Tofu vs. Chicken: Here’s How the Nutrition Differs, According to Dietitians

Both of these popular proteins have a lot going for them.

You’ve heard it a million times before—lean protein is a big part of a healthy diet. Two of the most popular protein-packed foods that come to mind are chicken breasts and their vegetarian counterpart, tofu. But is one healthier than the other? Our experts break down the differences between the two, and finally answer the question—which is healthier: chicken or tofu?

Chicken nutrition

Let’s talk about what brought us here: lean protein. A 3-oz chicken breast has about 21 g of protein and 3.5 g of total fat per serving. Chicken also contains blood-building iron, immune-supporting zinc and magnesium, and is a rich source of B vitamins. “B vitamins help with brain function and fight fatigue, and protein supports good muscle mass,” says Laura Iu, R.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor in New York City.

Tofu nutrition

Tofu is a staple in many Asian cuisines and is made from soybeans. Whether you enjoy it simply steamed or consider it a blank canvas to doctor up, one thing we can all agree on is that it’s a smart choice when building a balanced, plant-based plate. Per 3-oz serving, tofu contains about 8 g of protein and 4 g of fat, as well as calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium (which also supports healthy blood pressure levels), and potassium—a mineral that functions as an electrolyte to help muscles function and keep fluid levels balanced.

“Tofu is a solid way to get protein into your life in an animal-free way,” says Jessica Stamm, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in California. It also boasts fiber, which helps you in all kinds of ways, such as supporting smooth digestion and proper blood sugar regulation.

Thanks to its subtle flavor, tofu can be incorporated into things that chicken cannot. “Soft tofu can be a delicious way to add extra protein and calcium to a smoothie. Or, you can switch up your morning egg routine and make a scrambled tofu hash with vegetables and potatoes,” suggests Stamm.

      Which is healthier: Chicken or tofu?

      Both pack plenty of nutrients, making it a draw! Chicken and tofu are each good sources of lean protein and deliver an array of other important vitamins and minerals that are crucial to a healthy working body.

      “Adding a variety of food to your diet is always key. And since both of these proteins contain significant amounts of nutrients that the other protein does not offer, both will contribute to overall health and wellbeing,” Iu says. So, if you’re not a vegetarian (or vegan!) the answer may be to just add both to your menu.

      If you’re looking for something specific, though, each protein has its own pros. Chicken is significantly higher in protein than tofu, clocking in at more than double the amount. And while chicken breast is also slightly lower in fat, tofu comes out on top in this category because it contains all monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, aka the “good” kind; whereas chicken contains a little bit of saturated fat and cholesterol, which tofu is free of. Chicken also wins when it comes to B vitamins and potassium, but tofu is higher in zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium—plus it has fiber.

      “What’s most important when cooking either chicken or tofu is to choose a healthy preparation method,” says Stamm. That means opting for grilling, baking, or roasting over frying, and flavoring with lots of fresh herbs and spices instead of too much salt. “A great trick is to pound chicken with a mallet to ensure even cooking and allow marinades to really soak in,” Iu says.

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