Fried food is notoriously unhealthy. But what if you fry a healthy food like tofu? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Or is it just as bad as any other fried food? Basically, is fried tofu healthy?
Fried tofu is high in protein and lower in saturated fat than most meat. However, it is high in calories and typically fried in omega-6 rich vegetable oil. Since the Western diet already has too much omega-6, fried tofu could increase inflammation. Air-fried tofu is the healthiest kind of fried tofu.
Below, I’ll cover which oils are typically used to make fried tofu. I’ll look at whether fried tofu is a good choice as a protein source and for weight loss. I’ll also cover whether fried tofu is keto and vegan friendly!
Is Fried Tofu Good for You?
Here are the five specific questions I’ll be answering about fried tofu nutrition. Click any of them to skip to that section—or just keep scrolling for all the knowledge:
- What Oil Is Tofu Fried In?
- Is Fried Tofu Good For Weight Loss?
- Does Fried Tofu Have a Lot of Protein?
- Is Fried Tofu Keto Friendly?
- Is Fried Tofu Vegan?
1. What Oil Is Tofu Fried In?
Tofu is often deep fried in canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, or a blend of high-temperature cooking oils. For pan fried or air fried tofu, it is also common to use olive oil and toasted sesame oil. The healthiest fried tofu is air fried with a small amount of olive oil or no oil at all.
Generally speaking, cooking oils are not very healthy. As sources of processed fat, they are high in calories and low in nutrients. That said, some oils are worse than others. This is because they each have different kinds of fats:
- Saturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat (including omega-3 and omega-6)
- Monounsaturated fat
- Trans fat
So let’s look at the different kinds of fried tofu, and what kinds of oils are used to fry each:
- Deep fried tofu is often fried in canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, or a blend. These are highly processed oils. Most of them are high in omega-6 fats, which can be inflammatory in excess. (Most Americans already get too much omega-6.)
- Pan fried tofu is often fried in the same cooking oils as deep fried tofu. Sometimes it’s cooked with olive oil instead. This would be preferable, as olive oil arguably has a healthier fat profile. That said, it’s still refined oil. So it’s not really a health food either way.
- Air fried tofu is the healthiest kind of “fried” tofu. Air frying can potentially be done without any oil. More commonly, a small amount of oil is used. If you can go oil-free or use a small amount of sprayable olive oil, that would be ideal.
With pan fried tofu and air fried tofu, sesame oil is sometimes used for recipes, too. Specifically, toasted sesame oil is used—not for cooking, but for flavor. Sesame oil is also a high omega-6 oil. So, not the healthiest ingredient.
Something to note: None of the common cooking oils for fried tofu are high in saturated fat. This means that fried tofu is typically much lower in saturated fat than meat. This may make it more beneficial for cholesterol compared to meat. (source)
Overall, deep fried tofu will typically have the most added oil, and air fried tofu will often have the least. So deep fried tofu would typically be the least healthy option, with oil-free air fried tofu being the healthiest choice.
2. Is Fried Tofu Good For Weight Loss?
Fried tofu is a relatively high-calorie food, with around 175 calories in 100 grams. It is also relatively low in fiber. This means it is not the best food for weight loss. However, eaten in moderation, fried tofu can still fit into a well planned weight-loss diet.
The real truth is that no foods are “fattening” unless eaten in excess of your daily calorie needs. That said, certain foods can make it easier or harder to lose weight.
To determine if a food is good for weight loss, the single most helpful factor to consider is likely calorie density. “Calorie density” refers to how many calories a food has per unit of weight or volume.
If a food has a high calorie density, then you’re likely to eat more calories in the process of “filling up” on that food. Meanwhile, foods with low calorie density will fill you up without adding as many calories to your diet.
Immediately, we can assume the calorie density of fried tofu is pretty high. That’s because it’s a high-fat food and a fried food.
High-fat foods tend to be high in calories, as fat has 9 calories per gram, but carbs and protein only have around 4 calories per gram. And fried foods are especially high in calories, as oil has the highest calorie density of any food.
But it’s difficult to get one accurate set of nutrition stats for “fried tofu.” That’s because fried tofu isn’t a really uniform product. It can be fried different ways, in different oils, which can result in different amounts of calories.
I checked 8 different listings for “fried tofu” in Cronometer (the app I use for tracking calories). Here are 8 different calorie estimates people have entered for 100 grams of fried tofu:
- 135 calories (11.0g protein, 9.4g fat, 1.8g carbs)
- 140 calories (13.0g protein, 8.0g fat, 3.0g carbs)
- 153 calories (15.3g protein, 8.2g fat, 1.2g carbs)
- 165 calories (12.9g protein, 11.8g fat, 0.0g carbs)
- 165 calories (17.6g protein, 9.4g fat, 1.2g carbs)
- 179 calories (17.0g protein, 11.0g fat, 3.0g carbs)
- 194 calories (14.1g protein, 13.2g fat, 3.5g carbs)
- 270 calories (18.8g protein, 20.2g fat, 5.0g carbs)
The average estimate is 175 calories in 100g of fried tofu. Just for comparison, this is a bit lower than fried chicken (KFC) at 239 calories. But it’s higher than most beans at around 140 calories. And it’s way higher than broccoli at 35 calories.
Overall, fried tofu is a relatively high calorie food. It can be eaten as part of a successful weight-loss diet, but portion sizes should be controlled to make weight loss easier.
3. Does Fried Tofu Have a Lot of Protein?
Fried tofu has about 15 grams of protein per 100g serving, or 8.6 grams of protein per 100 calories. This is a similar amount of protein as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger have for each 100 calories.
Like most soy products, tofu is pretty high in protein. I’ve personally used tofu to supplement my weight lifting journey. I was actually eating a block of tofu a day, and I found that it helped considerably.
With fried tofu, you’ve also got extra fat (oil) that comes along with the protein. And tofu is already pretty high in fat, even before frying it. So it’d be most accurate to say fried tofu is a high-fat food, which still has a good amount of protein, too.
I averaged the protein data for 8 entries for “Fried Tofu” in Cronometer. The average estimate was 15.0 grams of protein per 100 gram serving of fried tofu (175 calories).
Personally, I like to look at “protein per 100 calories,” too. When you’re on a diet, you may be trying to get above a certain protein level while staying below a certain calorie level. So “protein per 100 calories” can be a helpful number to check.
Fried tofu comes out to about 8.6 grams of protein per 100 calories. Below, you can see how this compares to some other vegan meat replacements:
- Beyond Burgers have ~7.4 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Gardein Crispy Tenders have ~7.8 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Impossible Burgers have ~7.9 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Fried tofu has ~8.6 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Butler Soy Curls have ~9.2 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Raw tofu has ~10.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Tempeh has ~11.3 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- TVP has ~15.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Gardein Plant-Based Jerky has ~15.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Boca Original Vegan Burgers have ~18.6 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Seitan has ~20.2 grams of protein per 100 calories.
Overall, fried tofu does provide a good amount of protein. But as you can see, there are even higher-protein options, too. For more tips on eating a high-protein vegan or vegetarian diet, check out these high protein vegan meal plans.
4. Is Fried Tofu Keto Friendly?
Based on its macronutrient profile, fried tofu is generally considered keto, as it is low in carbs (about 2.3g of carbs per 100g serving). However, some keto practitioners advise against eating soy products like tofu due to phytoestrogens, phytates, or other issues.
I averaged the carbohydrate data for “Fried Tofu” from 8 entries in Cronometer. The average estimate was 2.3 grams of carbs per 100 gram serving of fried tofu (175 calories). This fits within standard keto requirements.
But the fact is that the keto movement is not completely united on all nutritional issues. Just like the vegan community, different keto gurus recommend different things.
Personally, I think the keto arguments against soy based on phytoestrogens and phytates are not sound. But you can read about them here. I also covered why I think soy is healthy and beneficial up to 3-5 servings per day in this blog post.
5. Is Fried Tofu Vegan?
Fried tofu is generally vegan. It would only be non-vegan if the tofu was fried in butter or animal fat, which is pretty much never the case. Tofu is typically fried in soybean oil, canola oil, olive oil, or other plant-based oils.
Also, keep in mind that many dishes containing fried tofu are non-vegan for other reasons. Many Asian dishes with fried tofu and noodles will still have fish sauce, chicken broth, or other animal ingredients. So, be sure to check those details if you’re fully vegan.
[Related post: Can Vegans Eat Fried Food?]
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