Tofu, seitan, and tempeh are all dietary staples for many eating a vegetarian or vegan diet—especially if looking to do so while eating a ketogenic diet since all animal-based proteins are out of play. But is tofu good for weight loss? Our editors at Konscious Keto asked the same question.
What is Tofu?
Tofu is a curd derived from soybeans. The meat alternative is then formed by making soy milk from the beans, allowing the milk to solidify, and then pressing the curds into white cubes.
These curd-based cubes come in three different textures: soft, firm and extra firm tofu. In addition to the variations in texture available, there are also different varieties, including fresh tofu, silken tofu, fried tofu, processed tofu, frozen tofu, pickled tofu, and stinky tofu—yes, stinky tofu is a thing.
Tofu has been consumed in Asia for centuries as a dietary centerpiece, with many eating some iteration of the pressed cubes of curd every day.
But, the tofu sold in western societies is usually genetically modified, with diminished levels of nutrition, and even elevated levels of unhealthy elements like trans fat, something unanimously frowned upon by the country's food regulatory bodies (like the almighty USDA and FDA).
Unfortunately, the healthier versions of tofu— those being varieties that are certified organic and preferably fermented to gain the boost to your gut microbiome—are less commonly found in the US.
Although there is a bit of controversy surrounding the healthfulness of soy, it may not be soy and tofu that are unhealthy as much as the way the food product is processed in western society.
Since soybeans are considered GMO, the hormonal and metabolic reaction that can be caused by eating these forms of genetically-modified tofu can produce adverse health effects, mainly because of the high concentrations of xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens present in GMO foods.
Hormones play such an essential role in fat loss and soy's ability to adversely affect the body's production and regulation of estrogen—a vital sex and metabolic hormone, among other things—is worth noting.
In addition to the possible undesirable effects related to eating soy-based products mentioned above, eating genetically-modified soy products has also been found to contribute to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, an increased risk of breast cancer, the growth of cysts and tumors, and may even trigger weight gain or stall fat loss.
We'll touch more on the concerns some have related to hormone health and eating GMO soy products below as the implications appear to be significant. Not knowing what to avoid may impact your quality of life over time.
In addition to tofu, other popular soy-based products include the following:
- Soy milk
- Soy yogurt
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- Miso paste
- Isolated soy protein powders (found in processed foods such as faux meats)
Is Tofu Good for Weight Loss?
The health assertions related to genetically-modified tofu noted above, along with the knowledge that most tofu sold in western society has been genetically altered and degraded in nutritional value, point to tofu being less than healthy, something to limit if not avoid altogether.
From a purely caloric and macronutrient standpoint, tofu is food that one could make work on a ketogenic diet if weight loss is the goal—and those who are vegetarian or vegan living a keto lifestyle can undoubtedly lean out while including tofu in their meal plan.
Tofu may be appealing to those attempting a vegan or vegetarian keto lifestyle because it's one of the few plant-based food options that are low carb, moderate in protein, and versatile but GMO-based soy's ability to hinder fat loss—due to causing hormonal imbalances—could prove to be problematic.
More investigation is required to conclude the direct effects of consuming GMO-based soy products over time.
However, based on preliminary findings, the most important points to remember if you choose to consume soy is to opt for the least processed foods and go organic!
Is Tofu Keto-Friendly?
Tofu can technically be eaten on a ketogenic diet because it's a low-carb food that provides an adequate amount of protein, especially to those opting to approach the keto diet as a vegetarian or vegan.
But, unfortunately, the possible adverse effects of consuming large amounts of GMO-based soy products will likely cancel out any benefits.
What are Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens are elements found in some foods that mimic the hormone estrogen in the body. Low estrogen levels can be problematic, but the same is true when levels are too high—balance is key.
The potential trouble with eating large amounts of tofu, given its high concentration of xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens, is these imitators cause the body to produce less endogenous estrogen because these pseudo-estrogen molecules trick the body into thinking it already contains enough, to ill effect.
Also, the high concentrations of phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogens) like xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens are said to have preferences in how they perform in the body via our estrogen receptors. These noted isoflavones are known to opt to bind to ER-beta over ER-alpha and are often referred to as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) as a result.
The ER receptors noted above are found in various tissues in the body, and they can impact the health and performance of bodily systems depending on the receptor and system of the body being affected—another reason to at least consider minimizing soy consumption.
Read more on the ketogenic diet and hormone health in our recent post.
Can Tofu Fit Into a Ketogenic Diet?
Tofu can technically be incorporated into a ketogenic dietary protocol based on its nutritional profile of macro and micronutrients, even providing iron and magnesium.
But again, some health implications may make you want to keep consumption to a minimum—to ensure you avoid possible adverse health consequences (e.g., gynecomastia, or the development of breasts in males, or estrogen irregularities in women).
We suggest limiting tofu due to its high concentration of xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens and the effect they can have on hormone health when heavily consumed.
Our advice, rely more on animal-based, Keto-friendly, foods if you choose to incorporate tofu into your diet for taste rather than as the result of an ethical conviction to live a strictly plant-based diet.
If you insist on including soy in your diet, opt for a fermented or pickled option, like tempeh, as it is much more nutritionally-dense than tofu and helps to promote gut health.
Be diligent about selecting tofu options that are also organic and non-GMO certified to avoid some of the potential health risks mentioned above.
Women, particularly those in menopause and already subject to estrogen and testosterone irregularities, as well as all males, may experience adverse physiological effects when consuming soy heavily, a cause to think long and hard before consuming tofu or other soy-based products, particularly the GMO variety.
However, if soy-based foods are still something that you'd like to incorporate into your ketogenic dietary plan, stick to fermented forms made from organic, non-GMO, whole soybeans (e.g., tempeh, miso, edamame, and natto—an option that produces nattokinase, a type of enzyme that helps dissolve blood clots).
On the bright side, free to splurge and enjoy the following foods on a keto vegetarian or vegan diet:
- Fat: Avocado, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, avocado oil, coconut cream/milk, and other trans-fat-free plant-based oils (e.g., MCT oil, grapeseed oil, or palm oil, etc.)
- Healthy protein: Nut-based cheeses and yogurts, high-protein veggies (e.g., kale and spinach), sea-based vegetables (e.g., chlorella, spirulina, dulse, and kelp, et al.)
- Carbohydrates: Brussels sprouts, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, and all low-glycemic berries (e.g., blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, etc.)
Also feel free to indulge in the many varieties of hearty mushrooms like shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane: they’re all excellent to use in recipes in place of meat.
If you're currently eating tofu or considering it as you plan to embark on a ketogenic diet but have some reservations per the possible health issues, rest easy.
There are many soy-free, keto-friendly, foods you can incorporate into your diet to remain committed to a keto diet with the goal of weight loss without sacrificing an ounce of flavor.
Read more on the modified, vegetarian, ketogenic diet in our recent post, here.
- Otoole, D. (2016). Soybean: Soymilk, Tofu, and Okara. Encyclopedia of Food Grains, 134-143. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-394437-5.00130-3
- Yasuda, M. (2011). Fermented Tofu, Tofuyo. Soybean - Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Physiology. doi:10.5772/14896
- Hsieh, P., Lin, C., & Teng, D. (2004). Fermented Tofu. Handbook of Food and Beverage Fermentation Technology. doi:10.1201/9780203913550.ch31
- 5094875 Continuous method of tofu production. (1992). Biotechnology Advances, 10(2), 333. doi:10.1016/0734-9750(92)90259-c
- Messina, M. (2010). Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: A critical examination of the clinical evidence. Fertility and Sterility, 93(7), 2095-2104. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.03.002
- Martinez, J., & Lewi, J. (2008). An Unusual Case of Gynecomastia Associated with Soy Product Consumption. Endocrine Practice, 14(4), 415-418. doi:10.4158/ep.14.4.415