Top 5 health benefits of tempeh
Made from fermented soya beans, tempeh is a nutrient-dense, plant-based ingredient. Registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook explains what tempeh is and why it’s good for us.
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is a traditional soya product originally from Indonesia. It's made from cooked, fermented soya beans and is a popular meat alternative.
Soya beans are soaked overnight and then de-hulled to remove their outer layer, then cooked and cooled before being mixed with a starter culture which contains rhizopus mould spores. The beans are left to ferment until they solidify into a cake-like structure, a process that takes a few days.
Tempeh is not typically found in supermarkets, but you can buy it from health food shops or online. Alternatively, you can make it yourself at home.
A 100g serving of tempeh provides:
- 166Kcal / 697KJ
- 20.7g Protein
- 6.4g Fat
- 6.4g Carbohydrate
- 5.7g Fibre
- 3.6mg Iron
- 120mg Calcium
- 70mg Magnesium
- 200mg Phosphorus
Tempeh is a compact product, more so than other soya products, which means it has a richer protein content. Check labels, as the nutritional profile may vary from brand to brand.
Top 5 health benefits of tempeh
1. May support gut health
Tempeh is typically cooked before eating, and some of commercial products are also pasteurised, meaning they're unlikely to retain the beneficial bacteria known as probiotics, despite being a fermented product.
However, tempeh is rich in fibre – in particular, the type of fibre known to be prebiotic. This fibre feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping them thrive and increase in number. Many of these gut bacteria produce compounds called short-chain fatty acids, which have beneficial effects on the gut as well as for our wider health.
2. May support bone health
Tempeh is rich in bone-friendly minerals including calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. In addition to this, the fermentation process involved in the production of tempeh breaks down compounds known as anti-nutrients, which may inhibit our uptake of some of these minerals. This makes fermented foods easier to digest and the nutrients they provide easier for us to absorb.
3. May help manage cholesterol
Soya products contain natural compounds called isoflavones, regular consumption of which has been associated with reduced cholesterol levels. Studies suggest this includes a reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the type often referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol.
4. Rich in protein
Soya beans are a useful source of plant protein, providing all nine of the essential amino acids we need for growth, repair and functions like immunity, making it a useful inclusion for those following a plant-focused diet.
Tempeh is especially rich in protein, which is known for its filling and satiating effect, and makes a useful dietary inclusion for those looking to control appetite and manage weight.
5. Source of protective antioxidants
Soy isoflavones are powerful antioxidants and as such, they help to minimise the damage called oxidative stress, done by molecules called free radicals. Studies suggest isoflavones help reduce this oxidative stress and that tempeh may be especially good in this regard.
Is tempeh safe for everyone?
Like other fermented soya foods, tempeh is generally recognised as safe for most people, unless you have a soy allergy, which means it should be avoided. Soybeans are also considered to be goitrogenic, which means they interfere with the activity of the thyroid gland. Although in practice this effect may be minimal, if you have a thyroid condition you may wish to minimise your intake.
Those with a histamine intolerance may benefit from limiting the amount of fermented foods like tempeh in their diet – this is because these foods contain relatively high levels of histamine.
The consumption of soya has become controversial in recent years, with some animal studies suggesting a link with certain cancers. In support of the food’s safety, the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that soy isoflavones do not adversely affect the thyroid, breast or uterus in postmenopausal women.
Soya contains anti-nutrients, including trypsin inhibitors and phytates; these may inhibit our absorption of some of the bean’s valuable nutrients. Soaking or fermenting the soybeans before cooking can minimise these compounds, and this is why choosing traditional soya products like tempeh and miso can provide superior nutritional value.
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This article was last reviewed on 12 October 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified nutritionist (MBANT) with a postgraduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the past 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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