Tofu and chicken are both nutritious, high protein foods that can be a great addition to a healthy diet. But which one is the better option? In this article, we look at the nutritional differences between chicken and tofu to help you decide which one you would prefer.
Varieties of tofu
There are several different types of tofu available based on varying water content. To make tofu, a coagulant is added to soy milk which forms curds which are pressed. The more liquid pressed out of the bean curd, the firmer the tofu.
The softest form of tofu is soft tofu or silken tofu. This kind breaks apart very easily and has a soft, delicate texture. Next is regular tofu, which is slightly firmer, followed by firm tofu, extra firm tofu and super firm tofu.
Silken or soft tofu is often used in soup dishes or eaten alone, while extra firm and super firm tofu is used in dishes where tofu is used similarly to meat. In Western cultures, tofu is often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Varieties of chicken
Chicken also comes in a variety of cuts that greatly affect the nutrient breakdown as well as flavor. Commonly chicken is broken down into white meat and dark meat. White meat includes chicken breast and chicken wings. Dark meat includes the thighs and drumsticks.
White meat is typically lower in fat and rather dry, while dark meat is higher in fat and retains more moisture. Dark meat has more B vitamins and zinc compared to white meat, but it also has a slightly higher saturated fat content, especially if eaten with the skin.
If you are looking for the highest protein cuts, chicken breast is the way to go. Three ounces of chicken breast has about three additional grams of protein compared to skinless chicken thighs. That being said, the difference isn’t huge so if you prefer the taste of thighs, go for it.
Tofu vs. Chicken Nutrient Breakdown
For this example, we will be comparing extra firm tofu to chicken breast. There will be small nutrient differences for softer varieties of tofu or higher fat chicken cuts. Always be sure to check the kind of tofu or chicken you are purchasing to ensure it is the right variety.
One three ounce serving of chicken breast contains about 147 calories, while a three ounce serving of extra firm tofu contains about 94 calories. It’s clear that tofu has fewer calories than chicken breast when compared by weight.
Extra firm tofu is also lower in calories when compared by volume. Half a cup of chicken contains about 212 calories, while a half cup of tofu contains about 139 calories. Overall, if you are looking for a lower calorie option, tofu wins.
Three ounces of chicken breast contains about 26 grams of protein, while three ounces of extra firm tofu contains about 11 grams of protein. Chicken breast is the clear winner when it comes to protein content with over twice as much protein as tofu.
When comparing grams of protein per calorie, chicken also wins. 100 calories of chicken breast contains 18 grams of protein while 100 calories of tofu contains 12 grams of protein. The comparison is more similar here, but chicken breast is still the clear winner.
Chicken breast contains zero carbohydrates, making it a good option for those on a low carb or ketogenic diet. Extra firm tofu, on the other hand, contains about 1 gram of carbohydrates per three ounce servings. Clearly, this is also a very small amount and can also be compatible with a low carb diet.
Both are great low carbohydrate options if that is what you are looking for. But, if you aren’t worried about your carbohydrate intake, and you shouldn’t really be unless you have insulin sensitivity or another medical condition, this shouldn’t matter too much.
Three ounces of chicken breast contains about 4 grams of fat and 1 gram of saturated fat. Three ounces of extra firm tofu contains about 6 grams of fat and 1 gram of saturated fat. Therefore, chicken breast is lower in fat compared to extra firm tofu.
Both options contain mostly unsaturated fatty acids. While there is currently some public debate as to if polyunsaturated fats such as omega-6 fatty acids are as healthful as once believed, there is plenty of evidence to support their benefits.
Three ounces of chicken breast is a good source of vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B12. Three ounces of extra firm tofu is a good source of vitamin B5 (pyridoxine).
When it comes to the B vitamins, chicken breast has overall larger amounts and far more of a variety compared to extra firm tofu. If you don’t eat any meat, you will likely need to supplement with B vitamins, especially vitamin B12.
Three ounces of chicken breast is a good source of phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Three ounces of extra firm tofu is a good source of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Overall tofu is a better source of minerals.
Tofu is typically made with calcium sulfate, making it a good source of calcium. If you are a vegan or avoid dairy products for any reason, tofu can be a good way to reach your calcium needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is tofu a complete protein?
Yes, tofu is considered a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts. These essential amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Your body cannot produce these amino acids by themselves, therefore they are required to consume through your diet.
Does soy affect your hormones?
In recent years, there has been public concern about the effect of tofu on hormones. But when you take a closer look at the data, there isn’t any overly concerning data to suggest this. It does not seem to have an effect on male hormones or thyroid function and even reduces risk of breast cancer. Overall, soy has been consumed for centuries and is perfectly safe to eat.
Which is better for cholesterol levels?
While it’s common knowledge that high amounts of red meat can increase risk of heart disease (though there are still some debates about this), what about chicken breast or tofu? Since chicken breast and tofu are both low in saturated fat, they are good choices for heart disease prevention.
But, if you had to compare the two, tofu seems to be the better option. There is ample evidence to suggest that soy can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and overall mortality. Perhaps this is why Japan consistently has one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
Is tofu a dairy product?
No, tofu is not a dairy product or any animal product, making it compatible with a vegan diet. Tofu is made out of soy milk, which doesn’t actually contain any cow’s milk. It is made from the soybean is completely plant-based. While it is made in a very similar way as cheese and even resembles certain cheeses like paneer, it contains no dairy.
Which is better for weight loss?
Neither tofu nor chicken is “better” for weight loss. While tofu is lower in calories, it’s also lower in protein and protein is known to reduce hunger and improve satiety. What really matters for weight loss is overall caloric intake.
If you replace chicken with tofu every meal, you will consume less calories in that meal, but you may subconsciously eat more the next meal to “make up” for lost calories and protein. It’s best to consume whichever you enjoy more or switch it up between the two.
Where can you buy tofu?
You should be able to find tofu at your local grocery store. It’s become more and more popular over the last few decades and is now widely available. If you can’t find it at your local grocery store, you could always try an Asian grocery store like H Mart, Lotte Market, Ranch 99 or Marukai. If you don’t have one near you, online works as well.
Best ways to prepare tofu
Tofu can be prepared in so many different ways with various cooking methods. Silken tofu can be consumed raw or steamed with a sauce or in a Chinese dish called Mapo Tofu. Tofu also appears in Korean dishes like kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) and dubu jorim (braised tofu).
But tofu is most commonly consumed in Japanese cuisine and can be found in a variety of traditional dishes such as agedashi tofu, miso soup, egg tofu and inari age. In these dishes, tofu is deep fried, cooked in soup and steamed. There are so many possibilities!
Other plant-based protein options
There are many different plant-based protein sources other than tofu. Examples of high protein plant-based foods include beans, lentils, seitan (made from vital wheat gluten), hemp seeds and other soy products like tempeh, natto, soy milk and edamame.