Tofu vs. tempeh: which is healthier?

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Accredited practicing dietitian, Melissa Meier gives her verdict on these popular soy sisters. 

If your diet is plant-based, you’ve probably tried all of the meat alternatives available on supermarket shelves, including the usual tofu and it’s trendier cousin, tempeh.

Made from soy, both options are rich in protein and incredibly versatile… but is one better for you than the other? And what’s the difference in the first place? Here’s my dietitian-approved verdict on these popular vego staples.

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Tofu

Tofu is coagulated soy milk curds that have been pressed into a block. You can use it anywhere you’d usually have meat or eggs (think: stir fries, soups, burgers and scrambles) as well as smoothies and plant-based desserts. Plain tofu has a bland or neutral taste, but a wonderful ability to carry the flavour of whatever you cook with it. If you’re short on time, you can also buy it pre-marinated in flavours like teriyaki, satay and honey soy.

The main varieties are firm or soft, with firm tofu offering the most protein, fat and fibre (and therefore more calories). If you’re a numbers person, the breakdown is 502 kilojoules (120 calories), 12 grams of protein, 7.3 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of carbs and sugar, 3.5 grams of fibre and 40 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams of firm tofu.

In comparison, silken tofu offers 224 kilojoules (54 calories), 5.4 grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fat, 0.3 grams of saturated fat, 1.3 grams of carbs, 0.6 grams of sugar, 2.3 grams of fibre and 5 milligrams of sodium.

Tempeh

Made from cooked and fermented soy beans that have been packed into a patty shape, tempeh has a distinct nutty flavour and chewy texture when cooked. Again, you can buy it plain or flavoured and use it in a similar fashion to tofu in savoury dishes.

Per 100 grams of plain tempeh, you’re in for 469 kilojoules (112 calories), 12.4 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 0.9 grams of saturated fat,

Tofu vs. tempeh: which is healthier?

Made from the same key ingredient (soy as either milk or beans), tofu and tempeh are quite similar in the nutrition stakes, bar the fibre. Both firm tofu and tempeh are relatively low in kilojoules and offer a punch of muscle-building plant-based protein, but tempeh packs more than twice the fibre. Another key difference is that tempeh is a source of probiotics, which means it provides good bacteria to support a happy, healthy gut.

While it seems tempeh has a slight nutritional edge over humble tofu, both options are a fabulous addition to any diet, not only one that is plant-based. They’re both nutritious, delicious and a great way to balance out meat free meals, so I’d have no qualms with whichever one takes your fancy. What I would recommend, however, is buying plain varieties over flavoured ones, as the latter can be quite high in sodium which is not good news for your ticker.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.

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