This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on May 21, 2014.
A growing number of young women are choosing tofu as a protein source, but new research says it’s rarely for health reasons. Price, ease of cooking and distant expiration date were among the most popular reasons meat eaters agreed to try tofu.
Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab surveyed more than 500 nonvegetarian women ages 20 to 35 about why they do – or don’t – cook with tofu. The researchers chose this group because they were the most likely to be purchasing and preparing food for their families. Tofu maker House Foods partially funded the study.
The women who already eat tofu commonly said they like it because it’s high in protein, easy to cook and can be made without genetically modified crops. The women who don’t eat tofu often said they don’t like the taste or texture, they don’t know how to prepare it or they think it’s too expensive.
When non-tofu-eaters learned tofu is high in protein and calcium and doesn’t have cholesterol, they were 12 percent more likely to try it. But they were 44 percent more likely to try it if they saw the actual price, received a recipe for a 10-minute tofu meal, or were told it has a long shelf life or “cooks like chicken.”
The Cornell researchers published their findings in the journal Eating Behaviors and theorize that promoting price and convenience might encourage people to try other healthy foods, too.
Over the years, tofu and soy have been the subject of medical debates because they contain phytoestrogens, or natural compounds that are chemically similar to estrogen, and could play a role in breast and other cancers. Large breast cancer studies from University of Southern California in 2013 and Vanderbilt in 2012 concluded that soy is not harmful and may even help reduce the risk of breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society currently includes tofu and other soy foods on the list of foods that may help prevent cancer.