Fact: even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, you probably eat soy at nearly every meal.
Far from being a fad food exclusive to health-conscious consumers, soy has become one of the most common ingredients in the market: everything from your morning pop tarts to the salad you eat for dinner contains highly processed soy products such as soy lecithin, soybean oil, soy flour, and soy milk. You probably can’t even taste it most of the time, but the nutrition labels don’t lie: soy is everywhere.
So why do food companies use soy so much?
Because it’s cheap to make, easy to grow, and versatile enough to use in a ton of different foods and drinks. Plus, soy has a reputation for being a healthy food, full of protein and calcium, so many people don’t mind even when they do find out how much is in their food. It can’t be bad for you if it’s an ancient Chinese superfood, right?
Not quite. Because there’s actually a lot that we don’t know about soy and how it affects the body. Scientists, nutritionists, and foodies alike have been caught up in the controversy for years now, some touting the nutritional benefits of soy and others pointing out its possible connection to conditions like mineral deficiencies, mood swings, infertility, and even cancer.
Now, we aren’t saying that you’re guaranteed to get sick and die from your daily soy latte. What we are saying is that it would be smart to be more conscious of our soy consumption, especially when it comes to uber-popular soy products like tofu.
Unlike other soy products, which are most often found in extremely processed foods like baked goods and junk food, tofu is frequently used in homemade mousses and puddings, stir-fries, and a whole range of vegetarian soups. Basically, it’s found in “healthy” foods.
But what if tofu isn’t such a wonderful meat alternative? Putting aside all the previously mentioned potential health risks to excessive soy consumption, one simple fact remains: tofu does not make for a happy stomach.
Tofu is made from coagulated soy milk, not whole soybeans. This means that it’s missing a lot of the nutritional benefits of soy, including most of its natural fiber (a half cup of firm tofu typically only has one gram of dietary fiber). This means that even though there is quite a bit of protein in tofu, it’s difficult for our bodies to digest it.
In addition to the lack of fiber, tofu is also lacking in other departments. Unlike fermented soy products like tempeh, natto, and miso, tofu does not contain any lactic acid or probiotics (both of which are known to promote healthy digestion). Many people also believe that the fermentation process deactivates the phylates that prevent our bodies from absorbing all of the nutrients and minerals in soy.
Clearly, tofu has a lot of associated health problems to go along with its oft-lauded nutritional benefits. It may not be the worst food in the world for you, but it’s also not the best meat alternative out there. So if you’re looking for a truly amazing form of vegetarian protein that will keep your stomach both full and happy, say no that tofu burger and say yes to improved digestive health.