Many meat-eaters are catching on to what vegetarians and vegans have known for some time: Tofu is an excellent addition your plate, whether you regularly eat meat or not. This soybean and water mixture (sometimes called bean curd) is quickly becoming a crowd-pleaser for all types of eaters.
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And there are many reasons behind tofu’s rising popularity: It works well in many dishes, is easy to use and is super healthy. Registered dietitian Natalie Romito, RD, LD, agrees and shares why tofu should become a regular part of your meal plan.
Why tofu is healthy
With 10 grams of protein in a 3/4-cup (100 grams) serving, tofu is an excellent plant protein source. The high protein is one reason people who follow a vegetarian or vegan meal plan favor bean curd as an alternative to meat.
Tofu’s an especially good choice for people who eat vegan to ensure they meet their recommended daily protein intake.
“Unlike animal sources of protein like beef, tofu is cholesterol-free,” says Romito. And while a serving of tofu has 5 grams of fat, it’s mostly polyunsaturated fats. These fats are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help control cholesterol.
- 100–200 milligrams of calcium (8% to 16% of your daily value or DV).
- 2.04 milligrams of iron (11% DV).
- 0.67 milligrams of manganese (29% of DV)
- 0.2 milligrams of copper (22% of DV)
- 0.16 milligrams of pantothenic acid (B5) (17% of DV)
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Tofu health benefits
Tofu provides you with high levels calcium, manganese, iron and vitamin B5, which is needed to break down carbs and fat for energy. And tofu contains all the essential amino acids your body needs. It’s also a primary source of isoflavones — a type of plant-made flavonoid with a range of health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Here are five reasons to make tofu a regular part of your meals:
1. Improves heart health
Soybeans and soy products like tofu are rich in isoflavones. These flavonoids (plant-based chemicals) help lower your blood pressure and offer other heart-protective benefits. A 2020 study found that people who ate a serving of tofu each week had an 18% lower risk of heart disease than those who didn’t.
A different study found that people who ate soy products four or more days a week had a lower risk of heart attacks. “Tofu is a great option for anyone following a heart-healthy diet — which should be all of us,” says Romito.
2. Lowers cancer risk
In the past, people were concerned that soy foods increased cancer risk. “Isoflavones weakly mimic estrogen, so there were uncertainties about a potential link between soy and breast cancer,” notes Romito.
But decades of studies haven’t found a connection. Some of the evidence:
- A 2023 systemic review of close to 50 studies showed that people who ate more soy products, fresh fruits and vegetables had a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer.
- A 2012 study found a lower risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence) in participants who ate half a serving or more of soy products every day.
- Other studies suggest that eating more soy products may reduce your chances of developing lung cancer and prostate cancer by as much as 10%.
3. Builds muscle
Tofu is a complete protein — it has all nine essential amino acids that your body needs to work well. “Your body uses amino acids in protein to repair tissues, carry nutrients and build muscle,” says Romito.
4. Strengthens bones
Tofu also contains calcium and magnesium, which help your body build and maintain strong bones. Calcium- and magnesium-rich foods may prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. Magnesium is also an important nutrient for healthy nerve and muscle function.
5. Helps with weight management
Protein can help shed pounds. It takes longer and requires more energy (calorie burn) for your body to break down protein. As a result, you feel fuller for longer, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
How to use tofu
Tofu is extremely versatile. You can use it instead of meat or as a base for nutritious smoothies and delicious desserts.
Tofu contains soybeans, water and a substance that binds the two together (a coagulant). It’s often pressed into a block shape. There are different types or textures of tofu, which reflect the amount of water.
Tofu types include:
- Firm: Firm tofu resembles feta cheese. You can use firm tofu in many dishes and fix it all kinds of ways — fried, in stews or as spreads. “Firm tofu is easy to chop and cook with, which is why it’s the most common type,” says Romito.
- Extra-firm: Firm and extra-firm tofu are very similar. Extra-firm tofu has slightly less water, making it easier to fry. But it doesn’t absorb marinades or sauces as well as firm tofu.
- Medium (regular): You usually find medium (also called regular) tofu in Asian dishes. It has a soft texture similar to silken tofu but is more compact. Regular tofu absorbs sauces and broths, making it a good choice for soups and marinades.
- Silken: Also known as Japanese-style tofu, silken tofu has the highest water content. It looks a bit like fresh mozzarella cheese (burrata). Silken tofu easily separates in your hands.
If you’ve never cooked with tofu, consider starting with this simple and delicious recipe for sesame seed-crusted tofu. It requires just eight ingredients and comes together easily. Pair the tofu with a salad or roasted root vegetables for a complete meal.
You can also try one of these tasty tofu recipes: