To fu or not to fu? That is the question…..

I don’t usually get involved in discussions about eating GMO foods, the rights and wrongs of pesticides vs organic farming or get into fights about the dangers of estrogen in soy products. But while working at the Kathy Smart expo recently a lady told me she couldn’t be vegan because she would have to eat tofu and she couldn’t do that because of – you know – all the problems with estrogen. I looked at her blankly, with no idea where she was going with her comments. “You know….estrogens in tofu. It’s supposed to be really dangerous? It gives you breast cancer?” I asked her for more information, but that’s all she knew. Someone, somewhere, had told her that soy products would give her cancer. Personally I would be more worried about arsenic in chicken, heavy metals in fish and salmonella in eggs if I were her, but hey, what do I know? Not very much apparently.

In all fairness, I knew less about the potential dangers of eating soy products than the lady who was using them as an excuse for not being vegan. So to redress the balance, I’ve now spent some hours investigating the matter, and I’ve come up with some interesting stuff. Please bear in mind that I used to be a medical research scientist, so I find it really annoying when people make sweeping statements without adding citations to back them up. Or quote statistics without quantifying the size of the study or qualifying what the control group was. A study of 5 people is very different to a study with 5,000 subjects, and a study group of 15 white male college students is going to give different results to one involving 100 people of different ethnic backgrounds, ages and gender. It seems that health and nutrition pseudo-science readily ignores the realities of actual science in order to sell more books. I’ve avoided putting links to Dr. Oz shows, popular magazines or anecdotal stories. Let’s try to find some actual facts!

So, is eating tofu as an adult (I’m not getting into the murky waters of breast feeding vs soymilk baby formula today!) likely to give you cancer?

These are some of my findings, based on recent research:

Consumption of soy foods is associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men. This protection may be associated with the type and quantity of soy foods consumed.

Soy isoflavone intake could lower the risk of breast cancer for both pre- and post-menopausal women in Asian countries. However, for women in Western countries, pre- or post-menopausal, there is no evidence to suggest an association between intake of soy isoflavone and breast cancer.

Animal study shows why long-time consumption of soyfoods reduces breast cancer recurrence

The most recent studies support the idea that eating soy is a good thing as far as cancer is concerned. There are some low-key papers commenting on the benefits of eating fermented soy products rather than unfermented ones, but the actual data to support the claims is thin on the ground.  However, it seems to make sense that eating tofu or tempeh is a better choice than munching on heavily processed faux-meat soy based products.

The flip side of the coin is that some studies indicate that eating soy may reduce the efficiency of thyroid medications. This abstract (written in 2006 – I can’t locate the full article) suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on this issue, even though it featured in some chatty magazine articles from a few years ago.

Talking of chatty articles: If facts and figure’s aren’t your thing, check out this light-weight article written by some guy called Mark Hyman. I’m not endorsing him or his ideas in any way shape or form, I just thought this article was pretty good.

Sorry if this blog reads as if it was produced by the soy marketing board, but I’m just reporting what I found. Of course, as an ex-scientist I know that anyone can find research to support whatever theory they wish to propose. The biggest forms of deceit are lies, damn lies, and statistics lol.  I’d love to get feedback from you if you have an opposing view about soy with, of course, current research to back up your claims.

I know that once the Pandora’s box of eating tofu has been opened, topics such as “The dangers of GMOs” will pop out, but they can wait for another day….I don’t think my brain can handle any more scientific research papers today! I’m going to stop writing and cook myself some lunch. Yes, it’s got tofu in it 🙂

Tomato Miso Soup

If you want to turn this soup into a meal, double the amount of tofu and ladle the soup over two bowls of freshly cooked noodles.

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 large king oyster mushroom, thinly sliced OR 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 5 cups dashi or stock (Make sure your dashi is vegan! Look for konbu instant dashi with no bonito)
  • 1 cup (about 225g / 8oz) silken tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp red miso
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the tomatoes, leek and mushrooms for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the dashi, tofu and soy sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the miso with a small amount of the stock from the pan and add to the soup. Allow to simmer gently for 1 minute – do not let it come to a full boil. Divide the soup between four bowls and top with green onions. Stir gently before drinking because the miso will separate out while the soup is sitting in the bowl.


Karen 🙂

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Strange Things Heard at the Expo

Last weekend I had the pleasure of working at the Kathy Smart “Living the Smart Way” expo here in Ottawa. Kathy is a local-girl-gone-big, with a book, TV show and goodness knows what else under her wing. She promotes healthy living but, in all honesty, I can’t recommend Kathy’s book – the vast majority of the recipes contain eggs, dairy, meat or fish. She has a lot of gluten-free recipes, which makes her of interest to me as my youngest son has a severe gluten intolerance, but in my opinion she make some pretty big claims which I have trouble swallowing, such as flushing out belly fat using cranberries. I do agree with her on one thing. She makes a very good point when she says “Only you can take control of your health. No one can do that for you.”

I love working at large events, meeting a huge array of interesting people from a variety of backgrounds. I participated (as a vendor) in a large number of indoor and outdoor art shows when my kids were small, but since they grew up and left home I’ve let this slip out of my life. Sometimes I miss it, and sometimes it’s a relief to not have to stand there for long hours waiting, hoping, dreaming of the next sale. Wondering if the next person I speak to will be friendly, or rude and smug. People attending art and artisan shows can be quite brutal in their comments, seemingly forgetting that they are talking to someone who has invested many, many, many hours of work into each piece of their art or craft, and for whom it has often taken a huge act of courage to participate in a show. I’ve seen an artist quietly crying behind her booth after someone told her  that her artwork was utter crap “and my 4-year old could do better”. I’ve seen another fabulous artist answer the question of “How long did that piece take for you to make? It’s really overpriced..” with the cost of an art degree, the price of supplementary night-school classes, and the number of years it had taken her to get her art to where it is today.  Art is very subjective – one person could love a piece while someone else sees no merit in it. But creating art takes time, patience and passion, and artists should be treated with the respect they deserve.

But I digress! I was happy to work at a large event last weekend without the stresses and strains of being a vendor. On Saturday I helped people sign up for Kathy Smart’s on-line community group, and on Sunday I had the joy of telling people about the up-coming veg-fest in June while manning (personing?) the table for our local vegetarian association. When I asked people if they were vegetarian-ish I got a huge range of answers. The ones which made me happiest, of course, were “Actually, I’m vegan.” Fist-bump time 🙂 Others (mostly men) guffawed and said they might sometimes have a piece of lettuce with their steak. But everyone (apart from the guy who might have had a puff of something earlier) was friendly and receptive to the idea of attending an event showcasing plant-based, cruelty-free products. I saw none of the self-righteous anger I’ve sometimes seen exhibited by omnivores when talking to a vegan. The times, they are a-changing.

One of the fun things about talking to happy-non-confrontational-omnivores was hearing some of the reasons why they “could never be vegan”. There were the obvious comments of “I could never give up meat, it tastes too good.” “Come to Veg Fest and try some meat alternatives! You never know, you might like them :)” and “I just love cheese too much. I couldn’t live without it”. “Have you tried the Zengarry cashew “cheezes” on the far isle? They’re really good!“. Later, while wandering around after my shift at the table ended, I saw some of the people I’d talked to carrying Zengarry cheeze products which they’d purchased. One of them waved at me. “They’re really good!” she yelled. Happy days indeed. Strangely enough, my hubby doesn’t like Zengarry cheeze. He says it tastes too cheesy. Sometimes you just can’t win lol.

I think the strangest conversation I had was with a lady who owns a holistic / nutritional consultation business and had a booth at the show. She’d tried being vegetarian for a couple of weeks but realised that she couldn’t do it because of her blood type. She asked me mine – I’m O+. “But you’re not a vegetarian?” she asked. “Yes I am. I’m also dairy free and egg free.” She was starting to look worried. “But you’ve not been doing it for very long, have you?” “Getting on for 30 years….” It transpired that she also has O type blood, and “that’s why she can’t give up meat”. She had one last attempt at supporting her comments. “Do you find that you’re really tired and sluggish all the time?” I laughed. “Do I look tired and sluggish?” She had to admit that I did not. With a big confused frown on her face she picked up leaflets on how to eat a healthy plant-based diet, took the info card on veg fest and went back to her booth. Hopefully to reconsider her views on blood type based diets and to think about the health benefits of eating a balanced vegan diet.

The eating-for-your-blood-type diet was very popular a few years ago, and the book sold millions of copies. It was debunked in 2014 when a scientific researchers found that the theory behind the diet is not valid.
Theory behind popular blood-type diet debunked Source: University of Toronto.

There are many, many diets and supplements claiming to be the only way to loose weight, get fit, build muscle, gain energy, detoxify, cleanse, rejuvenate, fight aging and live forever while looking like a 20 year old. I’ve got some bad news for you. We’re all going to get older on a day-to-day basis, and we’re all going to die of something. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend my life chasing a rainbow looking for a pot of eternal-youth at the end of it. I’d rather eat a healthy, balanced, easy, stress-free diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains and plant-based proteins and wash it all down with a glass or two of wine every now and again. Why don’t you join me? It’s a nice way to live. It’s not the “Kathy-Smart” way, but I think it’s the smartest way 🙂 Eating “the vegan way” is healthy and delicious, and here’s a nice little soup to prove it:

Zucchini and Basil Soup

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces (about 3-4 cups)
  • 1 leek, cut into thin slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegan stock
  • Salt if needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions to garnish

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the zucchini, leek, garlic and celery over a medium high heat for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in the coconut milk and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes or until everything is tender. Process half the soup using a hand or countertop blender until smooth then mix with the remaining chunky portion of soup. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the basil and serve topped with green onions.

zucchiniSoup2 (Copy)

Karen 🙂

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Yes, I know the Chinese New Year was last week and this blog is a little late, but I have a ton of excuses. Really. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear them – they’re really not very creative, unlike some of the explanations I’ve been given in restaurants when I’ve found bits of animal in my food. One of my favourite comments is “You asked for vegetarian. There are vegetables in it”, closely followed by my second favourite of “But if you pick the meat out it will be vegetarian”. Sigh. I recently stopped in the doorway of a noodle house and asked “Do you have anything vegan on the menu?. The answer was a resounding “Yes!” so my lunch-date and I went in and sat down. I asked the waitress to show me the vegan items as I was having problems finding them. She looked at me in surprise and said “Oh – we don’t have any. I didn’t think you were vegan!” Sometimes I just don’t know what to say!

Occasionally when I get a non-vegan meal the fault appears to be mine, such as when I ordered lunch in a very Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Toronto.  They had a “vegetarian” section, so I selected a dish of tofu with vegetables. I checked that there was no meat, no meat stock, no chicken, no eggs, just vegetables and tofu (Yes – it’s vegetables. Tofu. No meat.), completely forgetting to say that I didn’t want an entire shoal of deep-fried tiny fish mixed in with the veggies.That’s a mistake I won’t be repeating!

The funniest, although accidental, animal-in-my-dinner incident occurred not long after Alan and I emigrated to Canada. We were in a Chinese restaurant and I was enjoying a steaming bowl of vegetarian hot sour soup. I was about half way through when I discovered, sitting in the middle of my spoon, an unusually large cooked fly. It had obviously been in there for a while. I called the waiter over and felt like I was acting out a scene from a really bad play when I declared “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” He looked at it in horror, then declared “It just flew in! Right now!” miming a dive-bombing fly as he spoke. I shook my head. “SH#T!” he exclaimed. “Sh#t Sh#t sh#t!!!!”. Other customers turned to look at him while I just sat there in astonishment. He pulled himself together and said “Would you like another one?” Unsure whether he was offering me another bowl of soup or another fly, I declined.

Despite the drowned fly incident, one of my all time favourite Chinese dishes has always been hot and sour soup. Sadly many restaurants don’t make a vegan version, serving only one made from beef stock and sliced animal bits. It’s nice that vegan versions are appearing more often, but I’ve had some which have been a bit unusual. I had a bowl of soup in a local (now closed) vegan restaurant which I couldn’t eat – and it’s unusual for me to reject anything vegan. It was so acidic I’m sure it stripped the enamel off my teeth. A non-Chinese, non-vegan restaurant gave me a bowl of peppery cabbage soup claiming that it was authentic meat-free hot sour soup, leading me to suspect that they had no idea what hot sour soup should really taste like. A “fusion” restaurant served me what appeared to be tomato soup with dried mushrooms in it. Still, I’ll give them some credit for at least trying to keep a vegan happy.

Hot and Sour Leek Soup

Dried black fungus, also known as cloud ear wood fungus, can be found in most Asian grocery stores. I usually buy it already shredded, cutting down on the preparation time just a fraction.

  • BLACKFUNGUS2 (Copy)2 tsp vegetable oil (or use water if you cook oil-free)
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and cut into shreds
  • 3 cups stock – I use a “beef flavour” vegan stock cube
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 cup (about half a 450g packet) semi-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 30 minutes in warm water, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup shredded black fungus, (optional) soaked for 30 minutes in warm water then drained
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp white vinegar
  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the leek over a medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until lightly browned in places.
  2. Stir in the stock (be careful – it might splash), soy sauce, black pepper, tofu, mushrooms and fungus. Hmm, fungus. It’s yummier than it sounds!
  3. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the water and vinegar to the cornstarch and mix well. Pour into the soup, allow to thicken for 1 minute while stirring, sprinkle with green peppers and serve immediately.


My recipe keeps it simple and it tastes like the hot and sour soup of my childhood memories back in England.  Feel free to add whatever you expect to find in your soup bowl, such as sliced bamboo shoots, a splash of sesame oil, some dried red chillies, fresh bean sprouts…or whatever you like. And if you have a hardened omnivore coming for dinner, you know which bowl to put the fly in, should one accidentally end up in your pan 😉

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.