Tempeh vs. Tofu: How They Compare, According to Dietitians

Soy beans, Tofu, Tempeh, Edamame
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With the increasing popularity of plant-based diets, foods like tofu and tempeh are gaining more widespread use. Both soy-based foods, tempeh and tofu provide complete protein—which can be especially helpful if you are eliminating or significantly reducing your meat consumption.

But which food has a better nutritional profile? And which one is best to keep on hand? Compare each food's health benefits and nutritional facts, then see what dietitians have to say about tofu and tempeh.

Tofu

Tofu is a traditional Asian dish that has become more popular in the U.S. and Europe and is often used as a meat substitute. It is made from soybeans that have been soaked, cooked, crushed, and finally processed into different textures. The food is low-carb, dairy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and vegan, so it's popular with people who have specialized diets.

Tofu is easy to find in most grocery stores and comes in many styles, from firm to silken. It is extremely versatile because it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with.

Nutritional Information

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 100-gram serving (about 1/3 cup) of firm tofu.

  • Calories: 144
  • Fat: 8.7g
  • Sodium: 14mg
  • Carbohydrates: 2.8g
  • Fiber: 2.3g
  • Protein: 17.3g

Note that the type and flavor of tofu that you buy might change the nutrition facts. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of regular, raw tofu provides 76 calories, 4.8 grams of fat, 1.9 grams of carbs, 0.3 grams of fiber, and 8.1 grams of protein. If you prefer soft, silken tofu, the USDA says that you'll get 55 calories, 2.7 grams of fat, 2.9 grams of carbs, 0.1 grams of fiber, and 4.8 grams of protein in a 100-gram serving.

The preparation method matters, as well. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of fried tofu contains 270 calories, 20.2 grams of fat, 8.9 grams of carbs, 3.9 grams of fiber, and 18.8 grams of protein.

Health Benefits

Tofu is an excellent source of protein for those who follow a plant-based diet. It is easy to find in most grocery stores, and it is starting to become more common on restaurant menus. Tofu provides some fiber—a nutrient that many of us don't get enough of. And it is also an excellent source of calcium, providing 350 milligrams (26% of the recommended daily value) in a 100-gram serving.

Tofu also contains isoflavones, a phytoestrogen similar to the hormone estrogen. Research suggests that soy products containing isoflavones, like tofu, may provide various health benefits, including relief from hot flashes during menopause, prevent certain cancers (such as breast and prostate cancer), and possibly reduce the risk of heart disease. However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between soy foods and these health conditions, as some evidence points to negative associations with soy consumption.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Good source of key minerals

  • Provides plant-based protein

  • Easy to find in most markets

  • Different varieties available

  • Versatile and easy to use

Cons
  • Some health concerns linked to soy intake

  • Soy allergies are common

  • May experience some side effects

Pros

Tofu is rich in nutrients, especially minerals. In addition to calcium (noted above), tofu also provides manganese, selenium, phosphorus, and copper. It can also boost your intake of iron, magnesium, and folate. For those on plant-based diets, tofu is a great way to get more protein.

Tofu is now commonly found in the refrigerated sections of most markets, and you'll have many brands and styles to choose from. For instance, silken tofu makes a great addition to smoothies, while extra-firm tofu can be grilled and used as a meat substitute. Its versatility makes it a great food to have on hand for vegans and vegetarians, as well as omnivores who want to go meatless from time to time.

Cons

Some people may want to be more careful about their soy intake. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that soy is safe for most people when used as a food or taken for a short time as a supplement. However, they recommend that women at risk for breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions should discuss soy consumption with their health care provider.

The organization also notes that consuming soy (in amounts greater than those commonly found in foods) may be unsafe during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It's important to discuss your soy consumption with your healthcare provider to get personalized recommendations.

Soy allergies are common. In fact, soy is one of the top eight allergens, along with eggs, wheat, dairy, and other foods. Even those who are not allergic may experience side effects such as digestive problems, constipation, and diarrhea when consuming soy.

Tempeh

Like tofu, tempeh is made from soy and is a popular meat substitute used especially by those who follow plant-based diets. But unlike tofu, tempeh is fermented. Tempeh is sold in firm blocks that can be sliced, crumbled, or chopped up to use in recipes like tacos or even sandwiches. The taste of tempeh is sometimes described as nutty or mild, but like tofu, it usually takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with.

Nutritional Information

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a 100-gram serving of tempeh.

  • Calories: 192
  • Fat: 10.8g
  • Sodium: 9mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7.6g
  • Protein: 20.3g

The USDA listings for tempeh (unbranded), do not provide data about the fiber content, but tempeh is known to contain fiber. The USDA provides information for branded tempeh (made by Greenleaf Foods) and a 100-gram serving is said to provide about 7.1 grams.

Also, some brands of tempeh may include ingredients that might change the nutrition facts. For example, tempeh sold by Turtle Island Foods contains soy sauce, sugar, garlic, lemon juice, and other ingredients to give it flavor. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of this flavored tempeh provides 165 calories, 4.1 grams of fat, 16.5 grams of carbs, 5.9 grams of fiber, and 12.9 grams of protein. Like tofu, flavored tempeh may have increased amounts of sugar and sodium, so always read packaging before selecting a product.

Health Benefits

Because tempeh is a soy-based food like tofu, many of the same health benefits apply. For instance, there is evidence that consuming soy isoflavones is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk in pre-menopausal women. Another study showed that soy protein supplementation might be helpful in the management of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Since tempeh is fermented, it may provide additional benefits beyond those offered by tofu. According to at least one published report, researchers have theorized that fermented soy products may reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides when consumed instead of animal protein. They may also be helpful in the management of diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac disorders, and cancer-related issues. But research is in its early stages, and more high-quality studies are needed.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Rich in vitamins and minerals

  • Provides plant-based protein

  • Improves daily fiber intake

  • May boost gut health

Cons
  • Not available in all markets

  • Comes in block form only

  • Can have a bitter taste

  • May not be gluten-free

Pros

Tempeh provides substantial vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of riboflavin and a good source of niacin and vitamin B6. It is also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper, and a good source of calcium, iron, and potassium. This fermented soy food is also a smart plant-based protein source and provides a healthy dose of fiber.

As a fermented food, there is some evidence that tempeh may help boost digestive health by helping to balance gut microbiota. Many people rely on regular consumption of probiotic-rich fermented foods to maintain healthy digestion.

Cons

Tempeh hasn't gained the mainstream popularity of tofu, so you might not be able to find it in your local market. And if you do find it, you're likely to have less of a selection of brands and styles to choose from. Since tempeh comes in block form, it doesn't have the versatility of tofu. For instance, it would be harder to blend into a smoothie than smooth, silken tofu.

Like tofu, if you have a soy allergy or if you are a person who needs to limit their soy intake for medical reasons, you'll need to avoid tempeh. Also, those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should be careful to read labels as not all tempeh is gluten-free.

Lastly, some people say that tempeh has a bitter taste; however, most people enjoy its mild taste, especially when it is combined with other foods.

Tempeh vs. Tofu: Dietitians Compare

Tempeh and tofu are both complete proteins that are versatile, easy-to-use, and provide important micronutrients. There is no reason to choose one or the other as both can be handy to have on hand in the kitchen. But if you're on the fence and want to choose only one, here's how a few registered dietitians feel about the nutritious foods and how they include them in their daily diets.

Jackie Topol, MS, RD

Jackie Topol, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist. She uses a holistic approach and helps people use food-as-medicine to manage and reverse a variety of health conditions. She says that both tempeh and tofu can be enjoyed daily.

"Tofu is very low in calories, making it an excellent choice for those looking to manage their weight. Because tofu is fortified with calcium, it has about double to triple the amount of calcium compared to tempeh. But, tofu does not have as much fiber as tempeh, though one can easily get fiber from other sources like whole grains, vegetables, and other legumes. It is a good source of protein, but tempeh does offer a bit more.

Because it is fermented, tempeh contains live-active bacteria (or probiotics). Tempeh has more protein and fiber than tofu. But it has a bit of a tang that people aren't too fond of. Marinating it or cooking it with other ingredients like soy sauce, tamari, ginger, garlic, or other spices really helps mellow out the tang. Tempeh only comes in one dense form, unlike tofu, so there are some limitations with the culinary application."

Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN

Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, is a nationally recognized lifestyle nutrition expert, culinary and media consultant, and writer. She is the author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods and Total Body Diet for Dummies.

"Although both tempeh and tofu are both from soybeans and complete plant protein sources, they have very different textures and culinary applications. Tempeh is fermented, which gives it a probiotic advantage; however, I use tofu more often as it's readily accessible at most grocery stores. Tofu comes in many different textures like silken, firm, and extra-firm. I roast extra-firm tofu often and toss it into salads, soups, pasta, and grain bowls."

Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD

Patsy Catsos is a medical nutrition therapist, FODMAP expert, and the author of The IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook. She says that she keeps both tofu and tempeh on hand but finds herself reaching for the tofu more often because it has a less assertive flavor and lends itself to being used in a wider variety of recipes.

"Cup for cup, tofu is lower in calories and protein than tempeh. However, firm tofu is higher in calcium than the same amount of tempeh.

Tofu is almost always gluten-free, but some varieties of commercially made tempeh include gluten-containing grains. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should verify the gluten status of tempeh before they consume it. Firm tofu and tempeh are typically well tolerated by people with digestive problems."

Anastasia Climan, RD

Anastasia Climan, RD, is a registered dietitian and medical writer. She includes plant-based proteins like tempeh and tofu as a regular part of her healthy eating plan.

"Both tempeh and tofu are excellent sources of vegetarian protein. As a fermented food, tempeh has unique health benefits for digestion that may be missing in tofu dishes. Tempeh's firmness means it's almost always used as a meat substitute, often with less than ideal cooking methods (like deep frying).

I find tofu a bit more versatile since it comes in a variety of textures, from soft to extra firm. Nutritionally, you can't go wrong either way, but I'd recommend opting for organic with all soy-based products to avoid GMOs and unnecessary contaminants."

Gena Hamshaw, RD

Gena is the founder of The Full Helping, a website that provides plant-based recipes and support for plant-based diets. She also works with companies like Nasoya, which makes products like tofu and kimchi.

"Tofu and tempeh are both great for a plant-forward diet. I enjoy baking and marinating tempeh, and I love to put it into salads and bowls. But tofu can't be beaten for its versatility. It's a staple in my house for everything from smoothies to scrambles, as well as soups and desserts.

Nasoya tofu is made with only three ingredients, and it's packed with healthful fatty acids, iron, and calcium. Tofu also contains plant compounds, or phytonutrients, that have been associated with reduced levels of inflammation in the body. This may be beneficial for immunity and fighting disease. Tofu is a great culinary "blank canvas," as it's neutral in flavor until you season or marinate it. And you can use tofu as you explore just about any flavor profile or type of cuisine."

A Word From Verywell

Tofu and tempeh are two nutritious soy products that may boost your protein intake, especially if you follow a plant-based diet. While registered dietitians can offer their take on each soy-based product, we encourage you to find what works best for your body and what you think tastes best.

As noted above, soy consumption can be controversial and may not be appropriate for all populations. If you are concerned about soy and your particular health needs, speak with your health care provider or a registered dietitian for individual guidance.

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