A few weekends ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to takeover the I Quit Sugar Instagram, letting people into a little slice of the Naturo Medico life. Lots of you are reading this because of the exposure this social media stunt gave me so 'WELCOME!' and I hope you enjoy my recipes.
Everything was going along fabulously until I uploaded the photo of this recipe. Suddenly I started to see comments such as "Seriously @iquitsugar TOFU!!??? this is not a nourishing food?" "Also terrible for the planet" and "I don't understand people who still promote tofu as a healthy food". I started to worry, then I started to get frustrated and it ended with me telling myself "you've got this, you know this" and writing a response to the disgruntled viewers in confidence. As a health practitioner, I have a duty to ensure my research is thorough and up to date so I can provide the upmost level of care. The controversial topic of soy is one I have had to wrap my head around (literally! the amount of information out there is endless) to be able to provide answers when my clients ask me.
The soy bean is a legume. It is reasonably cheap and easy to grow which has resulted in it's overuse as a food additive, as animal feed and ultimately lead to it's development as a genetically modified (GM) 'biotech crop' by GM mastermind, Monsanto. None of those aspects about soy are good nor supported. In terms of soy consumption, it is recommended that you consume soy in it's natural form (i.e. tofu, tempeh) and that you source a preferably local brand that is GM-free and organic. Natural soy has had a number of studies conducted on it and the outcomes are positive. So what's all the fuss about then?
SOY IS A PHYTOESTROGEN
Soy is a phytoestrogen - a plant compound that can mildly mimic our own oestrogen. An assumption could be made that consuming soy could lead to an overload of oestrogen and hence could have a detrimental effect on fertility, hormone-related cancers and other physiological functions that require oestrogen. The research out there does not support this assumption and actually proves that soy may be beneficial for a number of issues related to hormones, in particular for breast cancer reoccurrence in post-menopausal women (1). In relation to fertility, the jury is out. If infertility is related to undiagnosed hypothyroidism or iodine deficiency, soy may have a role to play but in terms of it having an independent effect on fertility, there is no solid evidence to say it's going to ruin your chances (2).
SOY CAN BE HIGHLY PROCESSED
A lot of the negative feedback on soy comes from it's use as processed food. Asian societies have been consuming natural soy for hundreds of years and these countries just so happen to be the ones with the lowest rate of breast cancer. Not only this but the inception of the "Western Diet" also appears to be effecting these figures on breast cancer and increasing the prevalence in these same countries (4). What does this say? That natural is better. Consume soy in the form of tempeh, tofu, soy sauce, natto or miso and become aware of the addition of soy to a number of processed foods. Foods such as frozen meals, chewing gums, chocolate, some processed breads, protein bars and meats may contain soy products so check your labels and avoid it where you can.
SOY IS A GOITROGEN
A goitrogen is a substance that interferes with iodine uptake to the thyroid gland which can result in the enlargement of the thyroid gland, also known as a goitre. This is why many people will pin hypothyroidism on soy consumption. However, studies have shown that for people with no existent thyroid issues, who are iodine-replete are not effected by the consumption of soy (3). For those who do suffer from hypothyroidism, it is important to ensure adequate iodine intake or to avoid eating soy so you do not stop yourself from absorbing the iodine you've already got.
HOW TO ENJOY SOY
In short, soy in it's genetically-modified and processed form is not something I recommend to anyone and I believe it should be avoided where possible. I also do not believe that soy, in any of it's forms, needs to be excluded by everyone. In its natural form, soy has a number of health benefits including its use as a phytoestrogen that many of us can gain from. Consume products in moderation such as tofu, tempeh, miso, soy sauce and soy milk made from whole soy beans and do so in confidence that you are not doing yourself a disservice. If you suffer from hypothyroidism or are taking thyroid medication, ensure you are having adequate intake of iodine to counteract the effect of soy or avoid it all together.
As with everything, moderation is key. Soy all day, every day is not good for anyone just as steak all day, every day isn't. Be real and eat your crispy peppered tofu because its just about one of the most delicious things there is.
For the dressing
1.5 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, unsalted
1.5 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tspn lime juice
1.5 tspn olive oil
2 tspn soy sauce
1 tbsp honey or brown rice syrup
1 small garlic clove
1 cm cube of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
a sprinkle of salt
1 tbsp shiracha (optional)
1/2 tspn sesame oil
For the salad
1 cup red cabbage, finely sliced
1 cup plain cabbage, finely sliced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin sticks
1 red capsicum, finely sliced into strips
1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped
1/2 cup peanuts
For the tofu
250g hard tofu, cut into triangles
1 cup corn flour
1 tbsp pepper, ground
1 tsp salt
Coconut oil, for frying
1. To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blitz until smooth. The dressing will be quite thick at this stage. You can loosen it up with water, 1 tbsp at a time until the desired consistency is met. Taste and adjust to your liking.
2. Prepare the salad by chopping up all the vegetables (except the peanuts) into a slaw and placing them into a mixing bowl. Once they're all in there, mix them together thoroughly and set aside.
3. For the tofu, set up two plates next to each other and place the corn flour, pepper and salt onto one of them. Combine these ingredients well so that when you coat the tofu, each piece gets a good dose of pepper. One by one, dip each triangle of tofu into the mixture and set onto the empty plate, ready for cooking.
4. Heat a fry pan on medium heat, place the peanuts into the pan and dry toast until they are beginning to go golden brown. Remove from the heat and place into the mixing bowl.
5. In the same pan, heat about a tablespoon of coconut oil over medium-high heat until melted. Keeping the temperature reasonably high (without smoking yourself out), add the tofu to the pan and begin frying it off. The higher temperature helps you achieve a crispier coating.
6. While the tofu is cooking, pour the peanut sauce over your salad and toss well. Place the salad into two bowls, ready to be topped with the tofu.
7. Once one side of the tofu is golden and crispy (2-3 minutes), flip them over to cook the other side. Once they're cooking on both sides, remove from the heat and split the tofu between the two bowls. Sprinkle with some fresh coriander and enjoy.
- you can adjust the seasoning of the tofu to your own preferred taste by decreasing or increasing the amount of pepper you add. You can also add other spices such as chilli powder to give it even more of a kick
- if you are saving some of the salad, do not mix the dressing through as it will become soggy if left for a long period of time. Instead, serve the dressing on the side or drizzle it over the top of each individual serve as you eat it
1. Shu XO, Zheng Y, Cai H, et al. Soy food intake and breast cancer survival. JAMA. 2009;302:2437-2443
2. Kurzer, M.S., 2002. Hormonal Effects of Soy in Premenopausal Women and Men. The Journal of Nutrition, 132(Table 1), p.545S–546S.
3. Messina, M. & Redmond, G., 2006. Effects of soy protein and soybean isoflavones on thyroid function in healthy adults and hypothyroid patients: a review of the relevant literature. Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association, 16(3), pp.249–58.
4. He, F.-J. & Chen, J.-Q., 2013. Consumption of soybean, soy foods, soy isoflavones and breast cancer incidence: Differences between Chinese women and women in Western countries and possible mechanisms. Food Science and Human Wellness, 2(3-4), pp.146–161.