Most likely you've seen tofu in the supermarket packaged in a small rectangular container taking up a little space in the veggie aisle. The block of off-white tofu, made from soybeans, sits in water. You look at it thinking, "Who, in their right mind, would eat that?" The answer seems to float somewhere off-shore in your brain unreachable by lifeboat but the correct response should be, "I should."
Soy food sales have grown 550% in the last decade. It's no wonder as the health food industry has touted this as the health food of the Millenium.
Soy does a great job of lowering the bad LDL cholesterol levels without affecting the good HDL levels. There was a recent study indicating an average of 13% in the drop of LDL cholesterol in those individuals that ate only 47 grams of soy protein per day.
Soy is full of isoflavones - phytochemical compounds similar to the estrogen a woman's body produces. Due to the presence of isoflavones, soy may prevent hot flashes during menopause as well as help in the prevention of breast cancer.
As good a high quality protein as we have found in meats and eggs, soy is also packed with iron, B vitamins, zinc and calcium. It's fortunate that fat in soy is unsaturated.
How well does soy stack up nutritionally with beef? A four-ounce slice of firm tofu comes in at 120 calories, 6 grams of fat, 13 grams of protein and 120 milligrams of calcium. Four ounces of lean beef amounts to 306 calories, 21 grams of fat, 28 grams of protein and 12 milligrams of calcium.
Soybeans are also found to be the only plant food with genistein - a retarder of many types of cancer growths and may be a fighter of heart disease.
A good way to ease yourself into soy foods, is experimentation. I wouldn't suggest buying a container of tofu and biting off a hunk by any means. However, try tofu in sandwich filling. Mix tofu with peanut butter to make a fluffy spread and put some jam on top of it. As time goes on, you'll find yourself using less peanut butter and jam.
Tofu is available in many consistencies such as extra firm, firm, soft and silken. The firmer tofu is used in stir-fry recipes and the softer and silken tofus are used in smoothies, puddings and cream pies. However you may find recipes, where the uses and textures cross the line back and forth.
Tofu is excellent in stir-fried foods. Since it has relatively no taste of its own, it will take on the taste of whatever is cooked along with it, regardless of that being the spices, food or oils. Cut it up into small chunks using one to two cups to a wok of Asian food.
For those that like fried egg sandwiches, heat some olive oil in a frying pan, slice a piece of firm tofu about 1/4" thick and saute it. Try seasoning it with a bit of garlic powder. You'll find the taste and texture is approximately that of using egg whites.
Tofu should be cared for once opened. Keep it refrigerated and stored in an airtight container. Every day pour off the water and replace it with new water, making sure the water level is up over the top of the tofu. More detailed and complex recipes are available in Asian cookbooks to delight your tastebuds.
Soy milk is a great alternative to cow's milk for those that are lactose intolerant. I heartily recommend the vanilla flavor, which is sweet and wonderful in coffee, over cereal and in shakes and smoothies. I don't recommend it used in soups because of the sweetness. Drinking plain-flavored soy milk is more of an 'learned' taste and not recommended for the beginning soy-ist.
Now you know more about soy and ways to use it. Just put down the tv remote and go to the store. Good health awaits you.