My mother died of breast cancer, so the sword of Damocles hangs over my head. I'm always looking for allies in my personal fight for survival. I'm discovering that soy is on my side.
Studies show that naturally occurring dietary components in soy products, like tofu, soy milk and soy sprouts, can significantly reduce risks for several kinds of cancer.
A study done in Singapore, for instance, looked at the eating habits of more than 600 women and found that those who ate the most soy foods were half as likely to get breast cancer as those who ate soy foods rarely, according to the Tofu Times newsletter.
They also reported on studies in Japan, China and the United States that show colon and rectal cancer are lower by 50 percent in people who eat soy foods daily vs. once a week or less.
Other studies show reduced risks for stomach, lung and prostate cancer.
But most of us don't eat tofu and can hardly think where to start.
Elaine Grossman, R.D., in that same newsletter says the easiest way to introduce tofu is to add 2 cups of boiling water to one large package of lime diet gelatin.
Let it cool. Then throw it in a blender with one package of silken firm tofu. Blend until creamy smooth. Refrigerate a full hour. One serving has less than 25 calories.
Personally, I'm not big on lime gelatin, so I'll probably try cherry. Otherwise, it sounds easy enough and pretty non-threatening.
Tofu has no significant flavor of its own, and tends to absorb the flavors of foods it's cooked with. I've been to some taste testings where it was chunked up or mashed and mixed with spicy carriers like barbecue or spaghetti sauce. All I could taste was the delicious sauce on a bun or over pasta, so it seemed pretty familiar and tasted good.
Recipes I've been looking at slice firm tofu into strips or chunks to add to salads or stir fries. In fact, many salad bars offer tofu, so you can start with just a few bits and pieces.
Unlike the silken tofu blend above, firm tofu is not a low-fat food. One-half cup can have nearly 200 calories and 11 grams of fat. But that's not all bad. If you're using it as a meat replacement, that 1/2 cup of tofu provides 20 grams of protein, equal to three ounces of meat. Health food stores are now offering "light" versions, with reduced fat levels.
Soft tofu has the consistency of scrambled eggs and can be cooked with a variety of vegetables to make an omelet-type meal. Here's a recipe from Dr. Dean Ornish's latest book, "Eat More Weigh Less." The chef is Jean-Marc Fullsack of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
Scrambled Mexican Tofu
Makes 6 one cup servings.
3 cups egg whites
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup diced onions
2 tablespoons chopped roasted green chili
6 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or cilantro
1/2 pound soft tofu
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 fresh tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until broken up and just beginning to foam. Crumble the tofu finely and add to the egg mixture. Add the soy sauce, turmeric and pepper. Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the tomato, onions, garlic, chili and cumin until the onion is translucent and all the liquid has evaporated.
Add the egg whites and tofu mixture. Stir well with a wooden spoon and scramble over medium heat until the egg whites are thoroughly cooked.
Toss in chives or cilantro. Serve hot.
109 calories; 2 grams fat; 0 cholesterol; 702 mg. sodium.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.