Tofu: Perfect Health Food…or Not?

Reviewed by QualityHealth’s Medical Advisory

Board Soybeans are unique among legumes because they are rich in high-quality plant protein, as well as in phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) such as isoflavones, that can mimic estrogen and have hormone-like effects in your body. Isoflavones are found in varying amounts in tofu and other soy products such as mature dried soybeans, young green soybeans (edamame), soymilk, and other dairy alternatives made from soybeans.

Substituting soy foods, such as tofu, for some of the meat normally consumed in the average American diet has been hailed as a heart-healthy habit that may reduce serum cholesterol levels and help the heart in other ways. Soy foods have also been associated with decreasing symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, protecting against some forms of cancer, and improving bone health.

But at the same time, soy foods have also been linked to an increased risk of various types of cancer and other health issues. The Good News Studies of Asian and Asian-American women have linked higher soy intake in adults to a lower incidence of breast cancer, and even more substantial decrease of risk in women who also consumed soy throughout childhood and their teen years.

A Korean women’s study also linked the regular use of soybeans and tofu in the diet to a lower incidence of stomach cancer, while a University of Hawaii multi-ethnic study found that a high intake of phytochemicals found in soy foods may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer.

An analysis of the Shanghai Women’s Health Study, published in a March, 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, revealed that those with a higher intake of soy foods lived longer on average after a lung cancer diagnosis than those with a low intake of soy foods.

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