you’re not familiar with this Asian staple, it’s basically soy milk in solid form. An acidic ingredient (usually nigari, from sea water) is added to soy milk, which causes it to coagulate, kind of like a cooked egg. It’s then pressed into blocks. Firm tofu has more of the water pressed out so it holds its shape better and can be sliced, cubed, or crumbled. Silken or soft tofu remains more watery, making it a better choice for smoothies and dips.
I only eat and recommend organic tofu, which can’t be produced using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, and cannot contain genetically modified organisms or GMOs, which some experts link to a possible rise in food allergies. Because tofu is made from the whole soybean, it provides a broad spectrum of nutrients, including protein, “good” fat, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Probably for these reasons whole soy foods have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, knock down high blood pressure, control blood sugar and insulin levels, strengthen bones, lower the risk of type-2 diabetes, and slash the risk of certain cancers including breast, endometrial, and prostate. Soy also boasts weight-control benefits. A recent study published in the European Journal of Nutrition monitored soy intake and body weights throughout the lifetimes of over 1,400 Caucasian, Japanese, and native Hawaiian adults. The researchers found that over a five-year period, higher soy intakes were related to lower BMIs.
While tofu is fairly tasteless on its own, it’s incredibly versatile because it takes on the flavor of whatever you pair it with. Here are four of my favorite ways to enjoy the vegan protein:
In this salad from my Pinterest page, I seared triangles of extra firm tofu in coconut oil and added it to a garden salad, but the same technique can used for a stir fry. Simply sear the tofu, remove from pan, and then warm chopped veggies in the remaining oil along with the citrus dressing ingredients. This meal is great enjoyed over a small scoop of black rice.
I use hand-crumbled extra firm tofu in place of cottage or ricotta cheese with fruit, like in this Pinterest pic or in savory dishes like a vegan lasagna made with roasted vegetables and herbs.
Herbed extra firm tofu makes a great picnic snack on skewers with fruit I also love to serve cubed extra firm tofu as an appetizer on toothpicks with Mediterranean olives or slathered with pesto.
Silken tofu adds texture and nutrition to fruit smoothies or pudding. It can also be used as the base for a savory dip with garlic and herbs or a simple sauce.
Are you a tofu lover? If so, what’s your favorite way to eat it? If you’ve never tasted tofu would you be willing to give any of these a try? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.