Is Tofu Safe for Pregnancy?
Can pregnant women eat tofu? Much is being said about tofu and whether it is safe for pregnancy. You might be more curious than ever about this if you are going through a vegan pregnancy.
The good news is that you can enjoy tofu in moderation during your pregnancy. In this article, I will go over this topic more in-depth, in addition to the benefits and potential risks of consuming soy products.
What is tofu?
Tofu, or bean curd, is a popular food derived from soybeans. It is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it.
Tofu originated in China but has become increasingly popular across the globe due to its variety of textures from smooth and soft, to firm and crisp. You may see tofu come packaged in bricks with different textures (soft, medium, firm, extra firm) and can be flavoured during cooking.
Other common soy foods:
Soy is an ingredient found not only in tofu but also in many other foods. It comes from soybean plants and is considered a legume.
Common soy foods include:
- Soy milk
- Miso paste
- Soy sauce
- Soy nuts
Nutritional facts about tofu
Tofu is high in protein and contains all the essential amino acids your body needs, making it an excellent protein source for vegans. In addition, it provides fats, some carbs, and a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Here are the nutritional facts for a half-cup serving (100 g) of raw, firm tofu prepared with calcium sulphate based on USDA:
- Calories: 144
- Protein: 17 grams
- Carbohydrates: 3 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Fat: 9 grams
- Calcium: 53% of the daily value (DV)
- Manganese: 51% of the DV
- Copper: 42% of the DV
- Selenium: 32% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 18% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 15% of the DV
- Iron: 15% of the DV
- Magnesium 14% of the DV
- Zinc: 14% of the DV
Is tofu safe for pregnancy?
For most of us, tofu is perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy. As long as you don’t overdo it and are eating a wide variety of other healthy foods, tofu is safe during pregnancy.
Think about eating ice cream – you wouldn’t typically eat a big tub of ice cream in one setting daily. The same goes with tofu in the way that moderation is key. Now let’s dive into the most common misconceptions about tofu.
Is tofu OK in early pregnancy (the first trimester?)
There are no safety concerns about eating tofu in the first trimester of pregnancy. However, I recommend avoiding uncooked tofu during pregnancy.
Tofu is kept in the refrigerated section of your supermarket because it is a perishable food. It is considered a ‘high-risk vegan food’ because it can go bad if left at room temperature.
Although the odds of getting sick are small, cooking tofu is an easy step to eat safely during your pregnancy.
Concerns regarding tofu and autism in pregnancy
This is a big misconception. There is no evidence to suggest that consuming tofu or soy products during pregnancy can influence whether or not your child has autism.
Other risk factors, such as genetics and environmental factors, viral infections and medications during pregnancy can cause autism.
However, other studies show that there is a link between a diet high in processed foods could increase in the risks of autism.
Concerns of tofu increasing the risk of cancer in postmenopausal women
The fear of soy formula having estrogen-like effects is fueled by older animal studies reporting various abnormalities in animals exposed to soy isoflavones.
Moreover, isoflavones are found in tofu and soy products and are plant estrogens. Because high levels of estrogen are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, some assume that eating soy-based foods will have the same consequences. However, soy products don’t contain high enough levels of isoflavones to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Estrogen is much more potent than soy isoflavones, and animals metabolize soy isoflavones differently than humans.
Human studies have not shown the same. In fact, The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that soy products do not adversely affect the thyroid, breast or uterus in postmenopausal women.
Frequently asked questions about soy products
Can you drink soy milk during pregnancy?
Yes! Soy milk provides many benefits, for instance it contains significantly more calcium than other types, such as rice milk, almond milk and oat milk. Calcium during pregnancy is particularly important to build strong bones in your growing baby.
However, it is important to avoid drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk of any kind during pregnancy, as it may contain bacteria that can be harmful for you and your baby.
Two servings of soymilk per day is perfect and will give 600 mg of calcium which is two thirds of your daily needs.
Can you have soy sauce when pregnant?
Soy sauce is safe during pregnancy as long as it’s consumed in moderation. Too much soy sauce can be high in sodium and it contains alcohol, and heavy metals, which can be harmful to the developing fetus in excessive amounts.
A vegan pregnancy nutritionist can help you create a vegan meal plan that incorporates a safe amount of soy sauce in your diet.
Can you have miso when pregnant?
Yes, pregnant women can safely eat miso soup during first, second or third trimester. However it is important to keep an eye on sodium intake. In the third trimester, eating a lot of high-sodium foods may cause fluid retention.
Miso soup is a nutritious option for pregnant women, but check labels first and ensure you are not over the recommended daily limit of salt (6 g) or sodium (2,400 mg) which is about a teaspoon of salt every day.
Benefits of tofu during pregnancy
Great source of vegan protein
Unlike other plant proteins, tofu contains all nine amino acids your body can’t make.
We need these amino acids for growth, repair and functions like immunity. Studies have shown that tofu protein is comparable to animal protein.
It may support blood sugar control
One study has shown that adequate soy intake may play a beneficial role in the prevention of gestational diabetes.
In another study, women with gestational diabetes that consumed a diet rich in soy protein such as tofu for 6 weeks showed significantly lower blood sugar and insulin levels than those who did not consume soy protein.
Eating soy foods may protect against depression during pregnancy.
A study on pregnant women suggests that eating an average of 49 grams (1.8 ounces) of tofu per day could reduce the risk of developing depression during pregnancy by up to 28%.
The potential harm of tofu during pregnancy
Concerns about tofu and hypothyroidism
Tofu and soybeans are considered to be goitrogenic which means they interfere with the activity of the thyroid gland if you have hypothyroidism – a condition characterized by low production of thyroid hormones.
This condition is generally treated with a synthetic thyroid hormone, in which soy can affect the thyroid gland in some people with this condition.
It is advised to limit soy consumption until the problem is corrected. Additionally, It is recommended to limit tofu or soy intake 3 hours before and 1 hour after taking your thyroid medication.
Therefore, there is no evidence that people need to avoid tofu completely. I highly recommend speaking to your doctor for safe instructions about taking your medications while consuming tofu during pregnancy if you have hypothyroidism.
Tofu from GMO sources
According to the Word Health Organization, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are “organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”
There are numerous concerns about genetically modified crops’ health impact and environmental safety.
A vegan pregnancy nutritionist recommends sticking to certified organic and non-GMO tofu and soy products only!
What is the recommended amount of tofu during pregnancy?
Consuming tofu and soy products in moderation is beneficial for your health. However, no official guidelines exist on how much tofu/soy product one should consume.
It is best to consume soy in moderation, as the U.S Soybean Export Council recommends. Sticking to just a serving or two per day is likely safe and will give you added health benefits.
However, according to a vegan pregnancy nutritionist, 2-4 servings of tofu or soy products is safe to consume daily.
Examples of moderate serving sizes of tofu/soy are:
- ½ cup of tofu
- ½ cup of soy milk
- ½ cup of edamame
- ½ cup of soy meat substitute
It is important to note that every person is different and your vegan pregnancy nutritionist can give you more specific recommendations.
Tofu is a highly nutritious plant-based food that you can incorporate into your diet in moderation while keeping the rest of your diet balanced and drinking plenty of water during pregnancy.
If you regularly consume foods containing soy, such as tofu, you may benefit from speaking to a Vegan pregnancy dietitian for more guidance about how much is safe for you to eat during pregnancy.