Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originates from the island of Java in Indonesia. It is made from cooked and de-hulled soybeans and culturing agents, and is characterized by its distinctive texture and solid consistency. Tempeh remains a staple in the diet of many Indonesians, though – like many other soy products, such as soy sauce, miso, and natto – it is also becoming popular in the West due to its numerous health benefits.
List of Health Benefits
Rich in protein – All fermented soy products are rich in protein, and tempeh is no exception. 100 grams of tempeh (just over four ounces) provide us with 18.5 grams of protein, which is 37 percent of an adult’s recommended daily intake (RDI). This is comparable to the protein levels found in 100 grams of pork chops or chicken legs, and higher than what you’d find in dairy products such as cheese. Moreover, since the fermentation process has already converted some of the protein into amino acids (a task normally performed by our digestive system), the protein is more digestible than that found in animal products. This makes tempeh a superior source of ‘complete’ protein for meat eaters as well as vegetarians and vegans.
Gastrointestinal benefits – Tempeh is rich in dietary fiber, which can bind itself to toxins, thereby detoxifying our colon and preventing colon cancer. This might explain why incidences of colon cancer (and other cancers, like breast cancer) tend to be lower in countries where fermented soy products like tempeh are regularly consumed.
Good source of healthy fats – 100 grams of tempeh contain approximately 11 grams of fat, of which 2 grams are saturated. The same amount also contains 220 micrograms of omega-3 fatty acids, which can boost heart health and lower triglycerides, and 3590 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acids, which can stabilize blood pressure and regulate the metabolism. Since our bodies cannot manufacture these essential polyunsaturated fats themselves, and can only store limited quantities of them, it is important that we consume foods rich in them on a regular basis.
B-vitamin complex – While tempeh does not contain vitamins A, C, D, E, or K, it does contain large amounts of the B vitamins; 100 grams provide us with 0.1 milligrams of thiamin (five percent of our RDI), 0.4 milligrams of riboflavin (21 percent), 2.6 milligrams of niacin (13 percent), 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B6 (11 percent), 24 micrograms of folate (six percent), and traces of vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid. While these B-vitamins serve different purposes, all of them are ultimately responsible for cellular growth and development and the regulation of enzymes and proteins, and deficiencies can lead to anemia, depression, poor growth in children, fatigue, respiratory infections, and much more.
Trace mineral content – One of tempeh’s most celebrated benefits (after its protein content) is its dense concentration of important trace minerals. Indeed, one serving of tempeh will provide us with varying amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and copper. Additionally, 100 grams of tempeh contains a whopping 1.3 micrograms of manganese, which is 65 percent of our RDI. Manganese is a micronutrient that people tend to forget about, but it serves important functions such as promoting bone growth (thus preventing osteoporosis and other bone diseases), helping the body to convert protein and fat into energy, and the formation of cartilage. It is also an antioxidant.
The Soy Question
Much has been written about the possible dangers of soybeans, largely due to their toxic phytochemical content. These criticisms are valid, but it’s important to remember that the fermentation process removes most of these phytates while improving digestibility and nutrient absorption. That said, it’s always important to purchase organic fermented soy products when possible, since soy is one of those plants that’s been heavily subjected to genetic modification, especially in the United States.