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If you’re looking to cut down on your meat consumption for health or environmental reasons but are concerned about getting enough protein per day, a simple fix can be adding tofu to your rotation.
Tofu, aka bean curd, is a popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines — and it’s pretty awesome stuff. It’s made from condensed soy milk that’s been pressed to form a solid, and even though it may appear plain-looking (and tasting), it can be easily added to many meals, thanks to versatility and ability to soak up the flavors of any ingredients it’s cooked with. Even better, this soy product has some pretty impressive nutritional features — including offering a hearty dose of plant-based protein.
How Much Protein Does Tofu Have?
The amount of protein in tofu will vary depending which type of tofu you’re eating. Silken or soft tofu, for example, has much higher water content, which means it generally has less protein. This type has a creamy texture, making it perfect for soups, smoothies, or sauces. Firm or extra firm tofu, on the other hand, has lower water content and packs more protein. It holds its shape splendidly, making it perfect for grilling, stir-frying, or baking.
While all tofu choices will provide a complete protein (more on that below), the protein content will vary based on the type of tofu as well as the brand you’re buying. For a general estimate, here’s how much protein each type of tofu has in a 100-gram serving, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):
- Extra firm tofu: 7.4 grams
- Firm Tofu: 6.9 grams
- Silken Tofu: 4.8 grams
Is Tofu a Complete Protein?
Not only is tofu a great source of vegan, plant-based protein, but it’s also a complete protein source. “A complete protein contains all nine of the amino acids that are considered essential; that is, we can’t make them in our bodies and have to consume them,” explains Melissa Groves Azzaro, RDN, registered dietitian and author of “A Balanced Approach to PCOS.” In other words, you must get these nine essential nutrients from your diet. Otherwise, you may experience a gap in your amino acid intake.
Animal proteins contain all nine of those amino acids, meaning they’re complete proteins — but not all plant-based protein sources are complete, Azzaro explains, which is one reason why tofu is such an impressive protein choice. Pistachios are another complete plant-based protein source, for example.
You don’t need to worry about getting a complete protein source at every meal; if you’re eating a variety of protein sources (plant-based or otherwise, including veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes) you’re likely getting all the amino acids you need. If you’re following a plant-based diet and you’re concerned about getting enough, it’s a good idea to consult with a health professional like your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Protein in Tofu vs. Chicken or Beef
Curious how much protein tofu has compared to animal protein sources like chicken or beef? Here’s a breakdown per 100-gram serving, according to the USDA:
- Extra firm tofu: 7.4 grams
- Chicken breast: 31 grams
- Ground beef (90% lean): 18.2 grams
Tofu may not have quite as much protein as chicken or beef, but it has some other perks that make it a healthy choice in comparison. For example, like chicken and beef, tofu provides all nine essential amino acids and is a complete protein. But unlike many meat choices, tofu is low in saturated fat and free from cholesterol.
Also unlike chicken or beef, tofu contains isoflavones, which are a type of plant compound often called “phytoestrogens” because they can have an estrogen-like effect on your body. But don’t worry, these “plant-estrogens” don’t act exactly like the estrogen we naturally produce. In fact, research shows that these isoflavones can have some pretty fantastic health benefits. They’re linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. Plus, they might help alleviate symptoms of menopause.
Tofu is also a source of many micronutrients, including iron, calcium, and manganese.
While animal-based proteins, like chicken and beef, can’t boast all of the health claims tofu can, certain choices (especially leaner meat cuts) can offer some unique benefits too, like being a source of heme iron, which is a form of iron that is easier for the body to actually utilize.
Tips For Including More Tofu in Your Diet
Including tofu in your diet can be a simple way to eat more plant-based protein.
If you’re ready to jump on the tofu-eating train, Azzaro recommends trying different ways to add it to dishes you already enjoy, like making a tofu and veggie scramble for breakfast (using tofu in place of scrambled eggs), adding silken tofu as a protein in smoothies, desserts, or dips, and adding baked tofu to salads or sandwiches.
No matter whether you grill it, bake it, or add cubes to your miso soup, including this plant-based protein in your diet can certainly be a positive addition.
Image Source: Getty / Yagi Studio