If you’re new to the plant based lifestyle – or even if you aren’t! – you might be asking yourself “Is tofu actually good for you?” I’m here to answer all the burning tofu nutrition questions you might have about this 2,000 year old food.
Spoiler alert: tofu is good for you. And it is SO VERSATILE. It can be used to make everything from breakfast to dessert (which is way better than soup to nuts, if you ask me). Don’t just take my word for it; read on to learn more about the nutritional benefits of this marvelous food!
- What is Tofu? How is it Made?
- Is Tofu Healthy?
- But What About Soy? Are You SURE it’s Healthy?
- How Much Protein is in Tofu?
- What is the Calorie Content of Tofu?
- What is the difference between tempeh and tofu?
- Other Frequently Asked Questions About Tofu:
- Did I convince you to try tofu yet? If so, check out these delicious recipes to get you started:
What is Tofu? How is it Made?
Tofu is a type of bean curd that is made using a process similar to cheesemaking. Soy milk is coagulated and then pressed it into blocks of varying firmness. Types of tofu include silken, firm and extra firm varieties.
If you have never had tofu before, it is a very mildly flavored and somewhat spongy food. In my experience, it takes on whatever flavors you give it, either through marinating, blending or adding to a sauce.
Tofu has been around for about 2000 years, with scholars generally agreeing that the Han dynasty in China was the first to record its usage. Since then, tofu has become a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian cuisines including in Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, and Japanese dishes.
Is Tofu Healthy?
The bottom line: YES! Tofu has quite a few health benefits, but I recommend that you opt for an organic and non-GMO version to ensure optimal nutrition.
While the methods of production can affect the nutritional content of tofu, the kinds of tofu we get here in the states are almost all made using the same process. Generally speaking, then, we can be confident that basically all tofu we have access to has high levels of calcium & iron.
Tofu is also a good protein source, with a 3.5 oz serving offering roughly 8 grams of protein while maintaining a relatively low calorie count of just 70 calories. If you are concerned that a plant based diet will preclude you from eating enough protein, tofu is one food that can help.
Tofu is also high in other nutrients including (but not limited to): manganese, phosphorous, copper, magnesium, zinc and isoflavones, which have been linked to improved vascular elasticity, reduced risk of heart disease and improved BMI scores.
But What About Soy? Are You SURE it’s Healthy?
Despite some of the negative press you may have heard about soy based products, it seems that much of the fears are based on animal rather than human subjects. Take this study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
The consumption of soy based foods (including tofu) has been positively correlated with lower cholesterol levels, improved heart health, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, improved fertility, improved bone health, reduced risk of breast and other cancers, and reduced menopausal symptoms.
While the adage that correlation doesn’t equal causation holds true, there are promising scientific studies that indicate that soy based foods are in fact healthy and may contribute to a more healthful existence.
How Much Protein is in Tofu?
Let’s get a little more into tofu nutrition. Tofu is actually a great source of plant-based protein, with a 3.5 oz portion containing roughly 8 grams of protein.
While your daily recommended consumption of protein depends on several factors including your activity level, age and overall health, a good starting point is the DRI recommendation of .36 grams per pound of bodyweight. This equates to roughly 46 grams per average, sedentary female and 56 grams per average, sedentary male per day.
Since tofu can be used in everything from smoothies and breakfast scrambles to dinners and desserts, getting enough protein throughout the day shouldn’t be a concern.
What is the Calorie Content of Tofu?
Calorically speaking, tofu is extraordinarily nutrient dense while maintaining a low profile. A single serving of 3.5 oz is only 70 calories! For context, that’s roughly the same calorie count as a single medium apple, two medium peaches or two medium sized figs.
When you consider the protein content of tofu – which will help keep you fuller for longer than a simple fruit snack – it is quite impressive what this humble food can offer to a healthy diet.
What is the difference between tempeh and tofu?
While tempeh and tofu are both made from soy (and are both DELICIOUS!), they are actually quite different.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans that have been soaked, cooked, and molded into a block-like shape. Tempeh has a chewier texture that makes it a better substitute for more “meaty” dishes, and it also boasts a nuttier flavor.
Looking to try tempeh, then check out some of my favorite tempeh recipes.
Tofu, on the other hand, is made from condensed, unfermented soy milk that has been processed into solid white blocks. It is relatively neutral in flavor and will absorb whatever flavors you throw at it. It is also has a much softer consistency, making it more ideal for things like smoothies and desserts.
Other Frequently Asked Questions About Tofu:
Heck yeah you can! I love blending silken tofu into smoothies and creamy vegan desserts like this yummy Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding. You can also add raw tofu to a simple miso soup for an added protein boost.
Yep! Tofu has an almost spongy consistency, and as such, has a tendency to soak up any flavors you throw at it. Marinating tofu is a quick and healthy way to adjust the flavor profiles to your liking. Check out this awesome post with 12 (!!) different marinades to fit your every mood.
Definitely! Grilled, marinated tofu is one of my favorite dishes at summer grill outs. It does have a tendency to stick to the grates, though. Do yourself a favor and spray them down with a high-heat non-stick cooking spray or rub them with a high smoke point oil (like grapeseed) prior to grilling it.
While you can freeze tofu, some folks complain that it changes the texture in a less than pleasant way. If you opt to freeze your tofu, I suggest using it in recipes where tofu’s texture isn’t top priority. Smoothies, “milk” shakes, and scrambles.
Actually, yes. While tofu is traditionally made from soybean curd, some people have started making alternative tofus with different beans. So if you have a soy allergy, you’re in luck! Check out this informative post to see how it’s done!
Oh, and if you’re the proper police, go ahead and give the non-soy tofu another name. Perhaps “faux”-fu? 😀
There are several types of tofu out there, and each has different strengths. Here is a very cursory breakdown of the three primary types.
Extra-firm: the firmest of all varieties, this is perfect for heartier dishes and is my go-to substitute for Indian recipes that call for paneer. It can do anything firm tofu can do, but with a bit more chew.
Firm: can withstand being battered or crusted, baked, fried, stir-fried.
Silken: best for puréeing into smoothies and desserts, or for eating raw.
Did I convince you to try tofu yet? If so, check out these delicious recipes to get you started:
If you liked this post on Tofu Nutrition, holler at me in the comments below! I’d love to know what you are thinking and any other questions you might still have.
Mary Ellen Valverde MS, CNS, LDN is a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist who empowers vegans to feel confident creating sustainable habits that align with their values and health goals. She shares easy plant-powered food to nourish your body + satisfy your tastebuds. Mary Ellen’s recipes and nutrition info has been featured on Yahoo News, Parade, VegNews, LIVESTRONG, Dr. Axe, Greatist, LIVEKINDLY, Brit+Co, Well+Good, and more. She lives in NJ with her husband & two sweet shih tzus, Firenze & Sophie.