Say hello to your new favorite source of plant protein, probiotics, and fiber.
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Tempeh has been a buzzworthy ingredient ever since plant-based eating started to make its way into mainstream cooking. It's a versatile plant-protein alternative to anything from taco meat, to "meat" balls, to grain bowls, or even bacon. But despite its relatively recent popularity as a meat substitute in Western cuisine, tempeh is far from new: It's been around for hundreds of years, invented in what is now Indonesia.

Tempeh is basically tofu's fermented cousin: a blend of fermented soybeans and various grains, like rice, that's then formed into a block or into strips. It usually contains visible bits of soybeans, and it has a hearty consistency and slightly nutty flavor that easily adopts the flavors and seasonings you cook it with. Not only is it versatile, but you can purchase it at most natural food stores or even make it yourself. 

Top view two vegetarian tacos
Credit: Sonia Tapia/Getty Images

With all of the meat alternatives and vegan options on the market, why give tempeh a try? Besides its delicious versatility, here are five nutritious benefits of incorporating some tempeh recipes into your regular meal rotation.

Top Health Benefits of Tempeh 

Tempeh is a plant protein powerhouse.

Protein is found in your skin, hair, and nails, and helps transport oxygen in your blood—simply put, protein is instrumental in maintaining a healthy, functioning body. "A 3-ounce serving of tempeh provides 17 grams of protein to fuel you," says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats. The protein in tempeh is almost as much as steak, but is easier on your kidneys than consuming animal protein. The high protein in tempeh also helps with satiety, which keep you full and fueled so you're not reaching for snacks an hour after eating.

Tempeh is rich in iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and more micronutrients.

Tempeh provides some calcium and is also an excellent plant source of iron, which, Gorin says, "is a nutrient that vegetarians need to make sure they get enough of." An iron-rich diet helps create hemoglobin, which is how red blood cells are able to carry oxygen. Typically, vegetarians need more iron-rich food sources, since nonheme iron is not absorbed as well as animal-based iron. Tempeh is also rich in potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium—all micronutrients that support various systems including your circulatory and nervous system.

Tempeh is a fantastic source of fiber.

"Like most plant proteins, tempeh also contains plenty of fiber to help keep you fuller for longer, Gorin says. "You get 7 grams of fiber per serving, making tempeh an excellent source." Fiber is important for digestive health and motility, keeping you full and satisfied, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, and lowering your risk of developing heart and other diseases.

Tempeh is packed with probiotics.

Speaking of being good to your gut: Fermented foods like kimchi and kefir are great for gut health, and tempeh happily falls into this category, too. As one of the healthiest fermented foods you can eat, tempeh helps boost good gut flora, which can help to fight inflammation and more serious health conditions like obesity. Your immune system is mostly housed in your gut, and after an illness, your digestive tract can take a beating. Consuming fermented foods can help keep you healthy overall

Tempeh is a heart-healthy choice.

With phytochemical compounds like isoflavones and lecithins, as well as heart-healthy fiber, eating soy products like tempeh can have a healthy impact on your cholesterol. Results from three prospective cohort studies, published in the journal Circulation, showed that those who ate soy products at least once a week lowered their risk of heart disease by 18 percent. The LDL- (or "bad" cholesterol) lowering properties of tempeh also support kidney health. 

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