Eating deep-fried vegetables in tempura batter — or battered seafood or tofu — can be fattening, but it doesn't have to be. The fate of your waistline depends on portion size and calorie balance. If downing that tempura means eating more calories than your body needs, it'll fatten you up in the end.
Eating tempura doesn't have to be fattening, as long as you watch your portion sizes and overall calorie intake. But if you end up eating more calories than you need, your body will store that extra fuel as body fat.
Tempura Nutrition Facts
The USDA provides the following tofu, fish and vegetable tempura nutrition facts, although the specifics will vary a bit depending on exactly what is battered and deep-fried inside your tempura.
A 1-cup (63 gram) serving of tofu, fish or vegetable tempura typically has:
- 109 calories
- 2.5 grams protein
- 10 grams fat
- 2.9 grams carbohydrate
- 0.7 grams fiber
- 1 gram sugar
Deep-fried foods will never be the pinnacle of nutrient density, but that same 1-cup serving of tempura does contain 45.4 milligrams phosphorus, 109 milligrams potassium and a modest 22 milligrams calcium.
It's easier than you might think to exceed a 1-cup portion size — depending on what kind of tempura you're eating, one giant piece is all it takes to equal more than a serving. And as the University of Pittsburgh notes, tempura is often accompanied by a dipping sauce — so don't forget to include the calories from that dip in the overall tally of what you're eating.
Read more: Is 10 Grams of Fat a Lot for One Meal?
A Note About Fat Content
Of particular note, the fat content in that 1-cup serving of tempura breaks down to (roughly) 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 8.2 grams unsaturated fat. As the American Heart Association points out, saturated fats and trans fats can raise your levels of LDL cholesterol, while unsaturated fats tend to lower those "bad" cholesterol levels.
For most people, that doesn't mean you can't eat any saturated fat all — in fact, it's almost impossible to avoid entirely. But the Department of Health and Human Services recommends restricting your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your total calories per day — and if you're dealing with any health conditions, your doctor may have more specific recommendations for you.
Foods That Fatten You Up
So, what is about tempura that makes it fattening — or not? Believe it or not, tempura's overall fat content isn't necessarily to blame. Instead, if you see your waistline expanding, it's usually due to having a calorie surplus. To put it another way, if you eat more calories than your body needs, it'll store those calories for later use — in the form of body fat.
Eating foods that are relatively high in fat can contribute to this, because as the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center points out, each gram of fat contains 9 calories. That's more than twice as much as protein and carbohydrate, which only have 4 calories per gram.
However, a study published in the February 2009 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine compared several different macronutrient ratios and concluded that as long as your diet was reasonably balanced and at an appropriate calorie level, all the macronutrient ratios evaluated produced similar weight loss over a two-year period.
Although it's been a while since that study was published, it remains noteworthy for its sample size (more than 800 participants), its two-year study length and its head-to-head comparison of the various macronutrient ratios. And it brings you straight to the bottom line: You can enjoy "indulgent" foods like tempura, as long as you stay within a reasonable calorie allowance and eat a reasonably nutritious, balanced diet overall.
If you're not sure what a "reasonable" calorie intake is, the HHS chart of estimated calorie needs is a great place to start. It gives you estimated daily calorie intakes for maintaining your current weight, based on your age, sex and physical activity level.
- USDA: "Fish, Tofu and Vegetables Tempura"
- University of Pittsburgh: "Tempura"
- American Heart Association: "Dietary Fats"
- DHHS: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- University of Illinois McKinley Health Center: "Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat"
- The New England Journal of Medicine: "Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets With Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates"
- DHHS: "Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"