Today’s blog post is written by nutrition student volunteer Mikaela Horton and edited by Lauren Renlund.
There is a lot of confusion whether soy is low or high FODMAP. Certain soy products, including firm tofu and tempeh, are low FODMAP and safe to eat during the elimination phase. Tofu and tempeh are nutritious and high in protein. They can be intimidating to use at first, so learning a little bit about what they are and how you can use them can make your experience much more fulfilling. This post will cover what tofu and tempeh actually are, why they are beneficial to our health, and how you can make them taste delicious!
If you are a vegetarian or vegan and following a low FODMAP diet, be sure to check out my other posts to learn more about meeting your nutrient needs: Vegetarianism and the Low FODMAP Diet and 12 Tips for a Healthy Vegetarian or Vegan Low FODMAP Diet.
What is Tofu & Tempeh?
Tofu and tempeh are soy-based products, meaning they are made from soybeans. However, they are both made in a slightly different way. In fact, when you look at them side-by-side, it can be hard to believe that they are made from the same thing!
Tofu (sometimes called ‘bean curd’) is made from soymilk which has been curdled and formed into a block shape. 1 The water content determines what form of tofu it is, with silken tofu being the softest and most watery form, and extra-firm being the most solid and least watery form.
Please note: if you are following a FODMAP elimination diet, keep in mind that only firm tofu has been found to be low in FODMAPs (GOS) – silken tofu is much higher in FODMAPs. 2 This is because FODMAPs are water soluble, meaning they dissolve in water. 2 Firm tofu has had most of its water drained off, leaving very little water for FODMAPs to dissolve in. 2 Silken tofu on the other hand, has a much higher water content, meaning more FODMAPs are present. 2
Tempeh is made from whole soybeans, rather than soymilk. The soybeans are cooked and fermented, and formed into blocks. 3 Because tempeh is made from beans and not soymilk, it generally has more calories and protein than tofu. 3 Tempeh is low FODMAP at 100g.
Why Tofu & Tempeh are a Beneficial Addition to Your Diet
Now that we’ve covered what tofu and tempeh are, you may be wondering why you should include them in your diet. Tofu and tempeh are great sources of a variety of nutrients, so even if you are not a vegetarian or vegan, you can still experience great benefits from including them in your diet!
Protein: Tofu and tempeh are “complete proteins,” which means they contain all 8 of the essential amino acids. 4 Amino acids are used to make protein in the body. Essential amino acids are the ones that our body cannot make for itself, so we need to get them from foods like tofu and tempeh. This makes tofu and tempeh great substitutes for meat!
Iron: Tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of plant-based iron. However, plant-based iron can be a bit harder for your body to absorb. If you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, be sure to include a variety of high-iron foods into your diet. For more information on how to get enough iron, check out my post on Vegetarianism and the Low FODMAP Diet.
Quick tip: increase your iron absorption by consuming vitamin-C rich foods with your tofu or tempeh. For example, try eating your tofu or tempeh with a sauce containing lemon, lime or orange juice, or include sweet peppers, bok choy, tomatoes, kale, or potatoes with your meal. Also avoid drinking coffee or tea with your meal, as these can limit the amount of iron that your body can absorb.
Calcium: Tofu and tempeh both contain calcium. When purchasing tofu, check the ingredient list for calcium sulphate, 4 an ingredient used to curdle soymilk before it is pressed into a block of tofu.4
Tofu and tempeh are also great sources of zinc and omega-3 fats, and are low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol. 5
How to Make Tofu & Tempeh Taste Delicious
I like to think of tofu and tempeh as sponges because they can absorb any flavour that you throw at them! This can make it really easy to use tofu and tempeh on a regular basis without getting bored. Below are two of my favourite preparation methods for tofu and tempeh, as well as some links to other great, low FODMAP recipes that use tofu and/or tempeh.
Tofu Scramble: Just like scrambled eggs, you can customize this to your tastes and what you have available to you! Check out this low FODMAP vegan recipe that uses bell peppers and canned mushrooms: https://karlijnskitchen.com/en/scrambled-tofu/ or this recipe, which uses carrot and zucchini: https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/scrambled-tofu-recipe/.
Some other possible add-ins:
- Spinach or kale (chopped fine)
- Bell peppers (red, orange & yellow)
- Chives or spring onion (only the green tops are low FODMAP)
- Red or green chili (if you like it spicy!)
- Tomatoes (diced)
- Spices (except garlic and onion powder, as they are high in FODMAPs)
Tempeh or Tofu “Bacon”: Another one of my favourite ways to incorporate soy into my day is tempeh or tofu “bacon.” I usually mix together a marinade using the spices and sauces I have on hand, let the tempeh or tofu sit in the marinade for a bit (the longer you let it sit, the more flavourful it will be!), and then toss into a pan to cook. I like this recipe because it’s super simple and takes no time at all to prepare: http://stephanieclairmont.com/smokey-tempeh-bacon-style/. I love pairing this with a tofu scramble or on a sandwich (using a FODMAP-friendly bread) to make a plant-based “BLT.” You could also dice this up and add it to a salad, crumble it and add it to pasta sauce, or slice the tofu or tempeh into larger squares and grill them for an easy veggie burger!
Here are some more delicious tofu and tempeh recipes for you to try:
- Dark Chocolate Mousse: https://www.alittlebityummy.com/recipes/decadent-dark-chocolate-mousse
- Marinated Tofu: http://www.ibsnutrition.com/tasty-marinated-tofu/
- Soy-Ginger Tofu Bowls: https://www.fodmapandadapt.com/blog/low-fodmap-soy-ginger-tofu-bowls
- Tempeh Kale Salad with Asian Ginger Dressing: http://blog.katescarlata.com/2013/06/16/tempeh-kale-salad-with-asian-ginger-dressing/
- Tofu Fried Rice: https://karlijnskitchen.com/en/low-fodmap-tofu-fried-rice-vegan/
- Vietnamese Noodles with Firm Tofu: http://fodmapfriendly.com/blogpost/delicious-low-fodmap-vietnamese-noodles-with-firm-tofu-recipe/
I hope you see what a wonderful addition tofu and tempeh can be to your diet! Have fun experimenting with new recipes and flavours. Share these meals with your family and friends to show them just how tasty tofu and tempeh can really be! Most importantly, don’t be discouraged or turned away from tofu or tempeh if the first recipe you make doesn’t turn out. I did not like tofu the first time I tasted it, but after finding a couple of staple recipes that I love, I frequently include it in my meals.
Happy cooking! 🙂
About the Guest Author:
Mikaela is a nutrition student at the University of Guelph who aspires to become a Registered Dietitian and to help others live healthy, happy, and nutritious lives. Having followed a vegan lifestyle for over 6 years, Mikaela has learned how to approach a vegetarian or vegan diet in a way that is sustainable, healthful and fun. Mikaela’s volunteer experiences include being a member of the Student Nutrition Awareness Program (SNAP), the Applied Human Nutrition Student Association (AHNSA), helping with an elementary school lunch program, and being the Dietitians of Canada (DC) Student Representative for the University of Guelph.