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What is tofu?

Tofu, or bean curd, is a popular food derived from soya. It is made by curdling fresh soya milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it, in much the same way that traditional dairy cheese is made by curdling and solidifying milk.

A staple ingredient in Thai and Chinese cookery, tofu can be cooked in many different ways to change its texture from smooth and soft, to crisp and crunchy.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides, then check out some of our delicious tofu recipes, such as our tofu brekkie pancakes and sweet & sour tofu.

The health benefits of tofu:

  • a source of complete protein
  • provides protective plant compounds
  • rich in nutrients
  • may alleviate peri-menopausal symptoms
  • may support heart health
  • may help manage cholesterol
  • may support blood sugar management
  • may support bone health
  • may lift mood
  • may reduce the risk of certain cancers
Sweet & sour tofu

Nutritional profile of tofu

  • A 100g serving of steamed tofu provides:
  • 73 kcal / 304KJ
  • 8.1g protein
  • 4.2g fat
  • 0.5g saturated fat
  • 0.8 mono-unsaturated fat
  • 2.0 poly-unsaturated fat
  • 0.7g carbohydrate

Calcium levels of tofu vary, so check labels and look for a product that's ‘calcium set’ – this means calcium chloride (E509) or calcium sulphate (E516) has been added to the product.

More like this

Top 10 health benefits of tofu

1. Source of ‘complete’ plant protein

Soya, including tofu, is a useful source of plant protein, providing all nine of the essential amino acids we need for growth, repair and functions like immunity. The digestibility of the protein in soya, which refers to how well our body can use the protein, is good, with some studies suggesting it may even be comparable to that of animal protein.

2. Source of protective plant compounds

Soy products, and most notably tofu, contain natural plant compounds called isoflavones; these are protective and as such help minimise the damage known as oxidative stress. It’s this damage that's involved in both ageing and the onset of a number of chronic diseases.

Soya beans also contain other active plant compounds, such as saponins.

3. Is nutrient dense, supplying relatively more nutrients than calories

Tofu is nutrient dense – this means it provides a lot of nutrients, in useful amounts relative to the amount of energy (calories) it provides.

4. May alleviate peri-menopausal symptoms

Isoflavones are also often described as being phyto-oestrogens; this means they mimic a weak form of the hormone oestrogen in the body and some women find it helps with peri-menopausal symptoms such as poor mood and hot flushes.

Genetics, your gut microbiota and environmental factors play a huge part in how our bodies react to certain foods, so as yet we can’t say whether a diet rich in phyto-estrogenic foods is beneficial for all women.

5. May support heart health

Regular consumption of legumes, including soya, is linked to a lower risk of heart disease; this is thought to be because they are a rich source of phytochemicals as well as fibre.

6. May help manage cholesterol

Regularly eating foods rich in isoflavones, like tofu, 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.

7. May support blood sugar management

One study of post-menopausal woman who consumed 100mg of soy isoflavones each day saw a reduction in fasting blood sugar levels by 15 per cent and insulin levels by 23 per cent. Similarly, diabetic post-menopausal women who supplemented with isolated soy protein saw a reduction in fasting insulin levels, insulin resistance and an improvement in cholesterol management.

However, other studies have generated mixed findings with a meta-analysis suggesting there is still more for us to learn in this area. In the meantime, it appears consuming soya foods like tofu may be useful, but more studies are needed.

8. May support bone health

Studies suggest isoflavones in soy may help reduce bone loss and improve bone mineral density in post-menopausal women.

9. May lift mood

Studies suggest a regular intake of soy foods may have a beneficial effect on mental health for older adults with a higher intake being associated with a lower risk of depression. However, if you are medicated for depression speak to your GP or health practitioner before making significant changes to your soya intake.

10. May reduce the risk of certain cancers

A moderate intake of soy foods rich in isoflavones, such as tofu, may reduce the risk of breast cancer in pre and post-menopausal women. Furthermore, studies appear to suggest that intakes, comparable to those of Asian populations, have no detrimental effects on the risk of breast cancer recurrence. This may be of particular relevance to women who may be at increased risk due to their genetic profile.

Tofu pancakes

Is tofu safe for everyone?

Tofu is generally recognised as safe for most people, unless you have a soya allergy, when it should be avoided. Soybeans may have a goitrogenic effect, 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.

Tofu and other soya products contain oxalate; people with a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones may choose to avoid over-consuming soya products. However, studies suggest that soya products containing some oxalate and moderate amounts of phytates may actually be advantageous for kidney stone patients.

The consumption of soya has become controversial over 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.

If you have concerns speak to your GP or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.

Not cooked tofu before? Watch our video on three ways to cook with tofu.

Recipe suggestions

Firm tofu makes a great addition to a stir-fry:
Tofu, greens & cashew stir-fry
Sesame noodles with tofu

Experiment with tofu in some classic recipes:
Tofu & spinach cannelloni
Spicy tofu kedgeree
Veggie Thai red curry
Tofu steaks with chips

Or something a little more unusual:
Tofu & vegetable patties
Devilled tofu kebabs

Tofu is also a great addition to salads:
Soba noodle & edamame salad with grilled tofu
Summer vegetable bowl


This article was last reviewed on 6 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.

Jo Williams is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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