Tofu: A Popular Vegan Option but Is It Keto Friendly?

If you’re a vegetarian and are thinking about doing keto, you are probably finding that you are pressing your luck finding foods that will fit your diet.

Vegans by nature eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, coupled with beans, lentils, and legumes. All of which contain carbs.

And plenty of them! Clearly not acceptable for a ketogenic diet plan.

But what about tofu?

Can it be an acceptable addition to your ketogenic diet plan?

Let’s go over a few key things to keep in mind so that you can understand how tofu works on a keto diet.

What Is Tofu?

Before we talk about whether tofu is right for the ketogenic diet, we need to first make sure it’s clear what tofu is.

For those not in the know, tofu is a type of bean curd that is prepared using soybeans as the main ingredient. From there, it’s turned into soy milk and is coagulated. The curds that remain are then transformed into the white pieces of tofu that you see in your supermarket.

So in essence, tofu is a form of soybean.

Soybeans, interestingly enough, are a relatively low-carb food, unlike their other bean counterparts. Per one cup of boiled soybeans, you are going to take in:

  • 298 calories
  • 15.4 grams of fat (of which just 2.2 are saturated fat)
  • 17.1 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 28.6 grams of protein

Now you might be thinking… 17 grams of carbohydrates is a lot!

But when you look at the dietary fiber content, we see that they are also very rich in dietary fiber at 10.3 grams.

Since for the ketogenic diet, many people count net carbs only, this means there is actually more like 6.8 grams of total carbs.

Based on the calorie count, this puts soybeans at about 9% total net carb count. It is higher than ketogenic standards, which are 5%, but if you factor this into the other food choices you make, it does appear like it’s an acceptable solution.

When soybeans turn into tofu, the story only improves.

Remember that when you are eating tofu, you aren’t eating straight soybeans, but rather soybeans that have been through a manufacturing process.

Looking here, per 1 cup serving of firm tofu made with nigari, you’ll be taking in:

  • 176 calories
  • 10.5 grams of fat
  • 4.3 grams of carbs (of which 2.3 grams is dietary fiber)
  • 20.6 grams of protein [1].

Now when we equate the total carb percentage, we get just 4.5%, and we have a ketogenic diet winner on our hands.

Do keep in mind this is for firm tofu. If you were to opt for soft tofu, you’ll take in:

  • 151 calories
  • 9.2 grams of fat
  • 4.5 grams of carbs
  • only 0.5 grams of those are from fiber.

Therefore you will net 4 grams of carbs, and that makes this variety 10.6% total carb content.

Not totally terrible if you manage all your macros right, but it does eat into your limited daily carb intake more.

If you need help figuring out your keto macro numbers, look no further: Keto Calculator: The Simplest Ketogenic Macro Calculator

The Whole Picture

Although the macros look good, you should still be considering the overall nutrition of the food as well. It’s important when creating your diet that you aren’t just looking at nutrition stats but how each meal is going to impact your health.

It’s great to stay in ketosis, but if you do so and are completely unhealthy, you aren’t doing yourself much good.

This is where there is a lot of conflicting views on the tofu.

Testosterone and Tofu

Related: Can The Keto Diet Increase Natural Testosterone?

For the males out there who are vegan and considering the ketogenic diet, it’s important to note that some research shows that consuming soy-based foods can negatively impact testosterone [1].

Since this is your primary muscle-building hormone and the hormone that helps you feel normal and like a man, this could very potentially cause you to want to ditch the diet entirely.

If you find you’re getting weaker and weaker in the gym or developing other symptoms associated with low testosterone (such as body fat gain or sexual dysfunction), there’s no doubt you’ll want to do all you can to change that.

Soy and Breast Cancer Risk

On the flip side though for females, it seems that soy may actually be a good thing. Research [3] has shown that a high intake of soy may help lower total breast cancer rates, so there seems to be some divide with the genders.

Soy and Heart Disease

Looking at how soy impacts heart disease, we come to see that there are beneficial effects here as well. It was noted by the Harvard Nutrition Source [4] that those who consume soy typically have a better heart health profile, often because consuming soy means they aren’t consuming worse options like fatty cuts of beef or other red meats.

This said, there are a lot of differing views as to whether tofu actually helps to boost heart health, but it doesn’t appear to damage it at all so that you can feel good about.

Soy and Cognitive Health

Finally, it’s interesting to note that when it comes to cognitive health, we see again mixed research.

According to the Harvard Nutrition source [4], it would appear as though older men and women show an increase in attention, information processing speeds, and memory when consuming soy in their diet, but yet another study showed that men who regularly consume soy demonstrated a higher rate of overall cognitive decline.

So all in all, is tofu keto friendly?

It is, but you need to be careful about how you’re using it. If you are a man and are hoping to keep your testosterone levels up, it may not be your best bet.

If you are a woman, on the other hand, there doesn’t appear to be an issue with including tofu as part of your ketogenetic diet plan if it helps you stay on track and hit the macros you need.

Related Reads:

The Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet: Complete Guide!

Is Quinoa Keto-Friendly? Benefits, Low-Carb Substitutes, & More

References:

[1] www.CalorieKing.com
[2] Habito, Raymundo C., et al. “Effects of replacing meat with soyabean in the diet on sex hormone concentrations in healthy adult males.” British Journal of Nutrition 84.4 (2000): 557-563
[3] Shu, Xiao Ou, et al. “Soyfood intake during adolescence and subsequent risk of breast cancer among Chinese women.” Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers 10.5 (2001): 483-488
[4] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/soy/

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Shannon Clark holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 12 years now, helping others lose weight, build muscle, and improve their athletic performance. She’s worked with people of all ages and helped them find the right fitness path for themselves. She is a regular contributor to Bodybuilding.com and has also contributed well over 400 articles to a variety of different websites dedicated towards muscle building and athletic performance. For more about her, find her at ShannonClarkFitness.com.

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