Tofu Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

firm tofu nutrition facts and health benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Tofu is a plant-based protein made from soybeans. The beans are soaked, cooked, and crushed into a liquid. With the help of a coagulant, the liquid thickens to become tofu. Tofu is dairy-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and vegan, so it is popular with people who have specialized diets. Often used as a meat substitute, tofu is high in protein, but low in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates. 

There are different types of tofu, determined by the firmness and water content. Tofu that is more firm has a higher calorie content and provides more nutrients because it contains less water. Tofu that is softer has a higher water content, and fewer calories, carbs, protein, and fat as a result.  

Tofu is extremely versatile. It doesn't have a lot of flavor on its own, so it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with.

Tofu Nutrition Facts

This nutrition information, for a half-cup serving (126g) of raw, firm tofu prepared with calcium sulfate, is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 181
  • Fat: 11g
  • Sodium: 17.6mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.5g
  • Fiber: 2.9g
  • Protein: 21.8g
  • Calcium: 861mg
  • Manganese: 1.5mg
  • Selenium: 21.9mcg
  • Iron: 3.4

Carbs

Tofu is a low carbohydrate food. A half-cup serving contains just 3.5 grams of carbs, most of which come from fiber. There are 2.9 grams of fiber in a half-cup serving.  

Fats

Although one serving of firm tofu contains around 11 grams of fat, most of the fat is heart-healthy. Tofu provides 2.4 grams of monounsaturated fat and 6.2 grams of polyunsaturated fats. About 1.6 grams of fat in a serving of firm tofu is saturated fat.

Protein

Firm tofu is an excellent source of protein, with nearly 22 grams per serving. Since tofu is a complete protein (which means it contains 9 of the essential amino acids required by the diet) it can be used as a substitute in recipes that call for meat. Many people who don't eat meat use tofu as the main protein in a meal.

Vitamins and Minerals

Firm tofu prepared with calcium sulfate is a excellent source of calcium, providing 861mg or 66% of the daily value (DV). Firm tofu is also an excellent source of manganese (providing 1.5mg or 65% DV) and selenium (providing 21.9mcg or almost 40% DV). It is also an excellent source of copper.

Firm tofu is a good source of iron, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium.

Calories

The calories in tofu vary by type, but a half-cup serving of firm tofu will provide about 181 calories. That's about 144 calories per 100 grams. By comparison, a 100-gram serving of silken tofu is likely to contain about 55 calories.

Health Benefits

Soy foods like tofu contain isoflavones, a phytoestrogen similar to the hormone estrogen and may provide certain health benefits.

Relief from Menopause Symptoms

Some research has suggested that soy foods, like tofu, may help to relieve hot flashes commonly experienced during menopause. And a study published in 2017 also suggested that soy isoflavones may be helpful during the entire perimenopausal period for improving both the physical and psychological symptoms that women often experience.

May Help Prevent Certain Cancers

Although studies are still in their early stages and not yet conclusive, there is some evidence that isoflavones may help prevent certain cancers including breast and prostate cancer. Researchers began to investigate the relationship because breast and prostate cancer rates are much higher in the United States and European countries where soy intake is low compared with Asian countries where soy intake is high.

A 2020 study conducted in China showed that moderate soy intake was not associated with breast cancer risk among Chinese women but that higher soy intakes may provide some preventative benefits. And a 2018 research review found that there is a significant relationship between increased soy intake and a reduced risk of prostate cancer. But researchers continue to say that more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between soy foods and cancer risk.

May Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

There is some evidence that consuming foods with soy may have the potential to reduce your risk of heart disease. For instance a 2020 study published in the journal Circulation found that a diet rich in soy products, such as tofu, may lower the risk of developing heart disease in both men and women.

According to the 20-year study, men and women who ate tofu at least once a week had a lower risk than those who consumed soy less than once a month. But not all soy products were helpful. Soy milk, for instance, did not seem to affect overall risk. But researchers concluded that soy foods, like tofu, could be included in an overall healthy diet to help prevent heart disease.

May Promote Osteoporosis Prevention

Soy foods may help with osteoporosis prevention, according to some research. For instance one research review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food evaluated how soy isoflavones may provide potential bone-specific effects.

Those researchers found some evidence from epidemiologic studies that soy intake may help reduce menopause-induced bone loss by decreasing bone resorption and stimulating bone formation. But they concluded that the relationship is still unclear and more evidence is needed.

Allergies

Soy, the main ingredient in tofu, is one of the top food allergens in children and adults. Soy allergy starts in childhood, and most are outgrown in adulthood. People allergic to wheat, beans (legumes), milk or other food can have also have an allergic reaction to soy.

Symptoms of soy allergy range from mild, including hives or itching in and around the mouth, to severe reactions including anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

Adverse Effects

The National Institutes of Health suggests that soy is safe for most people when used as a food or taken for a short time as a dietary supplement. They recommend that women who are at risk for breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive conditions should discuss soy-containing dietary supplements with their health care providers before consuming them.

In the past there has been some concern that certain depression medications (MAOIs) may interact with fermented soy products due to their potentially high level of the amino acid tyramine. People taking MAOIs, were told to limit the amount of tyramine in their diet. But newer evidence suggests that those concerns may have been overstated. However, researchers still suggest that you should get personalized advice from your healthcare provider.

People taking the blood thinner warfarin should use also consult their healthcare provider about consuming soy products because it may affect the efficacy of the medication.

Varieties

Tofu comes in four varieties, based on the water content. The more firm, the less water, and the more calories and nutrients per serving. 

  • Extra-firm tofu or dry tofu is very firm. It can be fried, grilled, or used as a meat substitute in a stir fry. Extra-firm tofu can also be marinated for extra flavor. 
  • Firm tofu comes packaged in water. It can be barbecued, mashed, or crumbled and added to salads. Firm tofu can also be scrambled. 
  • Soft tofu is used in foods that are blended like salad dressings, dips, and soups. 
  • Silken tofu is an undrained, unpressed Japanese-style tofu. It has the highest water content of all tofu types. It is also used in foods that are blended, like smoothies and pudding. 

Storage and Food Safety

You'll find most kinds of tofu in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. Many times it is kept near cheeses. Silken tofu, however, is usually found in the aisles near other vegetarian foods.

Tofu can be stored in the refrigerator at home although some silken varieties can be kept in the pantry until opening. Once opened, however, you should refrigerate the product and use it within 2 to 3 days of opening.

Unopened, you should use the product by the "best by" date on the package. Tofu will have a foul odor when spoiled.

You can freeze tofu, although some people freeze tofu to give it a thicker meat-like texture. However, manufacturers suggest that you avoid eating tofu that has been frozen for more than 60 days.

How to Prepare

Before preparing tofu, open the package, and drain the product. You can also press it between paper towels to remove excess moisture. Remember that tofu takes on the flavor of the foods that it is cooked with. So it is easy to add to your favorite recipes.

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14 Sources
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