Breast Cancer and Asian-Inspired Tofu BBQ Sliders

As you know, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month.  According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer.  What an alarming statistic! However, I am not too surprised…. how many of us know at least one dear person who’s been diagnosed with this disease?

There’s great news, however.  If diagnosed early, 5 year survival rates are as high as 95-100%!  However, the more advanced the tumors get, the rates plummet to as low as 20%.

Therefore, it’s crucial that every single one of us gets check-ups – regularly, please!  Remember, 1 in 8 women…

And of course, we can’t forget about the effect of diet and nutrition in cancer development.  It just so happens that I’m taking a course in Nutrition and Disease right now in my Masters program, where we’re learning in-depth about all the different cancers, how diet and lifestyle can influence cancer prevention, and also differentiating between false and legitimate advice (meaning it’s supported by solid clinical evidence) regarding the relationship of diet and cancer.  As you know, there’s SOO much information out there when it comes to “anticancer” foods.  The internet is inundated with claims that sound something like this… “This food prevents or lowers your risk for cancer…Eat this and live a longer, healthier life…Take this pill and say good-bye to cancer…”  You know what I’m talking about.  With all the misleading notions out there, it’s so crucial that we learn to make informed decisions!  I’ll talk more about this later.

For now, I want to talk a lil about soyfoods and breast cancer.  Amongst all foods, soyfoods contain the highest amounts of isoflavones, a class of phytoestrogen.  Phytoestrogens are active phenolic compounds found in plants that structurally mimic the mammalian E2, allowing them to bind to estrogen receptors.  Estrogens have been linked to initiating and promoting the development of breast cancer.  The higher the levels of estrogen during a lifetime, the greater the risk.  This is why women who started menstruation at an early age, have never been pregnant, and have never breastfed need to be extra cautious.

The controversy surrounding soyfoods is due to this reason – isoflavones bind and activate estrogen-responsive genes, thereby stimulating estrogen-sensitve tumors.  However, just because they have an affinity towards the receptor, doesn’t mean that they always activate the gene expression of estrogen-responsive genes.  Phytoestrogens have a much lower affinity for these receptors as compared to estrogen, making them much less potent.  Furthermore, phytoestrogens can have both agonistic and antagonistic effects.

In epidemiologic human studies, the intake of soy products has been associated with a lower incidence of breast cancer.  They also show that diets rich in soy products early in life, especially during puberty, may decrease the risk.  This may be the reason why the Asian population, whose diet is rich in soy foods, has a much lower incidence and mortality rate compared to Americans.  This suggests that soyfoods may have a protective effect against breast cancer.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence as of now in regards to the effects of phytoestrogen and breast cancer risk.  So the controversy continues…  However, it seems as though one serving of an isoflavone-rich soy product a day may have estrogen agonistic activity.  Additionally, bc of its very short half-life, this brief exposure to isoflavones is unlikely to have any long-term clinical effects.

So there you have it.  These are the findings from the extensive research that I had to do for my paper and presentation on phytoestrogens and breast cancer (due next Monday! yikes!).  Stay tuned for my post on flaxseed and breast cancer.

These two papers that I found were really fascinating and helpful…in case you were interested!

1.  Mense SM, Hei TK, Ganju RK, Bhat HK. Phytoestrogens and breast cancer prevention: possible mechanisms of action. Environ Health Perspect. Apr 2008;116(4):426-433.

2.  Deng G, Davatgarzadeh A, Yeung S, Cassileth B. Phytoestrogens: science, evidence, and advice for breast cancer patients. J Soc Integr Oncol. Winter 2010;8(1):20-30.

So what do I think of all this?  Well, I’m Korean and soyfoods, mainly tofu, are my life!  Well, behind rice and kimchi.  They’re what I’ve grown up eating.  However, while I am most certainly going to continue to enjoy them, I will practice moderation, just like any other food.  As a nutrition student, one of the things that we get drilled into our heads is that “more is not always better.”  Moderation, please.  And this does not just apply to food but to every aspect of our lives, no?

And with that, let’s talk tofu!  I am participating in the “How-To…Tofu” recipe challenge set forth by the Soyfoods Council.  They’ve challenged us, the Recipe Reduxers, to show the world how fun, versatile, and delicious tofu can be.  And I gladly accept!  Here’s my first contribution…

Asian-Inspired Tofu BBQ Sliders

Print this recipe



  • 1 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil + more to cook tofu
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 Tbs fish sauce
  • 2 Tsp sriracha
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 Tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 cup water

– 1 block of firm tofu

– Mini buns (I used kaiser rolls)


  1. Sauce: Put a large pot (6 qt) over medium heat.  Add 1 Tbs oil, onion, garlic and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add rest of the ingredients.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  The longer it cooks the more enhanced the flavor becomes.
  2. Preheat a large saute pan and coat the pan with EVOO, about 1 Tbs.  Cut tofu into 1/4 inch pieces.  Squeeze out all the water.  Place tofu in pan and cook for about 5 minutes until well browned.  Flip and cover the tofu with bbq sauce.  Under med heat, cook until the sauce is well absorbed, approx. 7 miutes.
  3. Serve warm on a toasted bun.

How about serving these bad boys at your next football party?  It’s about time someone served up a healthy alternative! 😉  Believe it or not, my burgervore hubby found these to be quite tasty!  Oh, and I highly suggest that you serve them with baked sweet potato fries!

Now if you are a tofu fan or even if you are not, check out these wonderful recipes (from now till next Sat) by clicking on the link below! I’m sure you’ll find lots of inspiration!
They were the perfect finger food!  The sauce was tangy, sweet, and savory and highlighted the tofu quite nicely.  Even if you are not a fan of tofu (gasp!), you’ll appreciate these!

“By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by The Soyfoods Council and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”

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14 Responses to Breast Cancer and Asian-Inspired Tofu BBQ Sliders

  1. What an important and inspired post Min 🙂 Your points about cancer are ones we all need reminding of (and I always like to read updates on soy, because it is something I am mindful of given my regular consumption of tofu) and the tofu sliders look both cute and delicious!

    I’ll look forward to that post on flaxseeds in due course too 🙂

  2. carol says:


  3. daileeblossom says:

    Thank you for the information on soy! I, too, have seen and heard many different stories about either how bad or how great it is… I still find the extremes to be unfounded, so I am doing the same as you – moderation! I stopped drinking soy milk every day, but I won’t turn down tofu/miso/whatever when I feel like it. 🙂 and your recipe looks fantastic! I’m on the train and was drooling over your photos!

  4. My mouth is watering! These Tofu BBQ Sliders look absolutely delicious! I’ve been on a major tofu kick this past month, however I usually resort to scrambles (soy sauce, sesame oil, veggies), which are admittedly becoming a bit boring. :-p Homemade barbecue sauce? Yes please!

    Your comments about the association between soy consumption and breast cancer are so interesting. I remember when the initial studies came out linking soy consumption with breast cancer prevention; suddenly soy was everywhere! It was welcomed news for me, because I was a vegetarian at the time, so I felt my veggie burger and soy protein bar diet was completely justified. However, when studies began refuting those initial studies, I swung completely the other direction and went soy free for several years. Talk about two extremes! :-p Now I practice moderation, which is a much more balanced and sane approach to eating. I really enjoy tofu and other soy products like edamame and tempeh, and enjoy them whenever a craving strikes! That usually amounts to 2-4 soy-based dinners each week. 🙂

    I’m so sorry I’ve been MIA lately! This past week was crazy with midterms, so I’m now just getting caught up with the blog world. 🙂 I hope you’re having a restful and relaxing weekend, Min! Huge hugs from Washington, DC! xoxo ❤

  5. Such a great post, Min! It’s an important message to get out there!!

    Also those little tofu sliders are ADORABLE! Haha I’ve never gotten to participate in the mini burger craze 😉 so these little vegetarian options sound PERFECT for me!!!

    I hope you’re having a fantastic weekend!!

  6. ReganJonesRD says:

    I’ve never been the biggest BBQ fan, so I’m thinking these would be a perfect substitute! They look yummy!

  7. What a super informative post – so interesting reading all the research you’ve been reviewing for your class – perfect timing for the tofu contest! And these sliders – man do they look delish! That sauce looks super yummy.

  8. Really interesting post, Min! The soy controversy really confuses me too because the studies are so contradictory! Like you, I do enjoy soy protein but try to limit my consumption. Breast cancer runs in my family so at the end of the day, I rather be safe than sorry. Fortunately it helps that I am not a vegetarian so my alternatives really are endless.

    On that note, this recipe sounds amazing! Live Korean BBQ so I know I’d be a fan…and even better that it incorporates apple cider vinegar!

  9. Pingback: Sweet and Sour Tofu and a Cookbook Giveaway |

  10. Love this post!! One of my best friends is battling breast cancer right now. Thanks for all the info on soy. I always hear conflicting things on it!

  11. thefoodery says:

    Oh, this sounds awesome! I was actually picturing myself making these as I read your recipe. I am bookmarking this page so can try these next time I get fresh tofu!

  12. That’s very interesting what you discovered about soy and breast cancer! I have to pass that along to my aunty. She is a breast cancer survivor, and avoids all soy products.

    And those sliders, oh my goodness, that sauce sounds amazing!! Tim is a lucky guy to have you in the kitchen 🙂 Oh, and I didn’t even mention anything to Patrick about Tim cooking dinner, and he made dinner for us on Friday night! 🙂

    Hope you had a good day, Min!!

  13. vinicooksveg says:

    Very useful information with yummy recipe! loved the post!

  14. Pingback: Regaining confidence after a mastectomy « Recovering From Home

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