You probably know that better health with nutrition is spelled "EAT MORE PLANTS," but Extreme Spring may have diverted your attention away from the fact that April is National Soy Month. (Did you know that Henry Ford had a suit made of soy-fiber cloth? What an innovator he was!) Today, let's consider tofu, since it is a plant food about which many are curious.
Soy foods like tofu contain all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) you need to make strong body parts. Research suggests that soy protein can prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast and prostate cancers. The FDA says that 25 grams of soy protein daily (about half a tub of tofu) will help your heart (especially if it replaces red meat or fried clams.) My patients lament, "How the heck do I cook a half a tub of tofu? And I heard it's bad
AND good? How can that be?"
Soy is rich in isoflavones (primarily genistein and daidzein), plant chemicals that structurally look like human estrogens. This appeals to menopausal women wanting to get the feel of estrogen without using Prempro. But then what about little babies? Or women who have had breast cancer, since estrogen acts like fertilizer on some tumors? But wait isoflavone molecules can also block the action of estrogen, perhaps why there's less breast cancer in places
where soy foods are consumed regularly. Soy can block thyroid hormones too, so best be conservative with soy if you have thyroid issues. As you can probably see, the evidence does not line up handily; smart people become insane zealots as they argue about soy. Either way, remember that soy is a bean food and for some people hard to digest. Others love it. Hear us gnash our teeth.
Truly, we don't know yet what we need to know about soy, and smart people treat their hormones with respect. In Asian cultures, soy foods have been consumed without ill effects, and probably some benefits, for many years.
Till we know more, refined, high-isoflavone foods (like soy powders, bars, and pills) should be treated like medicines, but I encourage you to experiment with whole soy foods, like tofu, tempeh, soymilk, and green soy beans. Get organic non-GMO extra-firm tofu in one of those white plastic tubs. (Note the expiration date freshness counts.)
Initially, you may find your tofu inscrutable. It just sits there, a white lump in the bowl, silent. Fear not. Tofu is the Zelig of the food world; it cooks quickly and absorbs other flavors readily. There are several great tofu cookbooks on the market. You can grill, broil, marinate, steam, fry, bake, or roast it, for starters. First, however, you'll want to press and drain it: gently remove the tofu from the tub and slice it into slabs. Arrange the slabs flat
between two clean dishtowels and then place a cookie sheet and some kind of weight on top to press the excess water out. A half hour will do it. You can cook these slabs just as you would a thin chicken breast (quick!), or you can try this fun and easy breakfast dish.
Scrambled Tofu (serves 6)
2 pkgs extra firm tofu, drained, pressed, and crumbled
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 green onions, minced or one medium onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped bell pepper, your favorite color
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 T tamari or soy sauce
1/2 cup salsa, your choice of hotness
1 T lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium high flame. Add scallions, garlic and bell pepper and sauté for 3 minutes or until crisp tender. Add tofu and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in turmeric. Stir in tamari, salsa, lime juice and chopped fresh cilantro. Fold into a warm whole wheat tortilla, or as you would serve scrambled eggs.