Weighing in on the Tofu/Soy Debate: Is it healthy? Or is it unhealthy?

Is consuming tofu and other soy products actually doing more harm than good for our bodies? Many health professionals are debating this issue, and to be honest no matter how much scientific evidence is given on either side, I don’t think that there may everbe a definite right answer. So my job is to present the information that I use to pass judgement on what I decide to put into my body so that you too can make an educated decision on whether soy is right for your own body.

There are two sides to the story, and I want to make it clear that BOTH positions are correct. Yes, some tofu and soy products are very harmful, can negatively affect your body’s normal functions, and therefore should be avoided. But notice how I said “some.” You see, soy’s degree of “harmfulness” is highly dependent on a few major factors:

  1. The origin of the product (USA, China, etc.)
  2. How processed the product is (fresh soymilk vs. factory altered soy extracts flavored with upwards of 15 different chemicals to make it into “cheesy flavored beef jerky”<–haha I only use this ex. because, believe it or not, that’s what I saw at the Asian market today…bleh!)
  3. If you currently have, have had, or are genetically susceptible to breast cancer

FACTOR #!: ORIGIN OF THE PRODUCT

We go to farmers markets to meet the men and women whom we trust to provide high quality food, and we try to buy as local as possible to make sure that we’re getting the purest and freshest. So why should soy products be any different? I think it’s actually quite easy to forget about looking at the factory location or to find out where the soybeans are sourced from because there are so many other things to pay attention to when purchasing: what firmness, how many calories, the price, should it be seitan or tempeh or tofurkey? More attention is paid to these things typically precede your analysis of whether buying tofu from China, vs Korea vs USA is best. I mean tofu and soymilk are asian…so the asian brands should be okay?! Not so much. Being just as choosy about tofu as your spinach or apples is crucial if you want to decrease your chance of encountering health issues.

Buy U.S. made brands as much as possible to avoid the chance of chemicals and preservatives. Just think, in order for tofu made in China to be shipped overseas and then across the country to your local grocery store, there has to be some degree of preserving ingredients to maintain “freshness.” Not to knock any brands down, but if you have the choice of buying a product more local to you, I advise that you buy that. I am lucky to not only have a soyfood factory only 10 minutes away from my house, but I am extremely fortunate that the factory is owned and still run by my 82 year old grandparents. They have put over 30 years of their efforts to build it in to the success it is today, and they swear that the one thing that’s gotten them to this level is quality and love for their customers. My family and I have grown up eating their tofu, soymilk, beancurd skin (yuba), and other products and are as healthy as can be. No heart problems (25 grams of soy protein is shown to reduce risks of heart disease when partnered with a clean diet), low cholesterol levels, nothing! It’s called Soyfoods of America located in the city of Duarte, CA and their product brand name in grocery stores (mostly asian markets such as 99 Ranch, etc.) is Furama. I am unbiased as I am about to use Furama products throughout this run about what to look for when purchasing.

Research the brand before you buy. Here is an excerpt from Soyfoods of America’s website which explains their mission and basic info of locality:

        Family owned and operated since 1981, Soyfoods of America has been dedicated to manufacturing and providing you with the best quality and most wholesome soy products possible.

We use only top quality identity preserved soybeans for all of our products. The soybeans are grown in the wide open plains of the United States. We do not use imported soybeans.

Our soymilk manufacturing system is Swiss designed and is one of the most modern and versatile in the United States. We manufacture both conventional and organic soymilks, and all our soymilks are kosher.

FACTOR #2: Hor processed is it? is it Non-gmo??

Something unique about Soyfoods of America is that they are by no means a large scale factory. They remain Mom and Pop style, but are able to stay competitive with other brands because of their dedication to organic and wholesome ingredients. They love their customers and ALWAYS strive to give people truly good, healthy food. They want you to have it so fresh that during normal business hours customers can actually come to their factory and buy all types of tofu and soymilk hot off the machines! So fresh and so delicious…nothing beats eating warm tofu 5 minutes after being made. My poor grandma would have a heart attack if she saw anything chemical or foreign go into her products, which makes myself and fellow consumers feel great about our purchases. So the next important thing you want to look for before you buy is whether it is organic and if the soybeans are Non-GMO. Those are two big buzzwords that you WANT to see in the packaging or on the company’s website! GMO stands for genetically modified and it is during this chemical composition transitions that your Franken-food Monster comes alive with all of its chemically oddness. You want your soy to be as pure and unadulterated as possible. No additives. No Yellow 5 or cheese powder (I’m still shuddering about that soy jerky). Below is another excerpt fromSoyfoods of America’s FAQ section of their website showing the kind of language you want to see when researching:

Are the soybeans you use non-gmo? Yes, all the soybeans we use are identity preserved and are not genetically modified.

Are all of your soybeans grown in the United States? Yes, we believe in supporting the American farmer and all the soybeans we use are not only purchased from American companies, they are also grown in the great wide plains of the United States. We also believe they are the best soybeans money can buy.

Do you use any preservatives or artificial ingredients? No, we do not use any preservatives or artificial ingredients. That is why products made by Soyfoods of America are more wholesome than many other soy products on the market. We like to keep it simple and all natural.

Do your products need to be refrigerated? Yes, our products need to be kept under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They are fresh products that are minimally processed and do not have preservatives.

Why does your Furama brand soymilk taste different from other ones in the American markets? Furama brand soymilk is Asian style. For Asians, a beany flavor means more soy per serving. That means it’s healthier and better for you! Most soymilks have about 6g of soy protein per serving. Furama brand soymilk has 9g of soy protein per serving. That’s 50% more soy and quite a difference!!

So your checklist before purchasing tofu or any soy product:

  • locality
  • NON-Gmo
  • organic (if possible)
  • additives? see ingredients on the list you don’t know?
  • level of firmness
  • price

FACTOR #3: Estrogen Levels and Breast Cancer

If your breast tissue is cancerous, chances are that it is an invasive form of breast cancer (about 2/3 of cases are) and will be both estrogen receptor positive (ER+) and progesterone receptor positive (PR+). In this case you must check with your doctors before consuming large quantities of soy. Increased estrogen in the body will bond to these estrogen receptors on cancerous tissue, therefore increasing the risk of breast cancerFoods such as soybean oil, pork, black tea, and even corn oil to name a few are all foods that doctors recommend to avoid if ER+/PR+ breast cancer is a concern. Men generally shouldn’t have a problem with soy consumption, but should check with their doctor before you consume large quantities of soy.

“Compounds that regulate ER or PR expression, oppose the production of estrogen in the body (i.e., oppose aromatase) or inhibit estrogen binding to estrogen receptors are among those used to treat this type of breast cancer. Foods high in dietary sources of carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene” are shown to oppose estrogen production. As a general rule of thumb, as along as you follow a balanced diet full of fruits and dark leafy veggies you will get all of the vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body. A list of foods can be found by clicking on that link.

ALL OF THAT ASIDE…

Soy protein is an excellent alternative protein source for people who are vegetarian, vegan, or looking to cut down on saturated animal fats. Legumes, tofu, seitan, tempeh are all different ways to get the important amino acids required to build lean muscle mass and keep your body healthy. Experiment with all of them!!! The fun thing is that all of these products are relatively bland on their own, yet they absorb flavors like a sponge! Try a couple of meatless nights with your family and see if everyone can enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

If this wasn’t enough information or if you want to learn more, this blog post by Chris Baclig does an absolutely PHENOMENAL job explaining things in further detail and going over some additional topics. Feel free to ask me any questions as well, and if you’re lucky enough to live in Southern California let me know if you want to go to my grandparents factory to pick up some HOT, FRESH, tofu! (Or you can just go buy it at most asian grocery stores haha)

Additional Links:

http://www.soyfoods.org/

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Room Temp. Cucumbers are like Pokemon Cards

Have your parents ever told you to live life without expectations? Because if you create them, and they are met, you will only be content since it was expected. But God forbid that they are not met, you will find yourself devastated, miserable, or disappointed at the very least. This piece of advice is something that I truly do attempt to practice each day; however, there are times when it cannot be avoided. Hence today, the primary issue of this post…

I will preface the following restaurant review by saying that my family and I have been loyal patrons for the past 12 years to a restaurant called Mandarin Noodle House in LA. Since my siblings and I were youngsters, going to Mandarin Noodle House meant the best beef stew noodle soup which was basically big chunks of meaty beef in an incredibly rich beef broth, and the most al dente, perfect lengthed (I don’t think that’s a word) noodles ever!! They also had these great things called green onion pancakes which, btw, if you’ve never tried you HAVE to go try it!!! The pancakes are just crispy and flaky enough to give you a satisfying crunch, but have enough of a chewy soft dough texture to make it substantial. Just all around incredible! And the cucumbers..ah…the famous pickled cucumbers. You know when I was a kid, I always thought that pickles smelled and tasted like feet? Yea, I guess I must have tasted my own feet when I was little because that was the primary simile I used to describe any food that I didn’t like. But these were the only pickled items that I would actually eat. They’re just that good; the right ratio of sugar, vinegar, and garlic. And a meal at Mandarin Noodle House was never complete without the loud voice of its owner, Kelly, I believe. I want to cut her some slack and not accuse her of being short-tempered or always in a seeming rush, so I tell myself that Asians just talk loud (true fact. exhibit A: my relatives). But Kelly’s sharp voice would be heard from the moment she greeted you to the parting “Bye Bye!!!” So how do you discern when an asian woman is mad and not mad? You just don’t. My family and I followed her from the beginning at her Monterey Park, CA location to this one I am about to talk about on Las Tunas in Temple City, CA. It has been a while since my family has been here, so due to our absence for a good amount of the past year, we were unaware that within that time frame there had been a change in ownership. Can you sort of guess where my little schpeal about disappointment coming from unmet expectations is heading??

My brother and I woke up today starving (as usual) and he asked if I wanted to go out to lunch with him. We excitedly chose Mandarin Noodle Deli in Temple City, CA since we haven’t had it in SOO long…and some nice beef stewed noodle soup and green onion pancake sounded amazing!!! We walked towards the restaurant and my brother immediately noticed a new added LED light sign with mandarin characters and said “hmm, this is new”. We shrugged it off and said “must new improvements.” Once inside, we were semi-greeted by what I assumed to be a nod from a woman–the loud asian owner was nowhere to be seen. We get our menus, and again, one of us commented “oh, they made new menus!” (not that jade green and black ones that was so distinctive of Mandarin Noodle House). We already knew what we wanted so it was:

1 beef stewed noodle soup
1 meat pan fried dumpings
1 green onion pancake
2 pickled cucumber (okay, ODD, the name for it on the menu was like cold  sauce cucumber or something?? but i figured what the heck, I LOVEE mandarin noodle houses’s pickled cucumbers so imma get me 2!!!)

The cucumbers came out first. Looked slightly different, but not too much. I reached, rather beast-like, for one and OHH MMYY GOOODDDDNESSS……! My brother and I each took a bite at the same time and uhgsfdsh GROSS!! We both said “this aint right!!! what the heck is this??!!” It was room temp and borderline lukewarm, for one thing. Second of all, absolutely no vinegar or sugar (kind of required ingredients for pickled). It was pure just like water+sesame oil or something but it was just inedible!!! Now I truly am not one to ever fuss about things, especially when it comes to food and especially at restaurants. I would rather just be super polite/calm because I hate hurting other people’s feelings or inconveniencing them to cater to my needs. But I think there was something about me not getting the quality of nostalgic food that I was “expecting,” and that brought out a bolder side of me :/. I was kinda mad at myself because I ordered two, so when the waitress came back to bring our order of beef noodles, I told her (still politely, though!) that the cucumbers were NOT good. I asked that since we only ate a couple off of one of the plates, could she please not charge us for them and take them away. She refused to refund us for both plates, only one of them since we already ate some!! Oh! But wait wait wait, gahahahaha right before she refused my request, she made a face at me that I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, or if I should angry at. She scrunched pretty much all 43 muscles in her face and twisted them in incredulousness, as if she believed that the plate of cucumbers she served me was a Maine lobster tail! Now, I am definitely a proponent of being proud of the food you serve, but when the food you are serving comes out like this….=/??? So then she asked which plate we took a bite from, and she reached for the other, saying she would take this one back and not charge us for it. I read another Yelp customer’s review that the waitress had swapped around dumplings between two tables after getting the order wrong by using one of the patron’s used chopsticks back and forth like pokemon cards, there is no doubt in my mind that the plate of disgustingly room temp cucumbers from my table came from another person’s unwanted leftovers, or that it would soon land on another poor patron’s table. Best of luck to whoever got our seconds!!

The beef noodle soup was alright; definitely not as good as the previous owner’s rich broth. But I’ll admit that the hand pulled noodles were nice and chewy, and not too thick.=) yayyy for yummy noodles! (but I’ll be showing you really good noodles with the low carb tofu noodle recipe coming soon!!)

Sneak Preview:

low carb tofu noodles!

Of all the food items, I think it was the onion pancakes that my brother and I set our highest expectations on. The pancakes that we envisioned were flaky, crispy, yet semi-doughy. What came out was quite the opposite: soft, flimsy, and thin. I’m actually someone that likes the type that are softer and not super crispy (same goes with fries–I know I’m weird, huh?), but these pancakes were just wayyy too perfectly round and smooth to be homemade/handmade. Maybe storebought? There was no love or soul in it! The previous owner’s scratchmade onion pancakes were more or less oblong, flaky, and rustic looking–just like homemade pizzas! Handcrafted=uneven sides and bubble/imperfect surfaces, and storebought/frozen=perfectly round, smooth surfaced, and no imperfections.

For comparison:

store bought frozen onion pancake. totally flat, perfect circle, relatively smooth surface with no flaky, bubbly, texture-y deliciousness

LEGIT homemade! rustic-ness and texture! Click for recipe

do you see the homemade love??!! Click for the recipe!

The panfried meat dumplings were small compared to previous owner’s, but the brother said they were still okay. But alas, no expectations right? Today was just another day where remembering words of wisdom was key. 🙂 This restaurant wouldn’t still be standing if it wasn’t good, so for me to knock it down for one bad day isn’t fair. After all, who the heck am I to say that the items I ordered weren’t good? Everyone has different tastebuds, and different preferences. So next time I’ll just go somewhere else. It’s as simple as that. Power to you, Mandarin Noodle Deli! Keep making those noodles!

Tonight I am having dinner with a truly amazing friend, Daphne, whom I met at my marketing internship at Panda Restaurant Group, Inc. (yes, the company that owns Panda Express and Panda Inn) last summer! We are going to Thai Classic in Arcadia. So excited!

In case you didn’t click on the pictures for the recipes, the two blogs that I got these pictures from were eatingclubvancouver and commeleschinois.ca

Start of a New School Year, a New Blog, and a New Focus: TOFU!

Hi! My name is Courtney Chou Lee and I’m a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California that loves to cook, eat, and live a healthy lifestyle! I’m currently majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, but my passion for helping others and for promoting overall wellness has inspired me to pursue a Minor in Nutrition and Health Promotion.

 I was so excited when I finally started a food blog during this past year at school, and was slowly learning the ropes…until I accidentally deleted about 80% of my content! None of my lengthy entries were backed up and I felt devastated, discouraged and had quite honestly lost my motivation to blog. But now I’m back with a new blog and a new point of view: totally focused on tofu! That’s right, tofu! Tofu is one of the most versatile ingredients you could ever use, and its got the nutritional bang for the buck **with a few exceptions that I will delve into in another post shortly**This blog will explain the  health benefits of tofu, the healthy and harmful facts about soy, tonsss of traditional and kind of crazy yet great tofu recipes that are healthy, as well as info about other soy products and how to use them.

My first blog was named “Eat the Tofu,” because that’s what I wanted people to do.This remains my wish; however, I now decided to switch the name of my blog to “Evil, Scary Tofu” because it highlights the assumptions–stream of consciousness, if you will, of many people unfamiliar with tofu. I have friends who avoid it like the plague! They either don’t buy it because they don’t know what to do with it, or they steer clear of it because they think it is some mutant rubber cube that cannot possibly be palatable.

So my ultimate goal for this blog is to eradicate the stigma that tofu is bland, boring, and just plain gross by showing you that there are delicious ways to incorporate it into your meals. I hope that you enjoy all of the recipes and wide range of health information that I’ll be sharing, but above all, I would love to hear that you are no longer afraid of “evil, scary tofu!”