Tofu Diet: Benefits, Risks, Recipes, and More

Tofu is a high protein staple food that may lower your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.

Credit: Mizina / iStock / GettyImages

Tofu, also called tofu, is a food made from soybeans that offers a wide variety of health benefits. When you include tofu in your diet, it can be a high quality source of protein, benefit your heart, and support strong bones.

Tofu is made similar to cheese: soy milk is curdled and pressed to form a cohesive bond, creating the neutral taste and texture that Michigan State University says makes it easy to pair with virtually any dish.

This protein staple is also packed with several beneficial minerals and can make a healthy substitute for fatty meat in your diet – whether you are a vegetarian or not.

Two ounces (about ¼ cup) of tofu is the same as a single serving. 2 ounces of firm tofu contains:

  • Calories: 82
  • Total fat: 4.9 g
    • Saturated fat: 0.7 g
  • cholesterol: 0 mg
  • sodium: 7.9 mg
  • Total carbohydrates: 1.6 g
    • Fiber: 1.3 g
    • sugar: 0 g
  • protein: 9.8 g
  • Total fat: Two ounces of tofu has 4.9 grams of total fat, including 2.79 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1.09 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0.7 grams of saturated fat, and 0 grams of trans fats.
  • carbohydrates: Two ounces of tofu have 1.6 grams of carbohydrates that contain 1.3 grams of fiber and no sugar.
  • protein: Two ounces of tofu contain 9.8 grams of protein.

Vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients

  • Calcium:30% of your daily value (DV)
  • manganese: 29% DV
  • copper: 24% DV
  • selenium: 18% DV
  • phosphorus: 9% DV
  • magnesium: 8% DV
  • iron: 8% DV
  • zinc: 8% DV
  • Thiamine (B1): 7% DV
  • Riboflavin (B2): 4% DV
  • Folate (B9): 4% DV
  • potassium: 3% DV
  • Vitamin B6: 3% DV
  • Vitamin A: 3% DV

The health benefits of tofu

Tofu can be part of a healthy and varied diet and provides the necessary nutrients for your overall health. Here’s how this popular soy product can benefit your muscles, bones, heart, and more.

1. Tofu is a great source of high quality protein

You should aim to get around 10 to 35 percent of your total caloric intake from protein. That makes about 100 grams (20 percent) of protein for a 2,000-calorie diet, according to the US National Library of Medicine (NLM).

“Tofu is a wonderful, high-quality protein that is extremely affordable,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, clinical professor at Boston University and host of the Nutrition and Health Podcast Spot On!. As meat or Uses a protein substitute that really takes in the flavor of what it is cooked with. “

According to the NLM, your body needs protein to build and maintain muscles, skin, and bones.

Although most plant-based foods are not complete proteins, that is, they do not provide all of the essential amino acids that the body cannot produce like animal proteins, but tofu is an exception and is considered complete protein. Even if you don’t choose tofu, you can eat a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day to get all of the amino acids you need if you are a vegetarian or vegan.

While most Americans are getting enough protein, many could benefit from making leaner, healthier choices, according to the Ohio State University Extension. An easy way to do this is to regularly choose soy products or beans as a main or side dish, such as a pan of vegetables and tofu.

Eating healthy sources of protein could help you maintain a healthy weight: Researchers found that weight loss and maintenance relied on the protein-rich (not necessarily low-carb) part of your diet, according to an October 2012 study in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

2. Tofu can benefit your heart

It’s best to choose low-fat sources of protein like lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, eggs, and legumes like soy to help prevent heart disease. Since tofu is a good source of protein and is low in fat and free from cholesterol, it can be a good substitute for meat. Not only does it reduce your fat and cholesterol intake, but it also brings more fiber into your day.

In addition, certain compounds in the tofu itself can have heart-protective effects. Tofu is high in isoflavones, an estrogen-like substance produced by soybean plants that could lower your risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

People who ate at least one serving of tofu per week had an 18 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to those who rarely ate tofu, according to a March 2020 study in the journal Circulation. Pre-menopausal or postmenopausal people who were not taking hormones seemed to benefit most.

3. Tofu is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer

Although it was previously believed that soy foods could increase breast cancer risk because isoflavones are plant-based estrogens – and high levels of estrogen have been linked to higher breast cancer risk – food sources like soy don’t provide enough isoflavones to increase cancer risk, per the Mayo Clinic.

However, some research suggests an association between soy or isoflavone supplements (which contain higher levels of isoflavones) and a higher risk of breast cancer in people with a family or personal history of breast cancer or thyroid problems.

“A moderate amount of soy a day – like one or two standard servings of soy milk, tofu, or edamame – seems appropriate,” says Blake.

In fact, every 10 milligram increase in daily soy isoflavone was linked to a 3 percent lower risk of breast cancer in a meta-analysis of Chinese women published in the European Journal of Epidemiology in November 2019, in Chinese women, intake was not associated with breast cancer, and higher Soy amounts might even offer reasonable breast cancer prevention benefits.

4. Tofu can support strong bones

It might surprise you if you normally associate calcium with milk, but tofu provides 30 percent of your DV of this essential mineral (when made with calcium sulfate). Since calcium is often added to tofu, the amount can vary in each product. So be sure to check the nutritional information for the exact calcium content.

Calcium is needed to maintain a strong skeleton and it is stored in your bones and teeth. Your bones reach their maximum strength around the age of 30, and after that they slowly lose calcium. However, you can limit these losses by getting enough calcium in your diet and living a healthy lifestyle that includes weight-bearing physical activity such as walking and running, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In a July 2014 cross-sectional study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, low calcium intake was significantly associated with low bone mineral density and higher risk of osteoporosis was not consistently linear, and adequate vitamin D intake appears to be some of the negative influences to compensate for a low calcium intake on your bones.

Tofu is also a good source of manganese, an essential mineral needed for various processes including bone development and wound healing, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Meanwhile, tofu provides a quarter of your DV in copper, an essential trace element that plays an important role in maintaining bone health. Although more research is needed to determine its effects on overall bone health, copper can remove free radicals and activate chemical bonds in the collagen and elastin in your bones, according to a February 2017 review in Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism .

Soy is one of the eight types of foods that are responsible for about 90 percent of all food allergy reactions, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. A food allergy reaction occurs when your immune system recognizes a food as a hazard and initiates a protective reaction.

Symptoms of a soy allergy include:

  • Vomit
  • Stomach cramps
  • Indigestion
  • diarrhea
  • Panting
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Repeated coughing
  • Tightness in the throat, hoarse voice
  • Weak pulse
  • Pale or blue coloring of the skin
  • Hives
  • swelling
  • dizziness
  • confusion

Although rare, allergy to soy can also cause anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can shock the body. It is important to see an allergist if you experience any of these symptoms after consuming soybeans or a product containing soy, such as tofu. In the event of anaphylaxis, you may need to carry adrenaline with you.

Soybean products, especially tofu and soy sauce, are high in tyramine and should not be taken with monoamine oxidase inhibitor therapy (also known as MAOIs; these drugs are used as antidepressants), according to a report in the International Journal of Cardiology.

MAOIs block monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that breaks down excess tyramine in your body to help relieve depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, if you ingest it while consuming foods high in tyramine, your tyramine levels can easily reach dangerous levels, causing an increase in blood pressure that may require emergency treatment.

Examples of MAOIs are:

  • Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
  • Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
  • Phenelzine (nardil)
  • Selegiline (Emsam)

Excess amounts of soy can also affect the absorption of warfarin (commonly known as coumadin; this is used as a blood thinner), according to UC San Diego Health. Discuss any drug and food interactions with your doctor.

Tofu preparation and helpful tips

Tofu is incredibly easy to cook and can be found in most supermarkets. Follow these tips to keep it and cook with it as part of a healthy diet.

Store tofu properly.Unopened tofu should be stored in the refrigerator. Once you open it, you can drain the water and use the tofu in recipes. Store unused tofu in a covered container of fresh water in the refrigerator and change the water daily for up to five days, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Use it as a simple substitute for animal foods.To replace an egg, use ¼ cup of silken tofu mashed until smooth, according to the University of Illinois. You can also use tofu instead of meat on pizzas, salads and in sautés. Since tofu absorbs the flavors of the ingredients and sauces it is cooked with, it is easy to incorporate into different types of dishes.

Add texture to the recipes:Pureed tofu can give dishes a creamy note. “You can add a creamy texture to smoothies, sauces, or soups like roasted pumpkin soup with mixed firm tofu,” says Blake.

Alternatives to soy-based tofu include tempeh, edamame, and textured vegetable protein (TVP) substitutes (also known as textured soy protein). Other protein options include seitan (vegan meat made from wheat gluten), chickpeas and other legumes, quinoa, Greek yogurt, nuts, and eggs.