Tempeh is a fermented soy product that’s a popular vegetarian meat replacement. Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, it can be a nutritious addition to your diet.
Tempeh is a versatile ingredient that comes with a variety of health benefits. It’s high in protein, prebiotics, and many vitamins and minerals.
This article will take a deeper look at the many advantages of tempeh.
- What it is
- Probiotics and prebiotics
- Effects on cholesterol
- Effects on oxidative stress
- Effects on bone health
- Who shouldn’t eat it?
- How to use tempeh
What is tempeh?
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian food made from soybeans that have been fermented or broken down by microorganisms.
Following fermentation, the soybeans are pressed into a compact cake commonly consumed as a vegetarian source of protein.
In addition to soybeans, other bean varieties may be used to make tempeh. It may also be made from wheat or a mixture of soybeans and wheat.
Tempeh has a dry and firm but chewy texture and a slightly nutty taste. It can be steamed, sautéed, or baked. Recipes often recommend marinating it to add more flavor.
Like other meatless protein sources, such as tofu and seitan, tempeh is popular among vegans and vegetarians because it’s packed with nutrients.
Summary: Tempeh typically comprises fermented soybeans, wheat, or both. It can be prepared in various ways and is high in nutrients, making it a popular vegetarian source of protein.
Tempeh is rich in many nutrients
Tempeh boasts an impressive nutrient profile. It’s high in protein, vitamins, and minerals but low in sodium and carbs.
A 3-ounce (84-gram) serving of tempeh contains these nutrients:
- Calories: 162
- Protein: 15 grams
- Carbs: 9 grams
- Total fat: 9 grams
- Sodium: 9 milligrams (mg)
- Iron: 12% of the daily value
- Calcium: 9% of the daily value
- Riboflavin: 18% of the daily value
- Niacin: 12% of the daily value
- Magnesium: 18% of the daily value
- Phosphorus: 21% of the daily value
- Manganese: 54% of the daily value
Because it’s more compact than other soy products, tempeh provides more protein than other vegetarian alternatives.
For example, 3 ounces (84 grams) of tofu contains 6 grams of protein, about 40% of the protein in the same amount of tempeh.
Tempeh is also a good dairy-free source of calcium. One cup (166 grams) of tempeh contains about 2/3 of the calcium in 1 cup of whole milk.
Summary: Tempeh is a good protein, iron, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium source. It is also low in carbs and sodium.
Tempeh influences gut microbiota
Fermentation is a process where bacteria and yeast break down sugars. In soybeans, the fermentation process breaks down phytic acid, which helps improve digestion and absorption.
Unpasteurized, fermented foods may contain probiotics. These are beneficial bacteria that may provide health benefits when eaten.
Tempeh is a probiotic food that influences your gut microbiome. Your gut microbiota are the bacteria that reside in your digestive system
It also seems to be rich in prebiotics — types of fiber that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system.
Studies have found that prebiotics increases the formation of short-chain fatty acids in the colon. These include butyrate, the primary energy source for the cells that line your colon.
Evidence also suggests prebiotic supplements cause beneficial changes in the gut microbiota.
Although studies have provided mixed results, some have associated prebiotic intake with increased stool frequency, reduced inflammation, and improved memory.
Summary: Tempeh contains prebiotics, which may help promote digestive health and reduce inflammation.
Tempeh is high in protein to keep you full
One cup (166 grams) of tempeh provides 31 grams of protein.
Some studies suggest that a protein-rich diet may promote thermogenesis (heat production), increase metabolism and help your body burn more calories after each meal.
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A protein-rich diet can also aid in appetite control by increasing fullness and decreasing hunger.
One study found that high-protein soy snacks improved appetite, satiety (fullness), and diet quality compared with high-fat snacks.
Additionally, research shows that soy protein can be just as effective as meat-based protein regarding appetite control.
In a 2014 study, 20 men with obesity were placed on a high-protein diet that included either soy-based or meat-based protein. After two weeks, they found that both diets led to weight loss, decreased hunger, and increased fullness, with no significant difference between the two protein sources.
Summary: Tempeh is high in soy protein, which can promote satiety, reduce hunger, and increase weight loss.
Tempeh may reduce cholesterol levels
Tempeh is traditionally made from soybeans, which contain natural plant compounds called isoflavones.
Soy isoflavones have been associated with reduced cholesterol levels. One review looked at 11 studies and found that soy isoflavones were able to significantly decrease both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Another study examined soy protein’s effects on cholesterol levels and triglycerides. In the study, 42 participants ate a diet containing either soy or animal protein over six weeks.
Compared with animal protein, soy protein decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol by 5.7% and total cholesterol by 4.4%. It also decreased triglycerides by 13.3%.
Though most available research focuses on the effects of soy isoflavones and soy protein on blood cholesterol, one study did focus specifically on tempeh.
A 2013 animal study examined the effects of nutrient-enriched soybean tempeh on mice with liver damage. It found that tempeh had a protective effect on the liver and could reverse damage to liver cells.
Additionally, tempeh caused a decrease in both cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Summary: Tempeh is made from soybeans containing soy isoflavones. Studies show that soy isoflavones and soy protein may decrease blood cholesterol levels.
Tempeh could decrease oxidative stress
Studies show that soy isoflavones possess antioxidant properties and may reduce oxidative stress.
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Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals. These highly unstable atoms can contribute to the development of chronic health conditions.
The buildup of harmful free radicals has been associated with many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
Numerous studies have shown that isoflavones could reduce oxidative stress markers by increasing antioxidant activity in the body.
Other studies have found that supplementing with soy isoflavones may favor several health conditions associated with oxidative stress.
For example, one animal study showed that soybean isoflavones decreased blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes.
Another study used data from 6,000 households in Japan and found that intake of soy products was associated with a decreased risk of death from heart disease and stomach cancer.
Tempeh may especially be beneficial compared with other soy products. One study compared the isoflavones in soybeans to the isoflavones in tempeh and found that tempeh had greater antioxidant activity.
Summary: Soy isoflavones may possess antioxidant properties and could help decrease oxidative stress and chronic disease.
Tempeh can promote bone health
Tempeh is a good source of calcium, a mineral responsible for keeping bones strong and dense.
Adequate calcium intake may prevent the development of osteoporosis, a condition associated with bone loss and porous bones.
In one study, 40 older women increased their calcium intake through diet or supplements for two years. Increasing calcium intake decreased bone loss and preserved bone density, compared with control groups.
Another study examined 37 women and found that increasing dietary calcium intake by 610 mg daily helped prevent age-related bone loss.
Other studies show that increasing calcium intake could help increase bone growth and density in children and teenagers.
Though dairy products are the most common sources of calcium, studies show that the calcium in tempeh is as well absorbed as the calcium in milk, making it an excellent option for increasing calcium intake.
Summary: Tempeh is high in calcium and may help increase bone density and prevent bone loss.
Tempeh may not be for everyone
Tempeh and other fermented soy products are generally considered safe for most people. However, some individuals may want to consider limiting their intake of tempeh.
Those with a soy allergy should avoid tempeh altogether. Eating tempeh may trigger an allergic response in these people.
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This could include symptoms like:
- difficulty breathing
Additionally, soybeans are considered goitrogen, a substance that can interfere with thyroid function.
Though studies show that soy intake has little to no effect on thyroid function, people with impaired thyroid function may want to keep intake in moderation.
Summary: Individuals with soy allergies should avoid tempeh, while those with impaired thyroid function may want to limit their intake.
How to use tempeh
Both versatile and nutritious, tempeh is easy to incorporate into your diet.
Tempeh is typically marinated or seasoned to increase flavor, then crumbled, baked, steamed, or sautéed and added to dishes. It can be used in everything from sandwiches to stir-fries.
Summary: Tempeh is usually marinated or seasoned and then crumbled, baked, steamed, or sautéed. It can be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Tempeh is a nutrient-dense soy product with a high amount of protein and various vitamins and minerals.
It may decrease cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, and appetite — all while improving bone health.
Tempeh also contains probiotics and prebiotics, which may improve digestive health and reduce inflammation.