When it comes to weight loss, protein is one of the most essential food groups. Protein is filling and, better yet, increases your metabolic rate. That means, after eating protein, your calorie expenditure is a little higher than usual.
In addition, eating protein can help preserve your muscle mass, protecting you from the metabolic slowdown that often goes hand in hand with low-calorie diets.
Most high-protein foods come from animals, like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. These foods are often described as complete proteins because they contain all of the amino acids your body needs to function correctly.
But what if you prefer not to eat animal foods?
The good news is that there are plenty of high-protein foods that compare favorably to chicken, fish, and eggs. One of the best sources of plant-based protein is tofu.
Tofu is something of a vegetarian and vegan diet staple. It’s pretty bland, but that can be beneficial because tofu readily takes on the flavor of any other ingredients it’s prepared with. That’s why tofu is such a versatile ingredient that can be used in savory and sweet recipes.
In this article, we answer the question: is tofu good for weight loss? We also reveal some of the lesser-known benefits of this plant-based protein.
Is Tofu Good For Weight Loss?
What Is Tofu?
Tofu is made from pressed, condensed soymilk, which is extracted from soybeans. It has a cheese-like texture but is free from dairy.
Tofu is usually made into and sold in blocks and can be cooked in a variety of ways. It was first made in China over 2,000 years ago and is now a popular ingredient with vegetarians and vegans.
Soybeans are native to Asia, but most of the world’s soybeans are now grown in the USA, and a large percentage are genetically modified (GMO) crops.
GMO crops are somewhat controversial, but there is very little evidence to suggest that GMOs are harmful. That said, if you want to avoid GMOs, there are organic tofu brands available.
Tofu is high in protein and contains lots of healthful nutrients. It’s a viable alternative to meat, both for vegetarians and vegans and anyone looking for an alternative to animal products.
Tofu is a very nutrient-dense food. That’s hardly surprising, given that it’s made from legumes. In addition to protein, tofu also contains carbs, fat, and fiber, making it a nutritionally complete food.
A 100 gram (3.5 ounces) serving of tofu contains:
- 70 calories
- Protein: 8 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Fat: 4 grams
In addition, tofu contains creditable amounts of the following micronutrients:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Pantothenic acid
Tofu also contains plant compounds called plant sterols and isoflavones. Isoflavones act like the hormone estrogen and attach to and activate your body’s estrogen receptors. Many of the health benefits of tofu are attributed to isoflavones.
Tofu and Weight Loss
Tofu can help you lose weight in several ways, including:
Low In Calories
Compared to meat, fish, and poultry, tofu is much lower in calories. You can use this to reduce your calorie intake for weight loss purposes. For example, you could replace meat with the same amount of tofu, saving yourself a slew of calories. Soy isoflavones are also linked to increased weight loss.
Despite being low in calories, tofu is very filling. The hardest part of any diet is overcoming hunger. If you give in to your cravings, you could undo all the benefits of eating less. Eating tofu means less hunger and an easier time sticking to your diet.
High Thermic Effect
Eating, digesting, and eliminating high protein foods like tofu uses a lot of energy. This is called the thermic effect of food, or TEF for short. Eating tofu will increase your daily calorie expenditure. The TEF for high protein foods is roughly 15-20%.
Easy to Store and Prepare
Tofu is easy to cook and usually has a long shelf life. Some varieties don’t even need refrigerating. Tofu can also be eaten raw, although it will be quite bland if not mixed with other ingredients.
Good for the Health of Your Gut
Tofu contains prebiotic fiber, which is good for the healthy bacteria that reside in your gut. A healthy gut is linked to better immunity and weight loss, increased fat burning, and more stable energy levels.
Additional Benefits of Eating Tofu
Eating tofu may have other worthwhile benefits:
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Eating tofu may lower your risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the Western world. Heart disease is characterized by the narrowing of the arteries that keep the heart supplied with blood.
Studies suggest that the isoflavones in tofu can help lower bad and increase good cholesterol, lower blood lipid levels, and reduce the risk of clotting, all of which can help prevent coronary heart disease and its various complications and symptoms.
Reduced Risk of Some Cancers
Research shows that eating tofu may lower the risk of breast cancer in women. This is linked to the soy isoflavones. Tofu may also reduce the risk of colon, stomach, and prostate cancer in men.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
Eating tofu can help lower and stabilize your blood glucose levels, which are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Soy isoflavones increase insulin sensitivity, promoting the uptake of glucose from the blood and into liver and muscle cells.
Studies suggest that tofu may reduce age-related bone loss, leading to a lowered risk of osteoporosis, a medical condition characterized by porous, brittle bones.
Increased Skin Elasticity
Eating soy may help reduce wrinkles.
Improved Brain Function
The soy isoflavones in tofu may protect against age-related cognitive decline and enhance memory and general brain function in older people.
Fewer Menopause Symptoms
Eating tofu may make the symptoms of menopause less severe. It may also shorten the duration of menopause.
Despite the long list of benefits, you may be surprised to learn that tofu is a somewhat controversial food and some nutritional experts believe it can be harmful.
Issues linked to tofu include:
The hormonal effect of tofu means that it could increase the risk of breast tumors. If you have a family history of estrogen-sensitive breast tumors, you should only eat tofu 1-2 times a week.
Tofu contains goitrogen, which can affect thyroid function. If you have a history of thyroid issues, you should speak to your doctor before adding tofu to your diet.
Some people find tofu (and other soybean products) hard to digest, resulting in gas, bloating, and stomach upsets. Introduce tofu gradually into your diet and avoid it if you experience any gastric distress.
The benefits of tofu mostly outweigh the downsides, and unwanted side effects are rare. However, if you have a history of hormonal or thyroidal problems, you should speak to your doctor before eating lots of tofu.
Tofu could help you lose weight. It’s a valuable source of protein, and as such, it’s filling and will boost your metabolic rate. High protein foods like tofu are also helpful for maintaining your muscle mass, preventing muscle loss, and avoiding the decrease in metabolic rate that often accompanies a low-calorie diet.
While tofu is high in protein, it’s low in fat too, which means it contains fewer calories than meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. Eating tofu instead of beef could save you a lot of calories without making your meals smaller or less filling.
As well as being a useful weight-loss food, tofu contains a lot of beneficial vitamins, minerals, and other plant compounds. Eating tofu may be good for your health, offering protection from several diseases and illnesses, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. It could also help you fend off wrinkles!
On the downside, some brands of tofu are made from genetically modified soybeans, and while there is very little evidence to suggest that GMOs are unhealthy, some people prefer to avoid them. Thankfully, organic tofu is GMO-free.
Finally, the soy isoflavones in tofu mimic the effect of estrogen. While isoflavones are part of what makes tofu healthy, they can also cause issues for some people. Because of this, people with hormonal and thyroidal issues should avoid tofu until they’ve spoken to their doctor.