Tofu is a versatile and nutritious food made from soybeans. It's been a staple in Asian cuisine for centuries. But in recent years, its popularity has grown worldwide as a protein-rich, plant-based alternative to meat.
But is tofu a good source of protein?
The bottom line is yes -- tofu is an excellent source of protein. It's also got plenty of nutrients and minerals and doesn't have cholesterol.
"Soy foods are a great source of plant protein because they are low in fat and rich in fiber. Soy also contains essential vitamins and minerals," writes Dr. Rachel Scherr from the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.
Let's take it step by step.
Table of contents
- 1 How Much Protein Is in Tofu?
- 2 Is Tofu a Complete Protein?
- 3 Is Tofu Healthy for You?
- 4 Is Tofu Good for Men?
- 5 Nutritional value of tofu
- 6 Versatility in the Kitchen
- 7 Tofu is good protein
- 8 FAQ about Tofu as a source of protein
How Much Protein Is in Tofu?
Tofu's protein content depends on the type of tofu you're eating. There are several varieties of tofu, including silken, soft, firm, and extra-firm, each with a unique texture and consistency. Generally, the firmer the tofu, the higher its protein content.
For instance, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of extra-firm tofu contains about 10-12 grams of protein. In comparison, the same amount of silken tofu has around 5-6 grams of protein. But we'll get to tofu's nutritional profile in a moment.
Though tofu may not pack as much protein per gram as some animal-based sources, it's still an excellent protein source because it's low in calories. Essentially, you can eat a lot of it. It's low in carbs, and almost all the fat it has is unsaturated (healthy fats). A small-medium serving of tofu has around 22 grams of protein for under 200 calories.
When combined with a well-rounded diet, tofu can help you meet your daily protein requirements. Traditionally, it has been the go-to protein source for vegetarians. But because it's so rich in nutrients, it's increasingly becoming a preferred alternative for omnivores as well.
Is Tofu a Complete Protein?
Proteins are made out of 20 amino acids. Our body makes up 11 of those -- but it can't make the other 9.
A complete protein contains all nine essential amino acids -- the building blocks of protein -- that our bodies cannot produce on their own. These amino acids are crucial for various bodily functions, including muscle repair, hormone synthesis, and the maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Tofu is, in fact, a complete protein. It contains all nine essential amino acids in varying amounts, making it a valuable protein source. While some plant-based proteins, like beans and grains, are often incomplete proteins, tofu stands out as a nutrient-dense, complete protein option.
However, it's essential to remember that the amino acid balance in tofu is not identical to that found in animal proteins. Experts are still analyzing the differences between plant and animal protein.
However, existing research suggests that if such differences exist, they are fairly minor. For instance, one meta-analysis (study of studies) from 2021 concluded that:
"Results from the meta-analyses demonstrated that protein source did not affect changes in absolute lean mass or muscle strength. However, there was a favoring effect of animal protein on percent lean mass."
Just to be clear, you don't need to eat complete proteins at every meal. However, if you're trying to consume a protein-rich diet (especially if working out), complete proteins can be an easy way to hit your targets. But for the best body-boosting effects, you should aim for a balance of those essential amino acids over the course of the day.
Is Tofu Healthy for You?
Plenty of foods are rich in protein. Not all of these are good for you. Processed meats, for instance, have a lot of protein -- but there's a mountain of research showing that processed meat is not good for you.
Tofu is not only an excellent source of protein but also a nutrient-dense food. As we've previously written, it may have a bad rep, but tofu is good for you. Here are some of the health benefits of tofu:
Rich in Essential Nutrients
"It's a very nutritious food," says Qi Sun, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, about tofu.
Aside from protein, tofu is also rich in several essential nutrients, including calcium, iron, manganese, and selenium. These minerals play a vital role in bone health, red blood cell production, and antioxidant defense.
Moreover, tofu contains a decent amount of B vitamins, such as thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, which help your body convert food into energy and support a healthy nervous system.
Low in Calories and Fat
Tofu is relatively low in calories and fat, making it a great choice for those looking to maintain or lose weight. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of firm tofu has around 70-90 calories and 4-5 grams of fat, with just 0.5 grams of saturated fat. In other words, it's got lots of proteins and healthy fats that are good for weight management and bulking up.
"Several nutritional intervention studies in animals and humans indicate that consumption of soy protein reduces body weight and fat mass in addition to lowering plasma cholesterol and triglycerides," one study concluded.
By choosing tofu over higher-calorie, higher-fat animal proteins, you can reduce your overall calorie and fat intake, potentially leading to weight loss or better weight management.
"For the vast majority of people, it should be reasonable to incorporate tofu in their daily diet without any issues," Sun said.
Tofu's low saturated fat content makes it a heart-healthy protein choice option. Consuming less saturated fat can help lower your risk of developing heart disease by reducing LDL cholesterol levels, also known as "bad" cholesterol.
Additionally, tofu contains isoflavones, compounds that belong to a class of plant chemicals called phytoestrogens. Isoflavones have been linked to improved blood vessel function and reduced inflammation, both of which can help protect your heart. Some studies even suggest that a higher intake of soy products like tofu may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
"Higher intake of isoflavones and tofu was associated with a moderately lower risk of developing CHD," one recent study on tofu concluded.
Another study conducted in 2021 on around half a million people from China found that people who ate soy products like tofu have lower odds of dying from a heart attack compared with people who never or rarely ate soy.
"At no time since the original claim for soy as a reducer of serum cholesterol has its ability been in question," says David Jenkins, professor of nutritional sciences and of medicine at University of Toronto. "It's been consistent since 1999. The data have not changed."
Supports Bone Health
Remember when we said tofu has a lot of calcium? Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and preventing conditions like osteoporosis. Calcium-fortified tofu, in particular, can provide a significant amount of your daily calcium needs. Still, you should keep in mind that not all tofu is made the same, and some tofu may have more calcium than others.
Is Tofu Good for Men?
There is a common misconception that soy products, such as tofu, can negatively affect men's health due to their phytoestrogen content. However, this was based either on dated research, or simply on unfounded rumors. Soy does not cause male feminization and isoflavones are not estrogen at all.
Numerous studies have debunked this myth, showing that moderate soy consumption does not adversely impact male hormone levels or fertility. While high consumption of soy products was linked in some studies to lower sperm concentration, it soy consumption was found to be "unrelated to sperm motility, sperm morphology or ejaculate volume."
Another Harvard study concluded that although soy intake was linked to lower sperm counts, "the counts remained in the fertile range, the sperm appeared healthy," and other aspects of the semen were essentially unchanged.
The advantages that tofu provides for male health certainly outweigh any potential risks. Reducing cholesterol and helping with weight management provides far greater benefits for male fertility and overall health.
In fact, tofu and other soy products can offer several health benefits for men. Some of these advantages include:
Supports Heart Health
As mentioned earlier, tofu is a heart-healthy food due to its low saturated fat content and the presence of isoflavones. Since heart disease is the leading cause of death among men, incorporating tofu into a balanced diet may help reduce the risk of developing heart-related problems.
May Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk
A meta-analysis of 30 observational studies found that soy consumption is associated with a decreased likelihood of developing prostate cancer. In fact, several studies showed that consuming soy products like tofu may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.
The isoflavones in tofu have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and may even have a protective effect against this type of cancer.
Aids Weight Management
Research has shown that soy, in general, can promote weight loss. Tofu's low calorie and fat content make it an excellent choice for anyone looking to maintain or lose weight.
Replacing higher-calorie, higher-fat animal proteins with tofu can help create a calorie deficit, leading to weight loss or better weight management.
Supports Muscle Growth and Repair
Tofu's complete protein profile makes it a valuable addition to a diet aimed at supporting muscle growth and repair. For instance, one study concluded that:
"Ingestion of proteins with unique and complementary characteristics like soy, whey, and casein helps resistance-trained individuals achieve significant muscle growth. Recent research supports the efficacy of consuming a combination of soy, whey, and casein after resistance exercise to extend the time period that muscle building occurs."
While animal proteins may contain more protein per serving, tofu is still a viable option for those looking to build or maintain muscle mass. Tofu is an excellent addition to pretty much all diets and all lifestyles, which is rare for a food source.
How does tofu compare to meat in terms of protein?
Of course, when it comes to protein in your diet the "elephant in the room" is meat. So let's see how tofu fares against meat when it comes to protein.
It's important to keep in mind that When comparing tofu to various types of meat, it's important to consider both the protein content per serving and the overall nutritional profile. Here's a brief comparison of tofu with some common types of meat:
- Tofu (extra-firm): A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of extra-firm tofu contains around 10-12 grams of protein. Tofu is low in calories and fat, and it is cholesterol-free. Additionally, it is a complete protein and offers various essential nutrients, including calcium, iron, and B vitamins.
- Chicken breast: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked chicken breast provides approximately 30 grams of protein. Chicken breast is lean, low in fat, and relatively low in calories. It is also a complete protein and a good source of vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium.
- Beef: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked lean beef contains about 26-27 grams of protein. Beef is a complete protein and a rich source of nutrients like iron, zinc, and B vitamins. However, it is higher in calories, fat, and cholesterol compared to tofu and chicken.
- Pork: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked lean pork contains approximately 25-27 grams of protein. Like the other meats mentioned, pork is a complete protein and provides essential nutrients like B vitamins, selenium, and phosphorus. However, it also has higher calories, fat, and cholesterol than tofu.
- Fish: A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked fish, like salmon or tuna, contains around 20-25 grams of protein. Fish is a complete protein and is generally lower in fat and calories compared to red meat. It is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health.
In terms of protein content, tofu generally has less protein per gram compared to various types of meat. However, tofu is lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol than most meats, making it a heart-healthy and weight-friendly option.
In fact, if you look at the proteins per calorie, which is a better metric than protein per gram, tofu fares much better:
|Food||Protein per 3.5 oz (100 g)||Calories per 3.5 oz (100 g)||Protein-to-Calorie Ratio (g protein/calorie)|
|Extra-firm Tofu||17.3 g||76||0.22|
|Fish (e.g., Salmon)||19 g||232||0.08|
So overall, tofu is comparable with meat in terms of protein.
Nutritional value of tofu
When you look at other nutritional differences, tofu fares only comparably with chicken. Compared to beef or pork, for instance, tofu is simply healthier. The big difference is that it doesn't have cholesterol, it has fiber, and it has a ton of calcium.
|Carbohydrates (g)||Fat (g)||Cholesterol (mg)|
|Fish (e.g., Salmon)||0||15.5||56|
Here are some other nutrients you can find in tofu and why they are important. Values can vary depending on the type of tofu.
|Nutrient||Role in the Body||Approximate Value|
|Calcium||Maintains strong bones and teeth, nerve and muscle function, blood clotting||120-300 mg|
|Iron||Produces red blood cells, transports oxygen throughout the body||1-1.5 mg|
|Magnesium||Involved in nerve function, blood pressure regulation, energy production||30-50 mg|
|Phosphorus||Supports energy production and cellular function, a key component of DNA, RNA, and ATP||90-150 mg|
|Potassium||Regulates blood pressure, maintains fluid balance, supports muscle and nerve function||120-200 mg|
|Zinc||Supports immune function, wound healing, protein and DNA production||0.8-1.2 mg|
|B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3)||Vital for energy metabolism and maintaining healthy nervous system function||B1: 0.03-0.1 mg, B2: 0.03-0.06 mg, B3: 0.3-0.6 mg|
|Antioxidants||Neutralize harmful free radicals, support overall health||Varies|
|Isoflavones||Act as phytoestrogens, may provide various health benefits||20-30 mg|
For more nutritional information on tofu, check out the dedicated USDA page.
Versatility in the Kitchen
One of the many appealing aspects of tofu is its versatility in cooking. With its mild flavor and varying textures, tofu can be used in a wide range of dishes. This makes it an excellent protein option for those looking to expand their culinary horizons as well as a replacement for staple foods.
Here are just some of the ways you can incorporate tofu into your diet.
Marinating and Grilling
Tofu readily absorbs flavors, making it a great candidate for marinating. After draining and pressing the excess water from your tofu, you can marinate it in your favorite sauce or seasoning for a few hours or even overnight. Grilling marinated tofu will give it a delicious, smoky flavor and a crispy exterior.
Tofu can be easily incorporated into stir-fried dishes. For best results, use firm or extra-firm tofu, as it holds its shape better during the cooking process. Simply pan-fry tofu cubes until golden brown, then add your choice of vegetables and sauce for a quick, protein-packed meal.
For a plant-based alternative to scrambled eggs, try scrambling soft or medium tofu with your favorite seasonings and vegetables. This dish provides a high-protein, low-cholesterol option for breakfast or brunch.
Silken tofu can be used to add creaminess and protein to smoothies, soups, and sauces. Simply blend it with your preferred ingredients for a smooth, rich texture.
Baking and Desserts
Tofu can even be used in baking and dessert recipes as a substitute for eggs or dairy products. Silken tofu can be blended and used to create creamy, dairy-free cheesecakes, puddings, and mousse. Additionally, tofu can be used as an egg substitute in various baked goods like muffins, cookies, and pancakes.
Tofu is good protein
In conclusion, tofu is a protein-packed, nutrient-dense food with numerous health benefits for people of all genders. As a complete protein, tofu offers a valuable option for those following plant-based diets or simply looking to diversify their protein sources. Its low calorie and fat content, along with its potential to support heart health, bone health, and weight management. Tofu should make an excellent addition to a balanced diet.
"We're moving into an age of plant-based protein, and it would be a shame to see that shift undermined," said nutrition expert David Jenkins from the University of Toronto, who published a study on the beneficial effects of soy on heart health.
With its numerous health benefits and versatile nature in the kitchen, tofu is a valuable addition to any diet. Whether you're a vegetarian, vegan, or simply looking to reduce your animal protein intake, tofu can help meet your protein needs while offering a plethora of essential nutrients.
FAQ about Tofu as a source of protein
Yes, tofu is a protein food. It is made from soybeans, which are high in protein, and it is a popular vegetarian and vegan protein source.
The amount of protein in tofu can vary depending on the brand and type, but on average, tofu contains around 10-20 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Yes, tofu is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own.
Yes, tofu can be a substitute for meat in many dishes. It has a similar texture and can be marinated or seasoned to provide a similar flavor profile to meat.
es, tofu is also a good source of calcium, iron, and other minerals. It is also low in calories and fat, making it a healthy addition to a balanced diet.
Some people may be allergic to soy or have concerns about the potential effects of soy on hormones. However, moderate consumption of tofu is generally considered safe and healthy for most people.
Tofu can be used in a variety of dishes, such as stir-fries, salads, soups, and sandwiches. It can also be grilled, baked, or fried to add texture and flavor. Many vegetarian and vegan recipes use tofu as a protein source.