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The pros and cons of paneer and tofu

The pros and cons of paneer and tofu

The nutty Indie cube or the soy superstar of vegans – which one will you throw your weight behind?
paneer vs tofu
Representational image | Illustration by Syalima M Das

In recent decades, paneer, that predominantly North Indian-origin chewy slab, has marched into our cuisines and conquered the palates probably like no other single ingredient. 

However, has the time come now for the cream-coloured spongy chunk to make way for its oriental vegan rival, the low-calorie, low-fat, high-protein and bone-strengthening (should we go on?) tofu? 

Let us weigh their pros and cons! 

How are they made?

Paneer is a form of cheese that is made by curdling cow’s or buffalo’s milk with lemon extract or another type of acid. It is then pressed for a couple of hours to bind it all together. 

Tofu or bean curd is also made by curdling. The difference is that the milk used here is derived from soya beans. Being plant based, it is often the go-to choice of vegans.

Tofu mainly comes in three forms depending on the duration it is pressed for: silken, medium, and firm. Of these, firm tofu is a suitable replacement for paneer. 

How the two stack up nutritionally 

  Paneer (100 g)  Firm tofu (100 g) 
Proteins  21.43 g  17.3 g 
Calories  321 kcal  144 Kcal 
Carbs  3.57 g  2.78 g 
Fibre  0  2.3 g 
Calcium  714 mg  683 mg 
Total Fat  25 g  8.72 g 
Iron  0  2.66 mg 
Cholesterol  89   0 

Source: USDA Paneer and Tofu  

Expert talks

Paneer may be high in protein but has a fat content almost thrice of that in tofu. So, does it make tofu the healthier option over paneer? 

For an answer, we reached out to Dr Anju Sood, PhD in nutrition, who teaches nutritional sciences at the Rajguru College of Applied Sciences for Women, University of Delhi 

“Both paneer and tofu can be included in your diet,” says Dr Sood. “Paneer because it is made from animal milk, which, in turn, is a complete food lacking only in iron; and tofu because it has very little fat and a lot of protein.”

The difference in calories is because of the higher fat content in paneer compared to tofu. A gram of fat carries 9 calories, either you consume or burn. These calories can easily turn back into fat when compared to the calories obtained from carbohydrates and proteins.

Paneer has an average 14 grams of saturated fat compared to the 1.6 grams in tofu. Saturated fats are particularly worse. The UK’s National Health Service recommends not to exceed 30 grams for men and 20 grams for women for the same.  Too much of them can raise the cholesterol levels in the blood, narrowing the blood vessel, and clogging of the arteries. This ultimately increases the risk of a heart attack, says Dr Sood.

The iron issue

Tofu, for one, contains a high concentration of isoflavones, a plant-based oestrogen that is similar in its function to human oestrogen, only weaker. It reduces the overall cholesterol level in the human body by decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL or the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and increasing the high-density lipoprotein (HDL or the ‘good’ cholesterol).  

Secondly, paneer lacks iron while tofu is considered one of the best sources of iron, although this comes with a catch. 

The iron found in plant-based foods is hard to process compared to that found in other sources of food, like meat. 

Asked if one should add Vitamin C (a squeeze of a fresh lemon) to a tofu dish to help in the iron absorption. Dr Sood readily concurred, “I would highly recommend it.”

The last word

Her final advice should hearten both sides. A combination of the two protein chunks would be highly recommended as both foods have their own nutritional importance, and they can also add variety to the meals.  

If paneer has a higher content of protein and calcium, it also carries almost three times the amount of fat than tofu. “Therefore, if bringing down the fat content of the diet is important, then tofu should definitely be emphasized,” Dr Sood says.

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