Also known as bean curd, tofu is a food made from soybeans that provides a wide range of health benefits. When you include tofu in your diet, it can provide a quality source of protein, benefit your heart and support strong bones.
Tofu is made similarly to cheese: Soy milk is curdled and pressed to form a cohesive bond, creating the neutral flavor and consistency that makes it easy to pair with practically any dish, per Michigan State University.
This protein staple is also packed with several beneficial minerals and can make a healthy substitute for fatty meats in your diet — whether you’re vegetarian or not.
Two ounces (about ¼ cup) of tofu is equal to a single serving. Two 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 carbs: 1.6 g
- Dietary fiber: 1.3 g
- Sugar: 0 g
- Protein: 9.8 g
- Total fat: Two ounces of tofu has 4.9 grams of total fat, which includes 2.79 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 1.09 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0.7 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: Two ounces of tofu has 1.6 grams of carbs, which includes 1.3 grams of fiber and no sugars.
- Protein: Two ounces of tofu has 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
- Thiamin (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 a part of a healthy and varied diet, providing 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 Quality Protein
You should aim to make protein about 10 to 35 percent of your total calorie intake. That adds up to about 100 grams of protein (20 percent) for a 2,000-calorie diet, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
“Tofu is a wonderful, high-quality protein that’s extremely affordable,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, a clinical professor at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast Spot On!. “It can be used as a meat or protein substitute that really picks up the flavor of what it’s cooked with.”
Your body needs protein to build and maintain muscles, skin and bones, per the NLM.
Although most plant foods aren’t complete proteins, meaning they don’t supply all of the essential amino acids the body is unable to produce on its own like animal-based proteins, tofu is an exception and is considered a complete protein. That said, even if you don’t opt for tofu, you can also eat a variety of plant proteins throughout the day to get all of the necessary amino acids if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
While most Americans eat enough protein, many could benefit from making leaner and healthier choices, per Ohio State University Extension. One easy way to do this: Regularly choose soy products or beans as a main or side dish, like a stir-fry with veggies and tofu.
Eating healthy sources of protein could help you to manage a healthy weight: Researchers found that weight loss and maintenance might depend on the high-protein (not necessarily the low-carbohydrate) part of your diet, per an October 2012 study in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
2. Tofu May Benefit Your Heart
It’s best to choose low-fat protein sources such as lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, eggs and legumes like soy to prevent heart disease. Because tofu is a good source of protein and contains little fat and no cholesterol, it can be a good substitute for meat. In addition to reducing your fat and cholesterol intake, it’ll add more fiber to your day.
What’s more, specific compounds in tofu itself may have heart-protective effects. Tofu is rich in isoflavones, an estrogen-like substance produced by soy plants that could lower the risk of heart disease, per the American Heart Association.
People who ate at least one serving of tofu weekly had an 18 percent lower risk of heart disease compared to those who rarely ate tofu, per a March 2020 study in the journal Circulation. Young people before menopause or postmenopausal people not taking hormones appeared to benefit the most.
3. Tofu Is Linked to a Lower Risk of Breast Cancer
Although it was once thought that soy foods may increase the risk of breast cancer because isoflavones are plant estrogens — and high levels of estrogen have been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer — food sources like soy don’t provide enough isoflavones to increase cancer risk, per the Mayo Clinic.
However, some research suggests a link between soy or isoflavone supplements (which contain higher levels of isoflavones) and a higher risk of breast cancer in those who have a family or personal history of breast cancer or thyroid problems.
“A moderate amount of soy per day — such as one to two standard servings of soy milk, tofu or edamame — seems to be reasonable,” Blake says.
In fact, every 10-milligram increase in daily soy isoflavone was associated with a 3 percent reduced risk of breast cancer in a November 2019 meta-analysis of Chinese women in the European Journal of Epidemiology. The study showed that moderate soy intake was not associated with breast cancer among Chinese women, and higher amounts of soy may even provide reasonable benefits for the prevention of breast cancer.
4. Tofu Can Support Strong Bones
It may come as a surprise to you if you typically associate calcium with milk, but tofu provides 30 percent of your DV of this essential mineral (when prepared with calcium sulfate). Because calcium is often added to tofu, the amount in any given product can vary, so double-check the nutrition label 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 peak strength at around age 30, and after that, they slowly lose calcium. However, you can limit these losses by getting enough calcium in your diet and leading a healthy lifestyle that includes weight-bearing physical activity like walking and running, per the National Institutes of Health.
Low calcium intake was significantly related to low bone mineral density and a higher risk of osteoporosis in a July 2014 cross-sectional study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. That said, the relationship between calcium and bone mineral density was not consistently linear, and getting enough vitamin D appears to compensate for some of the negative influences of low calcium intake on your bones.
Tofu is also a good source of manganese, an essential mineral needed for several processes, including bone development and wound healing, per the Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute.
Meanwhile, tofu provides a quarter of your DV of copper, an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in bone health maintenance. Although more research is needed to determine its effects on overall bone health, copper can remove free radicals and activate the formation of chemical bonds in the collagen and elastin in your bones, per a February 2017 review in Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism.
Soy is one of the eight types of food that account for about 90 percent of all food allergy reactions, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. A food allergy reaction happens when your immune system identifies a food as a danger and triggers a protective response.
Symptoms of a soy allergy include:
- Stomach cramps
- Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
- Repetitive cough
- Tightness in throat, hoarse voice
- Weak pulse
- Pale or blue coloring of the skin
Although rare, a soy allergy can also cause anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can send the body into shock. It’s important to see an allergist if you experience any of these symptoms after eating soybeans or a product containing soy, like tofu. You may need to carry epinephrine with you in case of anaphylaxis.
Soybean products, particularly tofu and soy sauce, contain high levels of tyramine and should not be taken with monoamine oxidase inhibitor therapy (also known as MAOIs; these drugs are used as antidepressants), per a report in the International Journal of Cardiology.
MAOIs block monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that breaks down excess tyramine in your body, as a way of relieving depression, per the Mayo Clinic. However, if you take it while eating high-tyramine foods, your levels of tyramine can easily reach dangerous levels causing a spike in blood pressure that may require emergency treatment.
Examples of MAOIs include:
- Isocarboxazid (Marplan)
- Tranylcypromine (Parnate)
- Phenelzine (Nardil)
- Selegiline (Emsam)
Excess amounts of soy may also affect the absorption of warfarin (commonly known as Coumadin; this is used as a blood thinner), per UC San Diego Health. Be sure to discuss any medication and food interactions with your health professional.
Tofu Preparation and Helpful Tips
Tofu is incredibly easy to cook with and accessible at most supermarkets. Follow these tips to store 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 with fresh water in the refrigerator, and change the water every day for up to five days, per the University of Illinois Extension.
Use it as an easy replacement for animal-based foods. To replace one egg, use ¼ cup of silken tofu pureed smooth, per the University of Illinois. You can also use tofu in place of meat on pizzas, salads and in sautés. Because tofu picks up the flavors of ingredients and sauces it’s cooked with, it’s easy to incorporate it into several different types of dishes.
Add texture to recipes: When pureed, tofu can offer dishes a creamy touch. “You can add blended firm tofu to smoothies, sauces or soup like a roasted squash soup for a creamy texture,” Blake says.
Soy-based alternatives to 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.