Tofu is a protein-rich bean curd made by coagulating soy milk. It is popular with those who follow a plant based or plant heavy diet. But is tofu gluten free? Let’s take a look.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is a by-product of soy, made from coagulating soy milk. It is made from a few simple ingredients, including soybeans, water, and a coagulant, like salts or enzymes.
To make tofu, soybeans are soaked, the soy solids (known as okara) are separated from the milk, the milk is coagulated, and then the tofu curds are pressed together to form a block.
There are several different types of tofu, varying in texture and consistency. You can find extra firm, firm, soft, and silken tofu, each used for different purposes. Extra firm and firm tofu have textures similar to cooked meat, so they work well in stir fry and soups, and grilled as steaks. Soft and silken tofu have more delicate textures that can be blended into sauces or smoothies or used in desserts like mousse or pudding.
Is Tofu Gluten Free?
When made simply, tofu’s 3 basic ingredients are completely gluten free unless they become contaminated in growing or processing.
Cross contamination can happen to soybeans if the ingredients are grown or harvested in the same field as gluten containing grains, or if they are processed in the same facility as gluten containing grains or products.
In addition to cross contamination, tofu can also be prepared to contain gluten, either in a packaged prepared product, like tofu marinated in a gluten containing soy sauce.
Therefore, it is important to always check the packages and inquire with manufacturers and those who are preparing your food when buying tofu from a store or at a restaurant to ensure that your tofu is gluten free.
Are There Health Benefits of Tofu?
For those on a strict vegan or vegetarian diet, tofu can be a good plant based alternative to meat. Tofu contains essential vitamins and nutrients, including the 9 amino acids your body needs, plus copper, phosphorus, and magnesium.
However, in addition to ensuring that your tofu is gluten free, we also recommend ensuring that it is organic. Soy is a crop that is often genetically modified and heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides that can be detrimental to your overall health. Organic soybeans are not genetically modified and are not sprayed with the same chemicals as their conventional counterparts.
In addition, research has shown that when compared to genetically modified and conventional soybeans, organic soybeans showed the healthiest nutritional profile. They contained “significantly more” protein and zinc than conventional and genetically modified soy. Organic soybeans also contained less total saturated fat and total omega-6 fatty acids than both conventional and genetically modified soy. Genetically modified soy contained high residues of glyphosate and aminomethylphosponic acid – the major degradation product of glyphosate (AMPA). Glyphosate has been linked to cancers and other health issues.
Considerations for Soy
Research has shown that just like gluten, soy can cause villous atrophy in the small intestine. In practice, we have seen that many people react similarly to soy as they do to gluten, and there are many similar symptoms when it comes to soy and gluten reactions.
Therefore, If you have not responded to a gluten free diet and are still feeling symptoms, you may want to look into the possibility that soy or other food allergens are also playing a role in your health journey.
The Bottom Line: Tofu and Gluten
Tofu is a by-product of soybeans and when made simply, does not inherently contain any gluten. However, it is important to trust the source of your tofu to ensure that the soybeans were not cross contaminated in farming or processing. It is also important to read the labels and/or ask questions of any prepared tofu products or dishes. Tofu is often marinated and sauteed or fried which can introduce gluten into the product or dish.
Overall, tofu can be a good way to add some variety and protein into your gluten free diet, but if you are not feeling your best, even on a gluten free diet, you may be reacting to soy. Visit Gluten Free Society for more tips and tricks on how best to adopt and adhere to a gluten free diet, and reach out with any questions.
Not sure if you have gluten sensitivity? Take the sensitivity test!