Is Tofu Keto-Friendly?

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Written by Bridget Nalwoga, Certified Nutritionist and medically reviewed by Abby Courtenay

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Tofu has become an important part of cuisines all over the world. This is mostly because of its popularity among vegan and vegetarian communities. 

However, it can be much more than just a meat substitute. If you open your mind to it, it can make an excellent addition to your diet, plant-based or not. And of course, if you are on keto, you have to think about those carbs.

In this article, we explore tofu’s nutrition composition and determine how it fits on a ketogenic diet. We also look at some of the controversies that surround it and other soy products. 

 

What is tofu?

This food is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the curds into blocks. It originated from China about 2000 years ago but spread through other parts of Asia. It is currently a major part of many Asian cuisines in countries like Japan, Indonesia, and Korea. 

In the middle of the 1990s, tofu’s popularity started to grow in other parts of the world outside Asia. With an increasing interest in veganism and vegetarianism in the West, it has become a staple in many people’s diets as a meat substitute. 
 
Fun fact! The first recorded use of the word tofu in English was in the year 1770, in a letter to Benjamin Franklin. His interest in the dish was probably due to his vegetarianism. 

Today, the food is enjoyed by many, including meat eaters, in a wide variety of dishes. Due to its bland taste, it can easily be incorporated into recipes both sweet and savory.   


Nutritional value of tofu

Since this food is made from soybeans, a legume, it has a fairly rich nutrition profile. It is low in carbs and fat and moderately high in protein. 

The micronutrient composition varies depending on how it is processed. The most notable micronutrients are vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Most brands will be rich in either depending on what coagulant they use.

Serving size: 100 g of raw firm tofu made with calcium sulfate as the coagulant

  • Calories: 144 Kcal
  • Fat: 8.7 g 
  • Net carbs (total - fiber): 0.5 g
  • Total carbs: 2.8 g
  • Fiber: 2.3 g
  • Protein: 17.3 g

It is important to remember that tofu macros can vary significantly across brands. From the above nutrition information, we see that 100 g contains less than a gram of net carbs. Other brands might contain more. On average, most brands have 0.5 to 2.5 g of net carbs. So while tofu does have carbs, the amount is consistently low.

Other nutrients might vary more significantly. For example, some brands may have as little as 10 g of protein per 100 g.

 

JUMPSTART YOUR KETO GOALS


Can you eat tofu on a keto diet?

Yes, it is ok to eat on keto, but there are some concerns to be aware of. 

First, it is made from soybeans which happen to be legumes, a food group that is not recommended on keto. For this reason, some keto eaters prefer to steer clear of it. 

Secondly, it is very low in fat. Some argue that it is not completely ketogenic because of its low-fat content. However, this can easily be remedied by adding more fat to the dish, like olive oil, or having a fatty side, like avocado.

Finally, there is some controversy surrounding the consumption of soy and soy products. 

It is estimated that 95% of the soy produced in the United States is GMO (genetically modified). The percentage may be lower in other countries, but the trend remains consistent. GMOs have not been found to be harmful to human health, but some people would rather avoid them altogether. You can buy organic tofu made from non-GMO soy, but it usually costs more. 

Soy and soy products have had some negative press due to the fact that they contain phytoestrogens (or plant estrogens). These weak plant estrogens actually help to protect against certain hormonal cancers because they compete with stronger estrogens in the diet and environment. 

People who have been diagnosed with a form of hormonal cancer and/ or are taking hormone replacement therapy should limit their soy intake. It’s important to chat to your doctor about the pros and cons in this case. 


How much tofu can you eat on keto?

With a 100 g serving containing a maximum of 0.5 g of net carbs, you can enjoy a good amount on keto. If you have two 100 g servings per day, you will only get 1 g of net carbs. 

Tofu is usually sold in 14-ounce blocks. For an individual, half a block is usually enough for a meal, which would be 7oz, almost 200 g. 

You can therefore enjoy half a block for only 1 g of net carbs in a day. If you can eat a whole block, you are still safe as that will be only 2 g of net carbs or less, depending on the brand. 

Remember that while the amount of carbs is not a concern for this food, the fat content is. Add a fat source to all of your dishes to balance them for keto. 


What kind of tofu can you eat on keto?

There are hundreds of types of this food, which also means there are so many ways of classifying it. However, the most common classification is according to texture or firmness. 

According to firmness, the most common types of tofu are:

  • Extra soft. This type is made by simply curdling soy milk. It is not drained at all. It is not common in Western cuisine, but is popular in Asia, particularly Korea. 
  • Soft or silken. This is also undrained and unpressed, resulting in higher moisture content and a silky texture. It is mostly used in sweet desserts as a dairy or egg replacement. 
  • Firm. This kind is drained and pressed, but still has a moderate moisture content. It has the texture of raw meat and is therefore used as a meat replacement in stews and soups.
  • Extra-firm. This has the lowest water content as it is extra pressed. It has the firm texture of cooked meat. It is also used as a meat replacement, but mostly in dry dishes like stir-fries and grilled dishes as it holds together nicely. 

As you may be able to tell, the difference between these types is moisture content and not much else. This means that the nutrient content differs slightly with extra soft having the lowest of every nutrient per unit weight. 

You can therefore enjoy any firmness type as your recipe requires.

Flavored tofu, while very convenient, may not be keto-friendly. Some marinades might contain sugar or starch. For example, Cauldron Foods’ flavored version has 2 g of sugar per serving. 

For more keto-friendly flavors, make your own marinade at home using carb-free ingredients like soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and pepper. 

 

BUILD YOUR KETO DIET PLAN


Keto-friendly tofu alternatives

It is not that difficult to get bored of a bland food. The good news is there are so many foods that can work as a replacement. 

Meat like beef, chicken, and fish all work as excellent keto-friendly alternatives. Meat has an identical chewy texture and contains 0 g carbs. Apart from sweet dishes, meat is just as versatile in cooking.

For those that do not eat meat, there are still vegetarian and vegan options to choose from. 

Some of the common plant-based ingredients that can give you that lovely chewy texture include mushrooms, tempeh, and mock meats. 


FAQs about tofu on keto

If you still have questions about eating this food on a ketogenic diet, read on as we answer some of the most common ones you may have.
 

Tofu has a very low glycemic index (GI) of 15 because of its low carbohydrate and high fiber content. For context, the glycemic index of white rice is 73. You can see that rice has a GI nearly 5 times as high. 

Yes, it is very low in calories, especially if you compare it to dishes like beef, chicken, and even legumes like kidney beans. A typical half-block serving will only give 288 kcal, which is remarkable considering the protein content. 

Yes, it is excellent for weight loss. It is very low in calories and moderately high in protein, making it ideal for those looking to lose weight. 

Yes, both non-vegetarians and vegetarians can eat tofu on keto. It is extremely low in carbs, making it suitable for keto, and has a lovely chewy texture. 

Some might think that this food’s bland flavor is a bad thing, but it is actually what makes it so versatile and easy to use. Since it imparts no flavor to a dish, you can manipulate it in so many ways.

Most people know how to use it as a meat substitute, but did you know it can also work as a scrambled egg replacement? Here is a keto tofu scramble recipe you can try.
           
Ingredients 

  • Block of firm tofu
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt
  • Turmeric
  • Black pepper

              
Directions 

  1. Chop and crumble the tofu.
  2. Heat up some oil in a pan and add your crumble.
  3. Add the turmeric, black pepper, salt, and any spice you like.
  4. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Enjoy!

You can customize your scrambled ‘egg’ in so many ways. For example, you can add nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy flavor or real cheese for a more ketogenic dish. You can also add more vegetables like tomatoes, scallions, and broccoli for more texture and of course nutrition. 

The main downside is its low fat content. This is easy to fix by including a fat source like butter or cheese to the dish you make. 

If you do not buy organic, there may be a concern about GMO soy, but so far research has shown GMOs to have no negative effect on human health. 

Finally, if you have been diagnosed with a type of hormonal cancer or are taking hormone replacement, then chat to your doctor before eating large quantities of soy.

 

Other keto-approved foods

  • Almond flour
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yeast