In this guide, we'll answer the simple question: Which Food Group is Tofu In? We'll also explain why we think it shouldn't be there.
Expect to find the following below...
- Where tofu fits into the groups on the "food plate".
- Why this is the wrong way to think about tofu and food in general.
- How you should approach things instead.
Which Food Group is Tofu In?
As per the guidelines laid out by Fruit and Veggies More Matters tofu is considered to be part of the "protein" food group. (1)
These guidelines group tofu in with other foods that they consider "vegetarian protein sources" such as beans, peas and nuts.
The other food groups in the guidelines are fruits, grains, vegetables and dairy. These are what the official guidelines consider to be "building blocks" of a healthy diet.
But does it make sense to look at foods this way?
I don't think so.
Keep reading to learn why...
Is Tofu a Dairy Product?
As I already mentioned, Tofu is grouped into the protein category by ChooseMyPlate which excludes it from being in the dairy category.
This makes sense according to the technical definition of dairy products which is anything produced from the milk of mammals. (2)
What doesn't make sense is that ChooseMyPlate puts calcium fortified soy milk into the dairy category (3).
But how can tofu and soy milk be in different categories?
Soy milk is the precursor of tofu. Tofu is merely soy milk that's been coagulated and formed into a block.
As you can see, the way the government classifies this stuff is quite confusing.
Either way -- neither tofu or soy milk are dairy products because they are not made from the milk of mammals.
Is Tofu a Considered a Vegetable?
Even though tofu is made from the soybean, which is technically a vegetable, it shouldn't be considered a vegetable in itself (4).
It's more of a vegetable by-product because the soybean is processed and much of the pulp is removed.
Tofu also nearly as nutrient dense as most whole vegetables are. Just because tofu comes from a bean doesn't mean you should eat it in place of vegetables.
Is Tofu a Carbohydrate?
One 3 oz serving of tofu contains only 3 grams of carbohydrates. This same serving has 4 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein. (5)
Because there are 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates and 9 calories per gram of fat, tofu is around 15% carbohydrates.
80 Calories Of Tofu (3 Oz)
Calories Per Gram
Percentage of Calories
This chart gives an approximation of tofu's macronutrient composition. It does contain all three macronutrients, but is mainly composed of protein and fat.
Is Tofu a Meat?
Since protein is not made from any animal products, it is certainly not meat.
However, tofu does make an excellent meat replacement!
Because it's high in protein and can take on a wide variety of textures, choosing tofu instead of meat is really easy to do.
And yes -- tofu is a complete protein -- much like all plant foods. The latest research shows that it's virtually impossible to be protein deficient if you're consuming enough calories for your body-weight and a wide variety of foods, even without eating meat (6).
Here's a video on how to make tofu taste and look like chicken.
It's quite amazing what you can do with it!
PRESS YOUR TOFU!
Use a tofu press to get rid of the water from your tofu package.
This helps it absorb flavors and gives it a much meatier texture.
Learn about tofu presses here.
So How Should You Think About Tofu?
If you've read up to this point, you've probably realized that tofu is hard to put into a neat little box.
It doesn't really belong in any sort of food group. In fact, I strongly believe that looking at food in terms of such stringent groups is the wrong way to approach it.
Rather than worrying about whether you're getting all five food groups, you should be asking yourself...
Am I getting enough vegetables, fruits and whole plant foods?
Whole plant-foods are full of fiber, phytonutrients antioxidants and vitamins. According to the research, these are the attributes of foods that help us prevent disease. (7)
While tofu doesn't quite fit into the whole-foods category, it's still a healthy food that comes with its own set of benefits. (8)
It can also help you reach certain protein requirements that you may be trying to hit if you're an athlete or bodybuilder.
So my final recommendation is to fill your plate mostly with veggies, fruits, grains and legumes. Then you should use tofu as a texture and flavor enhancer to replace meat or get some additional protein in.