Tofu, also called bean curd, is a popular meat substitute. It has relatively low fat content, is high in iron and protein and low calorie content, making it ideal for vegetarians, vegans or meat-eaters. A single serving of tofu provides 9.2 grams of protein, or 18.3% of the daily RDA, and it comes virtually free of saturated fat (less than 1 gram). Because of its high protein, low-fat content, it is excellent as a diet food. A popular Asian snack is to eat the dish raw, with grated ginger and/or soy sauce – an easy-to-make meal substitute.

Tofu originated in China, although today many Western chefs have also made their own contributions to expand the list of interesting tofu dishes. It tends to soak up any liquid, which makes it excellent for marinating but if frying, it can leave the protein full of oil. For this reason, grilling, stir-frying, or sautéing with a little oil rather at a high temperature is best as it does not need to be cooked to eliminate bacteria.Tofu can be served raw or cooked, in recipes perfect for lunch, dinner or even a snack in between. Stir-frying and sautéing are common methods. When used in desserts, tofu recipes generally replace the dairy, and call for silken tofu. It’s also a terrific addition to any vegetarian diet, and can help you prepare healthier versions of all your favorite dishes, including, lasagna, burgers, and even chili.

Helpful pointers
Tofu is rich in potassium, essential B vitamins, and vitamin E.  It is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the resulting curds – similar to making cheese. Because it is heated during its production, it is not considered a raw food, although it can be a good source of protein for a raw food diet. Tofu absorbs flavor, it can be used in any style of cuisine, and is popular in vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. Try these healthy tofu recipes that highlight the versatility of tofu when combined with bold and exotic ingredients.

  • Sweet and Sour Tofu – This dish is a standard on most menus in Chinese restaurants. Deep-frying the tofu makes it better able to absorb the pineapple and soy flavors. Simply substitute tofu instead of meat in your favorite sweat and sour recipe. There is no need to spend longer time for cooking. To intensify the flavors, just add chili garlic sauce or crushed red pepper, dried or in a chili sauce.
  • TLT (Tofu, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich) – By preparing the tofu with dijon mustard, soy sauce and adobo sauce, you give the dish a spicy and smoky flavor reminiscent of the traditional BLT sandwich. Add a tablespoon of the Dijon, soy sauce and half a teaspoon of the adobo sauce and spread onto the tofu before you grill it. Then combine the three basic ingredients and place between two slices of wheat or multi grain bread. Serve with homemade oven fries, a few pickle slices or coleslaw.
  • Chinese Braised Mushrooms and Tofu – This tofu recipe originates from Ma Po Tofu, one of the classic dishes from Sichuan, China. In vegetarian versions of this recipe, mushrooms replace meat, adding flavor and texture, which is cooked along with the tofu. Chili garlic sauce provides the kick to this dish. It is best served with brown rice.

What is the health quotient?
Tofu is rich in isoflavones, calcium and B vitamins. These are what make it a perfect substitute for meat. Here are some of the other important nutrients found in tofu.

Soy protein
Tofu is rich in soy protein. A 1995 study and meta-analysis from the University of Kentucky concluded that replacing meat with soy protein can lower overall cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL, bad). In a review of soy protein products, the American Heart Association agreed. In a January 2006 report, it said “soy products such as tofu, soy butter, soy nuts, or some soy burgers should be beneficial to cardiovascular and overall health because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat.” And according to the FDA, “25 grams of soy protein a day, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

A typical serving of tofu (about 4 ounces), provides 33% of recommended daily allowance for iron.  Tofu also contains copper, which helps red blood cells properly use iron.

Omega-3 fatty acids
On average, a tofu serving contains 14 % of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids. With its high-protein, tofu is also considered an excellent fish alternative. Omega-3 fatty acids have many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke.

Another important trace mineral is selenium. It helps maintain the body’s antioxidant system, key to immune system health.

Why shouldn’t I eat too much of this?
Tofu is made from soy milk and soy is one of the nine most common allergens. The common signs of allergic reaction to tofu include skin rashes, eczema, nasal congestion, dizziness, trouble breathing, and swelling of the tongue, throat or lips. If any of these occur, seek medical attention immediately.

Tofu has the unique ability to absorb flavor from other ingredients and seasonings in any recipe. Because of this it is best to avoid tofu recipes that contain too much sodium, soy sauce or oil. Excessive and regular intake of sodium rich tofu recipes may lead to high blood pressure and even excessive weight gain.

More ideas
Tofu is an excellent diet food, or part of a low-fat, high protein diet. It is cheap, easy-to-prepare and often lasts several weeks with refrigeration so it does not need to be prepared right away. Sichuan tofu, honey-walnut tofu, vegan peanut chocolate pie (with tofu), tofu Parmigiana, tofu scramble (a tofu version of scramble egg), there are dozens of recipes available on-line. The possibilities are endless.

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