Tofu Nutrition: Protein, Calories, Carbs and More

The rise (and rise again) of tofu

If you’re new to tofu, know that it has a decades-long history in the United States and an even longer history worldwide. The soy product is not only versatile, but it is also healthy. Tofu food is no joke.

Tofu, also known as bean curd, has been around for thousands of years. The earliest records of its consumption date back over 2,000 years in China, and it became a staple in Chinese cuisine in the 10th century.

Other Asian countries adopted it over the next few centuries, but tofu didn’t appear in many U.S. grocery stores until the 1970s.

Since then, it has become an important source of protein for countless people following a vegetarian, vegan or plant-based diet. It is so popular that you will find it in most supermarkets and restaurants.

Here’s what you need to know about tofu food, including its calories, carbohydrates, and protein, and how to consume it.

What is tofu?

Tofu is basically soy curd made by curdling soy milk, explains Jackie Newgent, RDN, a plant-focused chef, nutritionist, and author of The clean and simple diabetes cookbook.

The first step in making tofu is to make soy milk.

Dried soybeans are washed, soaked and ground. Water is added to the mixture and the solution is allowed to simmer for 15 to 30 minutes. It is drained through a piece of cloth in a strainer.

The soy milk that remains contains all the beneficial nutrients of the soybeans.

The next step is coagulation, in which the milk is heated at a low temperature along with a coagulant, usually nigari, a seawater extract.

The final step involves straining the coagulated soy milk into white edible blocks, Newgent says, which is how tofu is often packaged at the grocery store.

“In a packaged tofu, a standard ingredient list might include water, soybeans, nigari, and calcium sulfate,” she says.

bhofack2/Getty Images

What are the types of tofu?

There are different types of tofu, varying in consistency and firmness.

The softer the tofu, the higher the water content. This makes it more likely to fall apart, but also means it’s more flavor-absorbing.

As firmness increases, so do density, durability, fat and protein content.

The most common types of tofu, according to Newgent, are silky smooth, medium firm, extra firm, and super firm.

silk tofu

This form of tofu has the highest water content and is actually undrained and not pressed.

“Silken is great for smoothies,” says Newgent. It also works well in sauces, dips, desserts and salad dressings.

soft tofu

Soft tofu is a step firmer than silk, with a higher water content than the firmer varieties. It is generally used in the same way as silk.

medium tofu

With slightly less water than soft, medium tofu, it’s still so delicate it would fall apart in a skillet. This is the type of tofu that floats in miso soup.

firm tofu

Firm tofu is compact enough for cooking and is a popular choice for everything from braised curries to tofu scrambles.

Some people like to use it in stir-fries, but it can fall apart more than some of the sturdier options.

Extra firm tofu

Newgent claims that extra firm is great in stir-fries because it holds its shape well when you cut it.

You can also use it in making grilled and fried tofu.

super firm tofu

Super firm is the densest tofu, and very rich in protein.

Other types of tofu

Other types of tofu are gaining in popularity.

Precooked tofu is already flavored and fried and can be found in the refrigerated section of supermarkets.

Also look out for black tofu, which is made from yellow and black soybeans, Newgent says.

And due to the growing popularity of plant-based foods, new faux tofus are popping up in natural markets “as an alternative to traditional soybean-based tofu,” she explains.

Pumfu, for example, is made with pumpkin seeds.

Tofu food

Because tofu is plant-based, it’s cholesterol-free and contains minimal saturated fat, explains Ellen Liskov, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Yale New Haven Hospital.

“The firmer the tofu, the higher the protein and total calories because there is less moisture,” she emphasizes.

While the exact nutritional content varies with the type of tofu and brand, the average three-ounce serving (a generous 1/2 cup) of firm tofu contains the following nutrients.

calories

A 3-ounce serving of firm tofu has about 80 calories.

Saturated fat

A serving also contains less than half a gram of saturated fat.

That’s “about 3 percent daily value, or 3 percent of our daily needs, based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, which is average for Americans,” explains Liskov. “For nutrients that we want to limit, such as saturated fat, less than 5 percent daily value is good. So this is considered low in saturated fat.”

Egg white

There are eight grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving of tofu, which is 15 percent of our daily requirement.

Sodium

The sodium level is “very low” at five milligrams, or less than 1 percent of the daily value.

“Again, this is important because the typical American eats too much sodium,” says Liskov.

Of course, if you’re buying pre-flavored tofu, check the nutrition label to make sure it doesn’t have a lot of salt added.

Carbohydrates

Tofu is also low in carbohydrates, with two grams per serving. That accounts for 1 percent of your daily needs. Most of the carbohydrate content comes from fiber.

Fiber

Fibers range from one to three grams, depending on the brand.

“Foods with at least three grams of fiber are a good source of dietary fiber,” Liskov points out.

Calcium

Tofu is a good source of calcium, Liskov says. It provides 10 percent of the daily recommended value for calcium, based on the average need for 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day.

“Foods with a daily value of 10 percent or more for a nutrient are considered a good source of that nutrient,” she says.

If you don’t consume animal products (and thus avoid cow’s milk), you may be able to get more calcium by eating tofu.

Iron

Tofu is also a great source of iron, providing 6 percent of the daily value, based on the average requirement of 18 milligrams per day.

Tofu benefits

There are many benefits of adding tofu to your diet.

It is a protein-rich plant food

For anyone following a meat-free diet, tofu is a great alternative.

“Tofu is rich in vegetable protein and nutritionally a great swap for meat,” says Newgent.

Liskov agrees. “This is a good substitute for meat, poultry, and even fish,” she says.

It’s good for the environment

Tofu is not only good for your body, but also for the natural environment on which we all depend.

That’s because it’s a less carbon-intensive protein source than meat. So eating tofu contributes less to climate change.

“As a plant-based protein food, tofu is a much more environmentally friendly source of protein than meats such as beef and lamb, which contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Newgent.

It can help lower cholesterol

Newgent points to research that says tofus may help soy isoflavones (helpful antioxidants) lower LDL cholesterol levels.

“That’s the ‘bad’ cholesterol,” she says. When LDL cholesterol gets too high, it can increase your risk of heart problems.

It can help improve heart health

Tofu may have cardiovascular benefits.

“Numerous studies cite the benefits of eating a plant-based diet associated with risk reduction for heart disease and also diabetes,” says Liskov.

It may reduce your risk of breast cancer

There is some research to suggest that soy can effectively keep breast cancer at bay.

A much-cited 2020 study, published in cancer researchfound that women who consumed soy products at least once a week reduced their risk of developing breast cancer by 48 to 56 percent, probably due to the isoflavones in them.

It can help with menopause symptoms

Newgent explains that soybeans, including tofu, contain phytoestrogens, which may play a role in curbing hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

An analysis of 19 studies, published in Menopausefound that supplements containing soy isoflavones effectively reduced the severity of menopausal-induced hot flashes by more than 26 percent.

Is there a risk of eating tofu?

While there is some confusion about the health effects of soy, the general consensus is that most people can safely consume it without any problems.

Some research has linked eating large amounts of soy with breast cancer, but this theory is not widely accepted. And recent studies, such as one published in 2020 in PLOS Onehave found the opposite.

In fact, studies have shown that in geographic regions where soy is a primary food source, breast cancer rates are lower.

Of course, if you’re allergic to soy, you’ll want to avoid tofu.

cutting tofu

by means of [D.Jiang]/Getty Images

How to cook tofu?

Tofu is much more flexible than many people realize. “You can bake it, scramble it, bake it, air-fry it, simmer it, sauté it, stir-fry it, grill it, and mix it,” says Newgent.

Anything else fun about tofu? It’s super versatile.

“It’s a bit chameleon-like, so it will take on the flavors of what you add to it,” she says. “So don’t be shy with herbs.”

Before cooking, spend some time squeezing the excess water from the tofu. You can do this by placing the tofu between layers of paper towels and placing a small weight on it, such as a can of beans. The paper towels will absorb the excess liquid in about 30 minutes.

“This will make it brown as it cooks,” says Newgent.

Alternatively, if you often use tofu, you’ll probably want a tofu press. The device makes pressing tofu a cinch and does it faster.

If you want to make your tofu a bit crunchy, try lightly tossing cubes of it with cornstarch before cooking.

Recipes to try

There are endless tofu recipes on the internet, ranging from delicious puddings and blended smoothies to stir-fries, tofu tacos and veggie burgers.

Newgent suggests starting your tofu journey with two recipes from her own cookbook:

Peanutty Sprouted Tofu “Stir Fry” Plate Pan Dinner

This healthier version of a stir-fry is a one-time meal, requiring only a single griddle.

Ingredients include creamy peanut butter, tamari sauce, ginger, garlic, broccoli, red peppers, sesame oil and super firm tofu.

Vegan Hollandaise sauce

If you love eggs benedict but want to avoid animal products altogether, this vegan alternative — which uses silken tofu — will make you fall in love with the traditional breakfast dish all over again.

Grilled Tofu Steaks With Spicy Strawberry Ginger Glaze

Swap a steak for extra firm tofu with this sweet-meets-savory dish, perfect for summer. This recipe will teach you how to grill tofu like a pro.

Next, learn the best vegan protein sources for plant-based eaters.

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