Tofu is a staple component of many people’s diets. It is renowned for its versatility, impressive nutritional profile, and key role in helping vegetarians reach their protein needs. But is tofu low FODMAP? And is it a good option for those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)? There is a lot of conflicting information regarding this topic which can be overwhelming and confusing! Keep reading to gain clarity on this complicated issue once and for all.
WHAT IS TOFU?
Tofu has been a major ingredient in East Asian cuisine for thousands of years, but has gained worldwide popularity more recently as a meat alternative. It is prepared by coagulating soy milk to create curds which are then pressed and compacted. It is sold in various forms ranging from silken to extra firm (1). Generally, silken tofu is used for its creamy texture such as in desserts or smooth sauces while firmer types are more suited for savoury dishes like stir fries or curries.
TOFU NUTRITION & HEALTH BENEFITS
Tofu is highly nutritious as it contains an array of nutrients such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, copper, omega-3, magnesium, and zinc. It is also a great source of protein, with roughly 12g per 100g serving. Unlike most plant-based protein sources, it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Tofu is also notable for its role in disease prevention. Abundant research suggests it supports heart health by lowering LDL-cholesterol, reduces the risk of breast cancer, helps prevent osteoporosis, and aids in blood sugar management (2, 3, 4).
IS TOFU LOW FODMAP?
Soybeans are a high FODMAP food, containing both fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Since tofu is derived from soybeans, it also contains these same FODMAPs. However, 170g of firm tofu is generally considered low FODMAP while the same amount of silken tofu is considered high FODMAP (5). How is this possible? It can be attributed to the manufacturing process. To create firm tofu, much of its water content is pressed out, while silken tofu is unpressed or less pressed. Since fructans and GOS are both water soluble, removing this liquid effectively lowers the FODMAP content as well (6). Therefore, firm and extra-firm tofu are generally safe options for people following a low FODMAP diet.
Unfortunately, it is common for silken tofu or even possible for large amounts of firm tofu to trigger IBS symptoms. However, this does not necessarily mean you have to completely cut it out of your diet! Outlined below are some strategies and alternatives to consider.
Option 1: Beano Supplements
One option is taking a Beano supplement before eating tofu. This supplement contains alpha-galactosidase which is a digestive enzyme that breaks down GOS and fructans into simpler sugars that are easier for the body to digest (7). One randomized control trial found all participants given Beano had significantly less bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, flatulence, and diarrhea than those given a placebo pill (8). Several other studies have found similar positive results, suggesting this supplement effectively reduces IBS symptoms (9, 10). Since tofu plays an integral role in helping vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike reach their nutrient needs, taking a Beano supplement is definitely worth a try.
Option 2: Opt for Tempeh Instead
Another alternative is to choose tempeh instead of tofu. Tempeh is an easy swap to make, as it can replace tofu in a 1:1 ratio in almost any tofu-based recipe. Tempeh is very similar to tofu as they are both soy-based vegetarian protein sources. The main difference is that tempeh is a fermented product while tofu is not. Various food processing techniques such as pickling, boiling, straining, and fermenting can alter the FODMAP content of foods. Fermentation can both increase or decrease the amount of FODMAPs, depending on the food. When it comes to soybeans, fermentation lowers the amount of FODMAPS because the bacteria involved feed on the GOS and fructans (11).
Therefore, tempeh is much lower in FODMAPs than tofu, while retaining similar health benefits. Like tofu, it is a good source of many nutrients that are harder to obtain on a vegetarian diet such as iron, zinc, and calcium. Tempeh even has some added benefits beyond those of tofu. In fact, it contains 60% more protein (12)! Additionally, like other fermented foods, tempeh has benefits for the gut microbiome. Specifically, it has been shown to increase the populations of beneficial bacterial colonies in as little as one month (13).
It is important to keep in mind that tempeh is not FODMAP free as it contains trace amounts of mannitol, GOS, and fructans (14). However, most people will find they can tolerate much larger amounts of tempeh symptom free compared to tofu.
Tofu is an incredibly nutritious food that is wonderful to incorporate in your diet! A substantial body of literature supports its role in maintaining good health and preventing disease. Although tofu contains FODMAPs, you can minimize associated digestive distress by selecting firmer varieties and limiting portion sizes. Luckily, even if your IBS symptoms persist, there are other alternatives tempeh.
- Migala, J. (2022, August 29). All about tofu: Nutrition facts, health benefits, and how to use it. EverydayHealth. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/tofu-how-its-made-its-good-you-how-prepare-it/
- Ware, M. (2017, September 27). Tofu: Health benefits, uses, and possible risks. Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278340
- Dietitians of Canada (2020, November 23). Soy: Nutrition and health. Pen Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www-pennutrition-com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/viewhandout.aspx?Portal=UbY=&id=J83uWAE=&PreviewHandout=bA==
- Taku, K., Umegaki, K., Sato, Y., Taki, Y., Endoh, K., & Watanabe, S. (2007). Soy isoflavones lower serum total and LDL cholesterol in humans: A meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(4), 1148–1156. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.4.1148
- Monash University. (2015, December 10). Tofu & FODMAPS. Monash University. Retrieved from https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/talking-tofu/
- Varney, J., Barrett, J., Scarlata, K., Catsos, P., Gibson, P. R., & Muir, J. G. (2017). FODMAPs: Food composition, defining cutoff values and international application. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 32, 53–61. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgh.13698
- Pharmacy Times. (2011, April). Beano Meltaways. Intellisphere, LLT. Retrieved from link.gale.com/apps/doc/A305837730/AONE?u=lond95336&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=05fc2883.
- Di Stefano, M., Miceli, E., Gotti, S., Missanelli, A., Mazzocchi, S., & Corazza, G. R. (2006). The effect of oral α-galactosidase on intestinal gas production and gas-related symptoms. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 52(1), 78–83. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10620-006-9296-9
- Ganiats, T. G., Norcross, W. A., Halverson, A. L., Burford, P. A., Palinkas, L. A. (1994). Does Beano prevent gas? A double-blind crossover study of oral alpha-galactosidase to treat dietary oligosaccharide intolerance. The Journal of Family Practice, 39(5) 441-5. PMID: 7964541.
- Atzler, J. J., Ispiryan, L., Gallagher, E., Sahin, A. W., Zannini, E., & Arendt, E. K. (2020). Enzymatic degradation of FODMAPS via application of β-fructofuranosidases and α-galactosidases- a fundamental study. Journal of Cereal Science, 95, 102993. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcs.2020.102993
- McNamara, L. (2017, February 7). Food Processing and FODMAPS – what you need to know. Food processing and FODMAPs. Monash University. Retrieved from https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/food-processing-and-fodmaps-what-you/
- The scoop on soy. The Scoop on Soy – Unlock Food. (2018, January 10). Retrieved from https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vegetarian-and-Vegan-Diets/The-Scoop-on-Soy.aspx
- Stephanie, Kartawidjajaputra, F., Silo, W., Yogiara, Y., & Suwanto, A. (2019). Tempeh consumption enhanced beneficial bacteria in the human gut. Food Research, 3(1), 57-63. https://doi.10.26656. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Yogi-Yogiara/publication/328100975_Tempeh_consumption_enhanced_beneficial_bacteria_in_the_human_gut/links/5befccbc92851c6b27c4ad47/Tempeh-consumption-enhanced-beneficial-bacteria-in-the-human-gut.pdf?origin=publication_detail
- Tuck, C., Ly, E., Bogatyrev, A., Costetsou, I., Gibson, P., Barrett, J., & Muir, J. (2018). Fermentable short chain carbohydrate (FODMAP) content of common plant-based foods and processed foods suitable for vegetarian- and vegan-based eating patterns. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 31(3), 422–435. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12546