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Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce

11 minute read

Figuring out how to eat can feel complicated. Should you forgo carbohydrates to focus on fat, as in a ketogenic diet, or follow a high-protein diet to shed pounds? Is it healthier to focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, fish, and an occasional glass of red wine, as in the Mediterranean diet? What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

| Related: The Ultimate Guide to the Ketogenic Diet |

Research points to the benefits of keeping meat off your plate, at least a few days per week, which has led to the popularity of Meatless Mondays. Books such as The China Study promote plant-based diets as a way to decrease risk for numerous diseases, including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Can you derive benefits from eating chicken or cheese less often?

Several kinds of processed meat

Risks of Red Meat

Research indicates that eating red meat presents numerous health risks. A study at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tracked over 37,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow Up Study and over 83,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study who filled out food frequency questionnaires every four years, beginning in the 1980s.

| Related: The Type of Meat You’re Eating May Be Affecting Your Joints |

Researchers gathered additional health information every two years. The results of the study concluded that those who had consumed the most unprocessed and processed red meat had the highest risk of mortality from all causes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Adjusted for other variables, just one additional serving of unprocessed meat  per day increased risk by 13 percent and an extra serving of processed meat (bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami) increased risk by 20 percent.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans and red meat as “probably carcinogenic” to humans. Processed meat refers to salting, curing, smoking or other processes.

Squash stuffed with tofu

Benefits of Swapping Meat with Vegetables

Conversely, substituting just one serving of meat each day with fish, poultry, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains may potentially decrease risk by anywhere between 7 and 19 percent. A flexitarian diet is one that is primarily vegetarian or vegan but includes occasional meat or animal products.

A nutritionally dense plant-based diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and healthy oils, which provide antioxidants and other nutrients. Those who avoid red meat tend to weight less and have lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

What About Protein?

Meat and animal products are not the sole source of protein. Depending on factors such as body size, medical conditions, and activity level, adults generally require about 5 ½ ounces of protein a day, which can come from non-meat sources, including beans, peas, soy, and unsalted nuts or seeds.

Plant-Based and Weight Control

Center for Disease Control statistics cite that over 65 percent of Americans over 20 can be classified as overweight or obese. Body weights for vegetarians is typically 3 to 20 percent lower than than that of meat eaters.

 A study of 74 people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes concluded that following a plant based diet led to muscle fat loss, which improved both glucose and lipid metabolism, which has significant importance to people with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. 

Macaroni and tofu-cheese

Weight Control Tips for Vegetarians

Switching your cheeseburger and fries for a veggie burger won’t necessarily lead to weight loss or optimal health. A vegetarian diet filled with potato chips, pasta, and huge sandwiches may not translate to lower body weight or decreased risk for health conditions.

Here are some tips to maximize health benefits and to manage weight with a plant-based diet.

Avoid processed foods. Instead of filling the freezer with vegetarian pizzas, soy chicken nuggets, or desserts, fill your plate with vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, avocado, and legumes.

Watch the Cheese. Replacing chicken breasts with cheese can pack on the pounds, as cheese is much more dense in calories and fat. Limit your intake to an ounce of cheese a day and include organic milk or yogurt, beans, and organic tofu instead.

Include Protein. This macronutrient keeps you feeling full, preserves muscle, and boosts metabolism so include foods like quinoa, extra firm organic tofu, or lentils.

Stay Away from the Juice Bar. Juices and smoothies are concentrated sources of calories, with as much as 250 calories in a glass of juice. Juice lacks fiber and is less filling than eating whole fruits or vegetables.

This recipe for Coconut Crusted Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce is a tasty way to add a plant-based meal to your diet.

Shaved coconut in a jar

Coconut Crusted Tofu with Sweet Chili Sauce

Serves: 4-6

Prep Time: 2 hrs 25 min.

Cooking Time: 20 min.


Coconut Crusted Tofu

14 ounces extra-firm tofu

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 small lime, juiced

1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons cold water

1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs

3/4 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil, for frying

Sweet Chili Sauce

1/2 cup coconut cream (from a 15-oz. can of full-fat coconut milk)

2 tablespoons pineapple juice

2 teaspoons lime juice

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce


1. Press the tofu with several layers of paper towel to remove as much water as possible. Cut the tofu into ½-inch slabs and press with paper towels again.

2. To prepare the marinade, first combine the soy sauce and coconut sugar in a small mixing bowl. Microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between, until the coconut sugar dissolves, for less than a minute. Add the lime juice and fresh ginger. Whisk to combine.

3. Transfer the tofu to a shallow baking dish and pour in the marinade. Move the pieces around so each is completely coated. Cover and place in the fridge for at least two hours, flipping the pieces over and recovering with the marinade half way through. Refrigerate can of coconut milk.

4. While the tofu is marinating, prepare the batter. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and water in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Set in the fridge until you’re ready to cook the tofu.

5. Once the tofu is done marinating, remove it from the refrigerator along with the can of coconut milk. Pour the Panko breadcrumbs and shredded coconut onto a large plate and mix with hands. Remove the batter from the fridge and stir. The texture should be similar to pancake batter. If it’s too thick, add another teaspoon of cold water. Line another large plate with a layer of paper towels and set it next to the stove.

6. Heat ¼ cup of vegetable or canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, the oil should glide easily across the pan. Take the first piece of tofu and dip it in the batter. Shake gently to remove any excess, and then dredge it through the Panko/coconut mixture so it’s coated on all sides. Carefully place it in the skillet – it should sizzle right away. If it doesn’t, your oil isn’t hot enough yet.

7. Coat each piece of tofu in batter, followed by the Panko/coconut mixture. Working in batches, cook tofu for about 3 minutes on each side, until crispy and golden brown. Transfer cooked tofu pieces to the paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. You may need to switch out the oil halfway through if there’s a lot of debris floating around in it. Coconut flakes burn quickly!

8. While the tofu cools, prepare the sauce. Flip the can of coconut milk upside down and open it from the bottom. Pour off the liquid and scoop ½ cup of the solid coconut cream into a blender. Add the pineapple juice, lime juice, and chili garlic sauce. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can whisk the sauce by hand in a small mixing bowl. Adjust flavors to taste.

9. Serve tofu warm with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce and a squeeze of lime, if desired.

Tofu slices next to soy beans


This plant-based protein contains all 8 amino acids and is rich source of iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, and vitamin B1. Research points to its potential benefits to protect against risk of certain cancers and heart disease.

Soy may decrease LDL cholesterol and the isoflavones act as a phytoestrogen, which can provide benefits by binding to estrogen receptor sites, including breast cells. For that reason, tofu may relieve symptoms associated with menopause.

Isoflavones can also reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, improving their elasticity.

Down Side of Tofu

Along with the benefits, tofu contains nutrients, including trypsin inhibitors, which block an enzyme needed for the digestive process, phytates, which restrict the absorption of minerals, and lectins, which can cause digestive issues if eaten raw or eaten in excess. Using sprouted tofu can greatly reduce these antinutrients.

Tofu and Breast Cancer

There has been some question as to the association between tofu or soy and breast cancer. Research points to the protective nature of soy with a 48-56 percent decreased risk for breast cancer, especially among women who ate soy at least once a week throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Some physicians advise women with estrogen-sensitive breast tumors to limit soy. The European Food Safety Authority has issued a report that soy and soy isoflavones do not pose risk for breast or uterine cancers or thyroid function. If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, be sure to check with your doctor or dietician.

Grilled tofu

The Bottom Line

Switching just one or two meat-based meals for vegetarian options can provide benefits for your health and your waistline. Ensuring you eat adequate protein can be accomplished by including beans, legumes such as tofu, and other plant-based proteins. 

A plant-based diet based on whole foods and with limited cheese is healthier than vegetarian diets with processed or fast foods such as chips and vegan desserts. Including plenty of vegetables and ingredients like tofu provides antioxidants and other nutrients you might be lacking in a meat-based diet. 

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[studies collapse="on" studies="https://wellvegan.com/recipe/coconut-crusted-tofu-sweet-chili-sauce,https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193?pg=1,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216044/,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466943/,https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170612094458.htm,https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/risk-red-meat,https://www.shape.com/blogs/weight-loss-coach/will-going-vegetarian-help-you-lose-weight,http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/81/6/1267.full ,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048091/,