Are you a vegetarian or vegan looking to try a ketogenic diet but don’t know what you can eat?
A major source of protein for low carb vegans is tofu. Tofu is also one of the most widely debated foods, with many experts discussing whether it’s healthy or not.
While many vegans and vegetarians rave about its versatility and taste, others wonder how safe this soybean-based product really is.
Let’s start with the basics:
What is Tofu?
Tofu is a bean curd made from soybeans. Soybeans are turned into soy milk, the milk is coagulated and the curds are pressed into white cubes.
One hundred grams (or about a half a cup) of boiled soybeans comes to a total of:
- 173 calories
- 9 grams of fat
- 10 grams of total carbs
- 4 grams of net carbs
- 6 grams of fiber
- 17 grams of protein
As you can tell, soybeans are an abundant source of protein. This is why people consuming a plant-based diet depend on them for their protein intake, and tofu is one of the most popular ways to get them.
Soybeans are particularly important for those on a vegetarian keto diet since they’re one of the few high-protein, low-carb plant foods available.
Tofu can come in three different textures: soft, firm and extra firm tofu.
There are also different varieties of tofu, including fresh tofu, silken tofu, processed tofu, dried tofu, fried tofu, frozen tofu, pickled tofu and stinky tofu.
Yep, you read that right, stinky tofu.
While you may be relieved to find out that most of the tofu made available in the United States is not fermented (meaning not pickled or stinky tofu), this is actually a disadvantage. Fermentation vastly improves tofu’s nutritional content, while non-fermented tofu isn’t as healthy — despite being the most popular variety.
When it comes to its nutritional profile, tofu isn’t all bad. Half a cup of tofu (about 124 grams) contains a total of:
- 94 calories
- 10 grams of protein
- 6 grams of fat
- 2 grams of carbs
- 1.5 grams of net carbs
It also provides micronutrients such as iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Unfortunately, despite tofu’s low carb content, there are some valid concerns about it, which is why some experts advise against eating it.
Why is the consumption of tofu frowned upon by some people?
Tofu is traditionally made from soybeans, and in Asia, they play a large role in people’s diets. However, processed and genetically modified soybeans are much more common (if not the norm) in Western civilizations.
This genetic modification not only worsens the quality and nutrition of tofu, but other soy products as well including soy milk, soy sauce, soy flour, and soy protein powder.
Genetically-modified soybeans are also used to make soybean oil, which is loaded with harmful trans fats. As you can read in this article, vegetable oils in general are terrible for your health. That’s why we recommend you eat sesame oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, or MCT oil instead.
Besides GMO soybeans, there’s another concerning factor about tofu: the high concentration of xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens.
What are xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are compounds found in certain foods that mimic estrogen in your body. Once digested, xenoestrogens attach to the estrogen receptors in your cells and take over estrogen’s functions.
Unfortunately, xenoestrogens are not the only estrogen-mimicking compound you need to worry about.
Phytoestrogens are another form of estrogen-like nutrients found in soybeans and other plants.
While hormones play important roles in your body, too much estrogen can be a bad thing.
Research finds that high estrogen levels can:
- Promote the production of cysts, tumors, and fibroids
- Increase the risk of breast cancer
- Trigger weight gain and prevent weight loss
- Stall fat burning
- Contribute to high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and, by extension, type 2 diabetes
Since these two compounds can act as estrogen and block your body’s production of real estrogen, tofu is definitely not for everyone.
These are just some of the reasons why soybeans didn’t make our ketogenic diet food list. Tofu did make it, but as you’ll read below, it’s only suitable for some keto-ers.
Does Tofu Fit Into a Ketogenic Diet?
Let’s put tofu’s negative reputation aside for a moment and take a look at its macronutrients.
Tofu is keto-friendly since it contains just 1.5 grams of net carbs in an average serving, which fits within the Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) carb limit of around 50 grams of carbs per day (sometimes less, sometimes more). Technically, you can consume regular tofu without any stress of going over your carb count.
However, with all the different types of tofu offered nowadays, it’s still important to check the net carb count of specific brands. The carb count may differ between products, but it should still be relatively low.
If you look only at the macronutrients, tofu seems like a perfectly acceptable keto food.
However, don’t rush to make keto recipes with tofu just yet.
The truth is tofu is not ideal for most people on keto. Just because the macros are keto-friendly, it doesn’t mean the food is healthy — hot dogs are technically keto, but they should never be in your diet.
As mentioned above, eating too much tofu can increase your phytoestrogen and xenoestrogen levels, which raises your risk for hormone imbalances and tumor formation.
Hence, you should only consume it if:
- You’re doing a vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan ketogenic diet variation
- You want to increase estrogen levels on a keto diet — in this case, estrogen-like compounds can help
If you fall into either of those two camps, make sure you’re getting the highest quality of tofu available, ideally organic and fermented to avoid GMOs in your diet.
If you don’t fall in these categories, your diet will probably be healthier without tofu. Animal products — like grass-fed beef, sour cream, and heavy cream — will give you better macronutrients without the risk of higher estrogen.
Even those on a cyclical ketogenic diet who need extra carbs and protein shouldn’t be eating tofu. Just like with peanut butter, the protein in tofu isn’t worth the risk.
So Is Tofu Keto Friendly?
Tofu is a good plant-based protein when you get it from a high-quality source (read: non-GMO soybeans with lower levels of xenoestrogens), however, if you don’t have meat restrictions or low estrogen levels, you should probably go for meat-based proteins instead to prevent a hormonal imbalance.
Only people following the ketogenic diet with a vegetarian or pescatarian approach or those trying to increase their estrogen levels on the keto diet should eat it. If that’s not you, tofu is not necessary and it’s potentially harmful.
Tofu is keto friendly, but not suited for a healthy ketogenic diet.