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    Archive for the ‘tofu’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Tempeh vs. Tofu

    Sliced_tempehIn some of your posts, you have mentioned that tempeh (pictured, left) is more nutritious than tofu.

    Is that just because tempeh is fermented, or are there more reasons?

    — Sarah Bertanke
    (Location withheld)

    While tempeh’s fermentation process certainly gives it a nutritional (and probiotic!) boost, there is more to this tale.

    FYI: Fermentation reduces soybeans’ phytate content, thereby making their zinc and iron much more bioavailable.

    Whereas tofu is made by coagulating soy milk with a precipitating agent (in most cases calcium sulfate, thus the high amounts of calcium in tofu), tempeh is made from whole soybeans.

    The presence of said soybeans — in some cases along with wild rice or flax — makes tempeh a high-fiber food.

    While four ounces of tofu provides 1.5 grams of fiber, that same amount of tempeh adds up to 11 grams!

    Due to its “whole food” status, tempeh is also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, and potassium.

    Tempeh is also significantly higher in protein and omega-3 Alpha-Linolenic fatty acids than tofu.

    Although I enjoy the taste of both, I am partial to tempeh’s nutty flavors and unique mouth-feel.


    You Ask, I Answer: Genetic Modification, Tempeh

    tempeh_smokystrips_detailYour post on genetically modified foods was very distressing to read, and that interview you linked to even more so.

    Are fruits like seedless clementines genetically modified?

    [You mentioned that 91 percent of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified].  I have always been so suspect of soy, anyway.

    Is tempeh soy-based?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    The issue of genetically modified foods is simultaneously disturbing, frightening, and… extremely new.

    I have a feeling that as we progress through this current decade, we will begin to learn more about the possible health effects of diets high in genetically modified organisms.  The frustrating angle, of course, is that we are not always made aware whether a certain food is genetically modified or not.

    FYI: late last night, Dr. Marion Nestle uploaded a must-read post about the latest studies on genetically modified foods.

    Onto your questions.

    While clementines (seedless mandarins, for all intents and purposes) sound like a genetically modified dream, they are not (yay!).

    It turns out clementines grow without seeds simply by being planted in isolation from other citrus fruits.

    As for tempeh: yes, it is soy-based.  Specifically, tempeh is made up of fermented soybeans.  That fermentation process, by the way, makes it nutritionally superior to tofu.

    The key with tempeh is to be familiar with the various brands.  I can tell you that Lightlife tempeh products (their “Fakin’ Bacon” tempeh strips are glorious!) and Turtle Island tempeh products (love their sesame garlic marinated tempeh strips) do not contain genetically-modified soybeans.

    What’s very ironic is that most people who are consuming high amounts of genetically-modified soy aren’t necessarily eating tempeh or tofu.

    Remember — soy by-products (like soybean oil, soy protein isolate, and soy flour) are commonly used in a variety of processed foods, from chips to shelf-stable pastries to protein bars.  That’s where most of the genetically-modified soy is going.


    You Ask, I Answer: Tofu Concerns

    iron-source-edamame-soybeans-lgI am a vegetarian and eat tofu, but I am hearing two things about tofu that are bothering me.

    1) Tofu has large amounts of antibiotics or other additives dangerous to the human body.

    2) In order to make tofu and fulfill the global need for tofu, the Brazilians have undertaken an incredible rate of slash and burn to clear fields to make way for planting of soybeans.

    What are your thoughts?

    — Barlow Humphreys
    Westchester, NY

    1) Tofu does not contain antibiotics.

    The use of antibiotics only comes into play with animals that have them mixed into their feed.

    Non-organic tofu contains pesticides, but there are no “dangerous additives” in soy products.

    2) Brazil is one of the world’s top producers of soy.

    It is certainly true that the increased demand for soy (along with corporate-owned genetically modified soy crops that can practically grow anywhere) have led to a staggering amount of deforestation there.

    That said (and please do not take this to mean I am dismissing that as unimportant) — meat production takes an even larger toll on the environment, as it requires the use of more land, significantly more water usage, and creates a larger amount of waste.

    One way to “pitch in”, from an environmental standpoint, is to purchase soy products made exclusively from soybeans that are not genetically modified, since non-GMO soybeans are usually grown more responsibly.

    Although over 90 percent of the world’s soybeans are genetically modified, most of those are used to make soy by-products (ie: soybean oil, soy protein isolate) used in processed food.

    When it comes to soy products, I recommend prioritizing tempeh (fermented soy) and edamame (picture alongside this post), as these are the most nutritious and less processed varieties.

    Next on the list are tofu and soy-based dairy products.

    Processed foods made largely with soy protein isolates (ie: soy chips, soy bars, soy burgers, soy protein powders) should be considered “occasional treats”.

    Soy can only be considered a health food when it is consumed in a minimally processed form.  A sprinkle of soy dust on a corn chip is hype, not health.


    Survey Results: Calcium Education

    calcium-richThe latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they perceived mainstream advice on calcium-rich foods to be too focused on dairy products.  Ninety-two percent of the sixty-seven respondents said “yes.”

    I certainly think consumer knowledge and awareness of non-dairy sources of calcium in the United States — and other Western nations — is practically non-existent.

    Although dairy products certainly offer calcium, so do some leafy green vegetables (bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens), canned fish (salmon with bones, sardines), chickpeas, tempeh, and almonds.

    Part of the “problem” is that the majority of educational materials on calcium are paid for — and distributed — by the National Dairy Council, which not only plunks down $100 million annually in advertising, but also doles out as much money in the way of research grants.

    I recently conducted a small-scale research project which, among other things, examined calcium awareness among vegans and non-vegans.

    One part of the questionnaire respondents were asked to fill out included a food frequency questionnaire which included 41 foods that were high, moderate, or low sources of calcium.

    A subsequent question asked respondents to list any foods in that list they were not aware contained calcium.  Almost two thirds of those surveyed were surprised to see broccoli, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, chickpeas, and tempeh make the list.

    Hey, PETA, how about giving the silly publicity gimmicks a break (you know, like your campaigns to have breast milk in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or change the name of the Pet Shop Boys to The Rescue Shelter Boys?) and investing a significant amount of money in educational materials for the general population on non-dairy sources of calcium?


    Ready, Set, Scramble!

    Scrambled tofu is a highly polarizing brunch entrée.

    Many people — including myself — love the fluffy texture and savory tones, while others gag just reading those two words on a menu.

    In my experience, though, most carnivores who think tofu is the creation of demonic forces with bland palates end up changing their perception of the soy-based food after a few bites of a well-made tofu scramble.

    The one kink is that, as delicious as it is, its preparation involves the chopping and dicing of many vegetables.

    As wonderful a brunch dish it is, I often find it hard to motivate myself to prepare it on a lazy Sunday morning.

    Imagine, then, how pleased I was to stumble upon Fantastic World Foods’ tofu scrambler seasoning.

    All you need to do is buy a package of extra firm tofu (found at most supermarkets’ produce section), crumble it in a bowl, add the seasoning, mix it all up, and then heat everything in a slightly oiled pan.

    Best part of all? Each seasoning packet clocks in at 800 milligrams of sodium, meaning that even if shared by just two people (that’s quite a bit of scramble!), you are only getting 400 milligrams a piece.

    The ingredient list is also a pleasure to read. Barley flakes, dried vegetables, and a variety of spices are the main ingredients.

    There is no “onion flavoring” or “celery flavoring,” but actual onions and celery. Imagine that!

    In total, a tofu scramble prepared this way and shared by two adds up to:

    262 calories
    1.3 grams saturated fat

    400 milligrams sodium

    4 grams fiber

    21 grams protein

    Accompany it with a slice of whole grain toast topped with a tablespoon of your nut butter of choice and you have a nutritious breakfast that is ready to be served before the coffee is done brewing.


    Quick & Health(ier) Recipes: Vegan Peanut Butter Pie

    Standard peanut butter pie recipes call for generous amounts of cream cheese and frozen whipped topping, resulting in rather decadent nutrition values.

    You’re usually looking at 455 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat (40% of a day’s worth!) and 30 grams (almost 8 teaspoons) of added sugar per slice.

    As much as I love a decadent dessert, wouldn’t it be nice to savor a rich, silky slice of pie that doesn’t pack quite a stomach blow?

    Well, feast your eyes on the following recipe for a vegan peanut butter pie which cuts back on calories, sugar, and saturated fat — but certainly not on taste.

    Before anyone scrunches up their nose and declares it “gross,” you should know that peanut butter pie lovers are shocked when I tell them the slice of pie they are raving about doesn’t contain a single drop of cream cheese or Cool Whip!

    Yields: 1 pie (8 slices)


    1 16-ounce package of silken tofu
    3/4 cup smooth, natural peanut butter
    2 Tablespoons soymilk (unsweetened or plain is best)
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 Tablespoon vanilla extract


    Add ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth.

    Scoop onto 9″ pie shell (bonus points if it’s oat-based or 100% whole wheat!) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.


    335 calories
    2.5 grams saturated fat
    12 grams sugar
    11 grams protein

    That’s 120 less calories, two thirds less saturated fat, and half the sugar of a standard recipe.

    Better yet — the peanut butter is a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.



    In The News: Nutritional Sensationalism

    “Tofu ‘may raise risk of dementia,” BBC’s headline cries out.

    Well, read further and you discover that’s a bit of a stretch.

    A recent study published in the journal Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders discovered that “high tofu consumption – at least once a day – was associated with worse memory, particularly among [men and women over the age of 68.]”

    It’s worth pointing out that this study only had 719 participants, all of whom lived in the urban and rural regions of Java, Indonesia.

    In other words, this isn’t the type of research study that pulls too much weight.

    According to the research, “phytoestrogens – in high quantity – may actually heighten the risk of dementia” among adults over the age of 65.

    More specifically, it is believed that “phytoestrogens tend to promote growth among cells, not necessarily a good thing in the ageing brain.”

    Very well.

    But then we get to this jewel:

    “A third theory is that damage is caused not by the tofu, but by formaldehyde, which is sometimes used in Indonesia as a preservative.”

    I have read the study, which specifically mentions that formaldehyde “can induce oxidative damage to fontal cortex and hippocampal tissue.”

    Interestingly, damage to the the frontal cortex manifests as the classic Alzheimer’s action of performing an action repeatedly several times, as well as a deterioration in complex reasoning.

    Hippocampal tissue, meanwhile, is damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

    I really dislike the way the media presents these studies because they leave out crucial details and often times unfairly demonize a food that doesn’t deserve such a horrid reputation.

    Even the lead researcher Professor Eef Hogervorst raises the “Don’t be too tough on tofu” flag.

    “[She] stressed that there was no suggestion that eating tofu in moderation posed a problem.”

    Lastly, the overwhelming majority of research of nutrition and dementia points to plant-based diets rich in phytonutrients and whole grains to be the most effective at reducing risk.


    You Ask, I Answer: Soy

    I have heard some forms of soy (i.e.: the fermented kinds) are more healthy than others.

    I have also heard tofu is basically a processed product “cut” with the equivalent of plaster of Paris.

    Soy and soy-based products are tooted by the supposed health conscious community as wonder foods, and i think people are often misinformed in regards to soy products being healthy.

    For instance: those faux chicken patties. How can something so processed be healthy?

    Wouldn’t a person be better off choosing an organic grain-fed chicken breast over something of this nature? likewise, organic soymilk [unsweetened of course] vs organic milk??

    And what about soy estrogens???

    — Brooke Green
    Brooklyn, NY

    Thank you for bringing up the issue of “wonder foods.”

    Although certain foods are more nutritious than others (quinoa surpasses white bread, for example,) I think it is dangerous to label anything as a “wonder food.”

    Such a term inaccurately suggests such foods can be eaten in unlimited amounts.

    Remember — all calories, regardless of the source, add up.

    Extra virgin olive oil certainly has its health benefits, but drowning a salad in 4 tablespoons of it adds 500 calories.

    Anyhow, the key with soy — like with any other food — is to mainly consume it as minimally processed as possible.

    This applies to other foods as well. Take potatoes as an example. It is obviously better to consume them baked and with their skin than out of a Pringles tube.

    So, tempeh (fermented tofu) and edamame offer more nutrition than a processed soy product that could very well contain added sugars, excess sodium, and trans fat.

    This can also be equated to whole grains.

    Some people think a whole grain cookie is automatically healthier than a standard cookie. Not necessarily.

    If the whole grain cookie has twice the calories, sugar, and trans fat of the standard cookie, the whole grain benefit is thwarted.

    I consider the issue of faux chicken patties versus organic chicken breasts to be more about personal ethics than nutrition.

    I think many people choosing faux meats do so out of a personal decision to not eat meat, rather than from a “what is less processed?” angle.

    Keep in mind, though, that many times meat-based frozen products are nutritionally inferior to soy-based ones.

    As far as tofu is concerned — it is one thing to eat “tofu hot dogs” (which are highly processed and thereby high in sodium and chock full of preservatives,) but cubes of regular tofu (pictured, right) thrown into a vegetable stir fry is a great way for vegetarians to get protein, calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

    As for the soy-based estrogens, the only people who should be concerned are women living with breast cancer who consume four or more servings of soy on a daily basis.

    Otherwise, there is absolutely no research showing that one or two daily servings of soy in a healthy individual poses any sort of health risk.

    I don’t recommend gobbling down oodles of soy every day because it contributes quite a bit of Omega 6 fatty acids to the diet (which in itself is not bad, but the typical US diet provides way too much of it and not enough Omega 3’s — nowhere near the ideal ratio.)


    You Ask, I Answer: Osteoporosis

    I am a 56 year old woman diagnosed with osteoporosis.

    I would like to know the best way to incorporate calcium [in]to my diet.

    — Maria Barbosa

    Before I answer your specific question, let’s briefly discuss the larger issue.

    Osteoporosis — a condition in which bone tissue deteriorates and bone density decreases, thereby weakening the skeletal system (see accompanying illustration) — is especially prevalent among women.

    In the United States alone, it is estimated that approximately 10 million adults currently live with osteoporosis, and an astounding 75 percent of them are women.

    In case you are wondering about the difference between these two groups, a decline in estrogen at menopause is associated with decreased bone density.

    Men, meanwhile, are protected by testosterone. Although testosterone levels decrease with age, they are still at a sufficient range to guard against the onset of osteoporosis.

    Since osteoporosis is “symptom free” (you don’t feel weak, bloated, tired, or get headaches), it is completely feasible to develop it and be completely unaware of this for years.

    To discuss how osteoporosis starts – and how to make the necessary changes once diagnosed with it – let’s go back to the beginning.

    Our bones are a vast storage unit for a handful of minerals, especially calcium.

    It’s important to have a strong reserve of calcium because we lose it on a daily basis.

    All bodily excretions (sweat, urine, and feces) contain calcium, and our nails require it for production and growth.

    Calcium is also needed for a variety of bodily functions (i.e.: forming blood clots).

    Consume adequate amounts of this mineral every day and you easily replenish any losses.

    If calcium intake is insufficient, that’s where the problem begins.

    The body, desperate for calcium, doesn’t find any circulating in the blood and goes to the trusted storage unit for some.

    In turn, bones are demineralized and broken down.

    Imagine this happening on a daily basis for ten, twenty, even thirty years!

    By the time you hit the fifty or sixty year-old mark, your bones are — not surprisingly — quite fragile and acutely demineralized.

    Although many people automatically equate osteoporosis with calcium, there are other factors to keep in mind.

    A crucial one is Vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium (this is why you often see calcium supplements also containing Vitamin D).

    As I have explained before, Vitamin D is not found in many foods (the best source is actually the sun).

    If you live in an area of the world that does not receive much sunlight for five or so months of the year, or if your dermatologist has strongly recommended you always use UV-proof skin lotions, you run the risk of being significantly deficient.

    The solution? Reach for a daily supplement! Aim for 1,000 International Units a day.

    Protein also plays a role in preventing osteoporosis.

    Both sides of the spectrum – not getting enough or getting too much – are problematic.

    A lack of protein in the diet will hinder the body’s ability to repair and rebuild bone tissue.

    An excess, meanwhile, results in urine outputs with higher calcium levels than normal.

    Phosphoric acid is also worth paying attention to. Found in regular and diet sodas, it disturbs the body’s calcium balance mechanism, often resulting in calcium being leeched from bones.

    Sodium – a mineral the majority of people in the United States overconsume– also plays a role in osteoporosis.

    High sodium intakes increase calcium losses through the urine (a result of the body attempting to keep various mineral levels proportional).

    With all that in mind, how can you be proactive about lowering your risk of developing osteoporisis (and maintaing what bone mass you do have at the time you are diagnosed with it)?

    From a nutritional standpoint, make sure you get sufficient amounts of calcium and Vitamin D and that you do not surpass maximum recommendations for sodium and protein.

    Aim for 800 – 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.

    To answer your question, all dairy products are a great source, as are tofu, almonds, oats, and any fortified products.

    Spinach, however, is one food that gets way too much credit.

    Although it offers substantial amounts of various nutrients, don’t put it in your osteoporosis defense kit.

    Spinach offers significant amounts of calcium, but also contains high levels of oxalate, a compound that binds to calcium and greatly reduces its absorbability in our gastrointestinal tract.

    The good news is that oxalates only affect calcium absorption of the food they are in.

    So, if you’re having a spinach and tofu stirfry, only the dark leafy green vegetable’s calcium will be practically rendered useless.

    Aside from nutrition, one of the best things you can do to minimize your risk of developing osteoporosis (and prevent further bone demineralization if you have already been diagnosed) is weight-bearing exercises.

    This does not mean you need to necessarily start lifting heavy weights or buildmuscles. It’s really just about performing physical activity in which the muscles have to resist weight.

    Remember, bone strengthens up when stressed. Hence, challenging it with weights on a regular basis helps to maintain — and even increase — its density.

    As you can see, there are helpful steps you can take at any stage of the game. There is no reason to give in to osteoporosis.


    Tasty Tofu (No, that is NOT a typo of "nasty").

    I can already hear my omnivore readers dry heaving.

    “Tasty tofu? Aren’t those two words antonyms?”

    As a vegetarian, I have heard tofu being slandered, cursed, teased, and shunned to the “I’d rather go hungry than eat (insert food here)” bin.

    It’s a shame, really. When tofu is prepared well (seasoned and paired with complementary flavors), it is a true pleasure to the palate.

    Unfortunately, many people are exposed to it in its steamed, practically tasteless version in Asian soups and platters. If that was my first impression of tofu, I would also ditch it faster than a hygienically-challenged blind date who lives in their parent’s basement.

    I use the word “shame” purposefully. After all, tofu is a nutrition powerhouse: high in protein, a very good source of potassium and calcium, low in sodium, and a contributor of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

    Just when I thought tofu was the white-headed stepchild, I stumbled across a line of tofu products by More Than Tofu that warmed my soy-loving heart.

    These blocks of tofu are already seasoned and available in a wide variety of flavors, from spinach-jalapeno to peanut-ginger and even Indian Masala.

    I immediately looked at the nutrition label, fearing the extra flavors would drown a healthy food in excessive sugar and sodium.

    I was pleasantly surprised!

    One two-ounce serving provides 80 calories, an inoffensive 160 milligrams of sodium, less than one gram of sugar, a commendable nine grams of protein, a measly half a gram of saturated fat, and eight percent of our daily calcium needs!

    Considering that a standard meal would comprise of two servings, this makes for quite a healthy, low-calorie component!

    Best way to prepare it? Heat up a teaspoon of olive oil in a pan over a medium-high flame. Prior to placing the tofu in the pan, cut it into very tiny pieces.

    Sautee the tofu for approximately five to seven minutes, until it acquires a golden brown color.

    Serve it alongside a cup of whole wheat couscous, brown rice, or quinoa. You’ll never look at tofu the same way again.


    You Ask, I Answer: Tofu

    What is the difference between soft and firm tofu?

    — Maria (last name unknown)
    Location Unknown

    Soft tofu (also known as silken tofu) contains more water than firm tofu.

    From a culinary standpoint, this makes them significantly different in the texture department (silken tofu is great for smoothies, but terrible for a stirfry, while the reverse holds true for the hard version of this vegetarian staple).

    The differences in water content also make for quite a difference in the nutrition department.


    Calories: 55 (soft) vs. 134 (firm)

    Fat: 3.3 grams (soft) vs. 9 grams (firm)

    Saturated Fat: .5 grams (soft) vs. 1.35 (firm)

    Calcium: 100 milligrams (soft) vs. 315 milligrams (firm)

    Protein: 6 grams (soft) vs. 12 grams (firm)

    As you may have noticed, a very small percentage of tofu’s fats are saturated. A good portion of its fats are heart-healthy Omega-3’s, the same ones found in flaxseed and walnuts.

    As a reminder – the recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 milligrams, so hard tofu is a most excellent source.


    You Ask, I Answer: Soy

    I eat a good amount of soy every day. What is your opinion on the studies that claim soy is anything but healthy?

    — Gretchen Trimm

    Greensborough, NC

    The soy debate has been going on for a while, and it only appears to be intensifying.

    Whereas many people appear to focus on whether soy is inherently good or bad, I think a more helpful way of looking at this issue is to consider how we are eating our soy.

    For instance, let’s take potatoes. I could easily make the case that potatoes are unhealthy if I base my research on people who only eat them as French fries, chips, or mashed potatoes loaded with butter and bacon bits.

    A similar thing is happening with soy.

    The studies showing the benefits of including soy in one’s diet referred to nutritious variations of it, whether it’s tossing actual soybeans into a salad, eating tempeh, or having steamed or grilled tofu.

    Unfortunately, once soy became popular in the United States, it was used to make soy chips, soy pretzels, and soy ice cream. In other words, soy became overshadowed by sodium, high fructose corn syrup, and a variety of food additives and unhealthy ingredients.

    Remember that the closer your food is to nature, the higher its vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant component.

    If someone’s only source of soy is unhealthy foods (i.e.: McDonald’s hamburgers and hamburger buns contain soy by-products), their nutrition status would clearly not benefit.

    Just like a plain baked potato is a better source of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium than a potato-ish concoction in a can of Pringles, minimally processed versions of soy offer health benefits not found in a convenience snack made out of soydust.

    I would not suggest anyone stop eating soy or consider it a harmful addition to their diet. If anything, products like edamame and tempeh are a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and protein.

    However, I also think it is wrong to view soy — or any other food — as miraculous or healthy if consumed in extremely high amounts.


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