The Tempeh Nutrition Info That Will Make You an Instant Fan

Thanks to tempeh's nutrition and versatility, the soy product is sure to become a dietary staple for plant-based and omnivorous eaters alike.

Photo: Ella Olsson / Unsplash

Whether you're a newly committed vegan or a meat lover ready to amp up your intake of plant-based foods, tempeh should be a must-have item on your weekly grocery list. The pre-packaged food is a tasty addition to any cuisine, requires little prep work to transform into a delicious meal, and, most importantly, offers plenty of health perks.

Ahead, a registered dietitian spells out the tempeh nutrition facts that will convince you to keep a pack stashed in your fridge 24/7 — regardless of your eating style.

What Is Tempeh?

Even though they're both crafted from soybeans, tempeh may very well be the antithesis of tofu. While tofu offers a smooth, creamy texture, tempeh (pronounced tem-pay) is chewy and crumbles when you take a fork to it. Tofu has a bland, almost sour taste straight out of the package, while tempeh has savory, slightly nutty notes.

These stark flavor and texture differences are all rooted in tempeh's unique production process: The traditional Indonesian food is made by fermenting boiled, dehulled soybeans for roughly 35 hours and then squishing them into a block, typically with added water, according to research published in Nutrients.

Tempeh Nutrition Facts

Tempeh might not look all that mouth-watering, but under that pale, bumpy exterior is a variety of essential nutrients and health benefits. Each block packs plant-based protein, heart-healthy fiber, gut-friendly microorganisms, and key minerals. Simply put, "it's a really nice nutrient package," says Maya Feller, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in New York City.

So, how much should you add to your plate? A block of tempeh is roughly the size of three decks of cards sitting side by side, and a serving is typically one or one-and-a-half of those decks, says Feller, though you'll want to check your tempeh's nutrition facts label to be sure. And in that one-third of a block of tempeh, you'll score…

  • 170 calories
  • 17 grams protein
  • 7 grams fat
  • 10 grams carbohydrate
  • 4 grams fiber
  • 2 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Tempeh

By incorporating the fermented food into your diet, you'll score some key health benefits. Here are the tempeh nutrition perks you need to know.

Supports Muscle Growth

One of the biggest draws of tempeh is its protein content. The typical one-third block (or 2.6-ounce serving) of tempeh offers 17 grams of protein, amounting to nearly 37 percent of the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recommended dietary allowance. In case you forgot your entire high school health class, protein is an essential macronutrient that's needed to build and maintain bones, muscles, skin, hair, and tissue, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. And after a strenuous workout, the body uses protein to repair damaged muscle fibers, building them back even stronger.

Since your body can't store extra amino acids (organic compounds that combine to form proteins and are required for normal body functioning) for later use in the same way that it can with excess fats or carbohydrates you consume, you need to eat enough protein each day. For example, a 5'4"-tall woman weighing 126 pounds and following a 2,000-calorie diet, will need to consume 46 grams of protein each day, according to the USDA. Without scoring enough of it for a prolonged period, you could experience loss of muscle mass and decreased immunity, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, but thankfully, tempeh will help you keep your muscle's in tip-top shape.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Unlike animal-based proteins, tempeh gives you both protein and fiber, amounting to 4 grams of the nutrient per serving (roughly 14 percent of the USDA's recommended daily intake). "That's excellent when we're thinking about cardiovascular, digestive, and gut health," says Feller. ICYDK, dietary fiber is a part of plant foods that can't be broken down and digested, and soluble fiber (the type that dissolves in water to form a gel-like material) helps lower levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the "bad" kind), according to the Mayo Clinic. Keeping this cholesterol in check is important: When your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels, causing them to narrow and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What's more, insoluble fiber (the type that adds bulk to stool and encourages everything to flow through your digestive system) can help prevent constipation and keep your number twos regular, according to the Mayo Clinic. While all these perks may leave you wanting to wolf down an entire package of tempeh in one sitting, Feller recommends slowly introducing it into your diet if you're not used to eating a lot of fiber; going from zero to 100 with your fiber consumption can cause gas, bloating, and cramping.

Boosts Gut Health

The digestive health benefits of tempeh don't stop at stress-free bathroom breaks. Fermented foods, such as tempeh, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut, contain probiotic microorganisms — different types of bacteria and yeast that can influence your gut's natural microbiome, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These probiotics can stop harmful microorganisms from growing in the gastrointestinal tract; reinforce the gut's barrier (which is essential for the functionality of the gut and is linked to intestinal disease when impaired); and improve intestinal transit (i.e. speeding up the amount of time it takes for food to travel from your top to bottom), according to the NIH.

What's more, soybeans contain prebiotic dietary fiber — or a non-digestible compound that regulates the composition and activity of your gut's microbiome. "Prebiotics make it through the entire GI tract until it gets further down to the colon, where it then gets fermented," explains Feller. "In that fermentation process, the prebiotics act as nourishment for the probiotics, which help to build up that beneficial gut bacteria."

This two-for-one deal of probiotics and prebiotics can boost your gut and overall health, says Feller. "The combination impacts metabolic health, and then it also is supportive of overall gut health, [which is important because] the gut is significantly involved in immune function."

Keeps Cholesterol Levels In Check

Another key tempeh nutrition perk? Compared to some animal proteins, tempeh scores top marks in terms of saturated fat content. Ground beef, for example, contains 3.5 grams of saturated fat per serving, while tempeh, packs just 1 gram per serving. It may not seem like that big of a difference, but saturated fat is responsible for raising LDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. That's why the USDA recommends capping your daily intake at just 200 calories' worth (roughly 22 grams) of saturated fat. Do a little math, and that means tempeh's saturated fat content clocks in at just 4.5 percent of your daily allowance, while ground beef has nearly 16 percent of it. "In general, anything close to 5 percent is considered low, and 20 percent is high," says Feller. "And when we compare plants to animal proteins, plants will always win. There's no way any animal protein could even stand up to what a plant could do." (Add that to the list of reasons to go vegetarian.)

Provides Important Minerals

Along with those macronutrients, you'll find essential minerals on tempeh's nutrition facts label, including calcium. The nutrient, which helps keep your bones and teeth strong and is necessary for your muscles to move, is typically found in dairy products. But surprisingly, tempeh packs 70 milligrams of the nutrient (7 percent of the RDA) per serving.

Tempeh also packs potassium, a mineral that plays a role in kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. Even more significant, consuming potassium can help balance out sodium, which increases blood volume and puts more pressure on blood vessels. Here's how it works: When you consume potassium, your blood vessels widen, and you excrete more sodium through urine — a process that reduces the force of blood against the arteries and the size of plasma (which carries salt, water, and enzymes) in the blood, ultimately lowering blood pressure, according to the NIH. Luckily, you'll score 340 milligrams (13 percent of the recommended adequate intake) of potassium in one-third of a block of tempeh.

Offers an Essential Nutrient for Plant-Based Eaters

By avoiding foods such as oysters and beef, plant-based eaters may struggle to get enough iron, a mineral that's used to make proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and to muscles, according to the NIH. In fact, those who don't eat meat often run the risk of iron deficiency, which can result in GI upset, lack of energy, and problems with concentration and memory, according to the NIH.

While there is iron in plant-based foods, the specific type isn't absorbed as well as the type of iron found in meat, so vegetarians may need to consume nearly twice as much iron as omnivores to get their fill, reports the NIH. And tempeh is a delicious way to get one step closer to hitting the quota: One-third of a block of tempeh contains 1.3 milligrams of iron, 7 percent of the RDA for meat-eaters and nearly 4 percent of the RDA for those who don't eat meat, poultry, or seafood. (BTW, pairing your tempeh with foods that contain vitamin C — including citrus, strawberries, and peppers — can help the body better absorb the iron, according to the NIH.)

How to Buy and Eat Tempeh

While the ingredients in most widely available tempehs don't vary too much, some brands do add seeds (e.g. flax), grains (think: rice, barley, millet), herbs, spices, and marinades to their products, says Feller. In turn, the tempeh nutrition facts may be slightly different. "Generally, the protein and carbohydrate content across brands is similar," she says. "However, the fiber content can change depending on the brand, the type of tempeh, and the additional ingredients, such as grain mixtures and flaxseeds."

When choosing tempeh, Feller recommends looking for no-sodium or low-sodium varieties, as the mineral can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke when consumed in excess, according to the CDC. Sodium aside, choose a tempeh that fits with your taste preferences and dietary restrictions, she adds.

Once you stock up on your tempeh of choice, you're generally able to keep it fresh in the refrigerator for up to seven days, though you'll want to double-check the sell-by or expiration date on the packaging, says Feller. If you only use up a portion of the tempeh block in one sitting, store your leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. "Tempeh spoils similarly to many other products, so it may be time to toss if it has a foul odor and the texture becomes crumbly," she adds.

Though tempeh has Indonesian origins, it can fit into nearly every cuisine, says Feller. These ideas will help you get started:

  • In burritos. Swap your ground beef with crumbled tempeh to create a hearty, plant-based burrito filling.
  • In sandwiches. Slice up a block of tempeh and add it to a sandwich with sprouts, avocado, and hummus.
  • As a side dish. If your stomach can handle all the fiber, incorporate tempeh into a side of rice and beans, suggests Feller. "In our house, I'll marinate tempeh with ginger, low-sodium tamari, and red pepper flakes, then grill it on the stovetop grill pan," she adds.
  • As a topping. You can even chop up a block of tempeh and use it as a salad topping or pizza fixing.

If all else fails, just choose your go-to recipe or meal idea and riff off of it. "If someone wants to add a little bit more plant-based protein and fiber to their general pattern of eating, just slip tempeh in place of any animal protein and see if it works for you," says Feller.

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