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Tofu: how healthy is the meat alternative?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 194 views

Seasoned, smoked or marinated: tofu is one of the most popular meat substitutes. It can be prepared in many ways and is rich in protein. But how healthy and climate-friendly is tofu? Read more here.

What is tofu and what is it made of?

Tofu, also known as bean curd, originally comes from China. It is said to have been invented there by monks around 2,000 years ago. They were not allowed to eat meat in the monastery.

Tofu is now a staple food for a large part of the entire population: 1.5 billion people eat tofu almost every day. In Germany it is mainly used in vegan and vegetarian cuisine as a meat substitute substitute.

Tofu is made from soybeans. They are mashed and squeezed. The resulting liquid is heated and then mixed with a coagulant. The solid components are then skimmed off and placed in a sieve. The soy mass is then pressed until a solid block is formed.

These types of tofu exist

Soft, firm, very firm: There are different types of tofu that can be used in different dishes:

  • The soft version is also known as silken tofu . It is smooth, creamy and works well in desserts, sweet dishes, dips or sauces.
  • The firm variant is the so-called Asian tofu . Its consistency is comparable to fresh meat. It is good for frying and stir-fries.
  • The very firm variety ( western tofu ) has the lowest moisture content. It crumbles easily and has a consistency of well-done meat.

The western tofu is our most common. It differs according to whether and how it was processed. The most well-known variants include:

  • Natural tofu : It has a neutral taste and can be seasoned as desired. It has a firm consistency and is preserved in brine.
  • Smoked Tofu : This variety is smoked over beech wood. It has a distinctive taste. Smoked tofu is very firm and can be eaten raw as a starter or in a salad.
  • Fermented Tofu : This salty and creamy variety has been preserved in a special marinade. Fermented tofu is served as a dip with fresh vegetables or used to flavor rice or porridge. It has a strong cheesy odor.
  • Seasoned tofu : It was refined with spices or vegetables – for example with chili, curry, mango or tomatoes.

How healthy is tofu?

Soybeans belong to the legumes. They have a high nutrient content, are rich in proteins and contain many amino acids (protein building blocks) that the human body cannot produce itself. He must therefore absorb them through food (essential amino acids).

In addition, soybeans are good for the body because of their polyunsaturated fatty acids. Compared to meat, tofu has a lower fat content and is cholesterol-free. 100 grams of tofu contain about 80 calories. It also contains:

  • Vitamin E
  • B-Vitamine
  • Folate
  • Eisen
  • Magnesium
  • calcium

As studies show, soy protein is believed to have a positive effect on blood lipids. It lowers triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol. On the other hand, tofu increases the good HDL cholesterol. Soy protein also has a positive effect on blood pressure and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Isoflavones have different effects

The situation is somewhat contradictory when it comes to isoflavones. According to recent findings, the secondary plant substances contained in soybeans should reduce the development of cancer and heart disease as well as osteoporosis and alleviate menopausal symptoms.

But: Isoflavones are also referred to as phytoestrogens because they have an estrogen-like effect. Animal and cell studies show that high doses inhibit thyroid function, alter breast tissue and the lining of the uterus, and potentially increase the risk of breast cancer.

However, these preclinical studies used high doses in the form of dietary supplements containing isolated isoflavone. According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the daily intake of these isolated isoflavones was 40 to 80 milligrams. Such values ​​can hardly be achieved with foods containing soy such as tofu.

Therefore, there is nothing to speak against a moderate consumption (one to two servings a day) of foods containing soy. One serving is 100 grams of tofu or 250 milliliters of soy milk.

Here is a detailed overview of the effects of tofu on each condition:


Research is inconclusive on the link between soy products and thyroid problems. In people who do not have thyroid problems, there is no evidence that isoflavones have any adverse effects.

However, in people who already suffer from thyroid disorders such as hypofunction, they may inhibit the production of thyroid hormones.

It is recommended to keep an eye on the iodine balance when consuming soy products regularly. With regard to tofu, the isoflavone content is significantly lower than in pure soybeans.

cancer risk

Isoflavones are suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer patients recurring. According to the German Cancer Research Center, however, studies do not indicate that soy products actually worsen the prognosis of breast cancer patients.

On the contrary: There are indications that foods containing soy may reduce overall mortality after breast cancer. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, soy contributes to a healthy lifestyle in addition to a balanced diet with fiber and low-fat foods.

However, the BfR advises against food preparations with isoflavones for all women who have an increased risk of breast cancer in their family or who have already had breast cancer.

Furthermore, there are now research results that soy products such as tofu can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, uterine cancer and lung cancer.

menopausal symptoms

hot flashes, headache , mood swings: In parts of Asia, women suffer less from these typical menopausal symptoms. Here, too, the isoflavones should lead to this positive effect. Recent studies confirm this.

However, experts advise women against consuming the phytochemicals in isolation via dietary supplements.


One cause of osteoporosis is that the bones lack calcium and this reduces bone density. Studies show that calcium-rich foods like tofu have a positive effect.

This connection is particularly true for women during and after menopause . Preventively eating foods containing soy may prevent bone loss.

heart diseases

Since tofu is cholesterol-free and contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, it is considered heart-friendly. Recent studies show that tofu should be on the menu once a week for a positive effect. Women in particular benefit from this.

Tofu: allergies and food intolerances

While hypersensitivity to soy is relatively common, a pronounced soy allergy is rather rare. Cross-reactions with peas, peanuts and other legumes are possible for those allergic to soy.

People who suffer from a birch pollen allergy are also better off avoiding tofu. About a fifth of children who are allergic to cow’s milk also have problems with soy.

Typical reactions for an intolerance are

  • red, swollen and itchy mucous membrane in the mouth
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and abdominal pain
  • itchy rash and hives
  • difficulty breathing and dizziness
  • in the worst case: anaphylactic shock

If you suffer from histamine intolerance, it is also better to ban tofu from your diet. The reason: soybeans are among the histamine-releasing foods.

In the case of gluten intolerance, the following applies: Pay attention to the additives in tofu products. Gluten may serve as a binding agent or the products came into contact with flour during manufacture.

Find out more about foods containing gluten here .

Is tofu genetically modified?

Genetically modified soybeans are mainly used in animal feed production. In general, however, they may also be used in the production of foods such as tofu. You can recognize such products by the “genetically modified organisms” (GMO) label on the packaging.

Organic tofu usually does not contain any genetically modified soybeans.

How climate friendly is tofu?

Tofu has a much better carbon footprint than meat. Rainforests in Brazil are also cut down for soybean cultivation, but most of the soybean production is used for animal feed. Only a maximum of 20 percent of the global harvest is used for human consumption.

Most soy products that can be bought in German supermarkets do not come from South America, but from the EU, North America and China. If you want to pay attention to the climate, it is best to buy tofu from organic and European cultivation. In the meantime, soya is also cultivated in Germany.

Tofu: You should pay attention to that!

  • Buy organic products. This ensures that the tofu is produced in a non-GMO and climate-friendly manner.
  • Pay attention to the additives – the fewer, the better.
  • A sea salt concentrate like Nigari is good as a coagulant.
  • Always cover fresh tofu with water in the fridge.
  • If you want to fry tofu, the following applies: the less liquid it has, the crispier it will be. Therefore, squeeze it out with two kitchen towels beforehand.
  • If tofu smells bad, throw it away. Normally it has a shelf life of four days after opening the packaging.
  • If you buy meat substitutes with tofu, pay attention to the salt content. It is often too high.

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