Every year, more people are reconsidering the amount of meat they consume, choosing instead to implement healthy meat substitutes into their diets. In fact, Persistence Market Research says the global plant-based protein industry may reach $16.3 billion by the year 2026 if it keeps growing at this rate.
There are a number of reasons for this:
With skyrocketing meat prices and science that indicates that consuming a high level of meat may actually be unhealthy, more people are choosing a meat-free diet.
In addition, with the enormous meat “ranches” producing massive amounts of methane and depleting resources that could be used for human consumption – it’s just another reason that people are taking another look at meat substitutes for their dietary needs.
However, one thing to keep in mind if you are considering eliminating meat from your diet is that you must ensure you’re still receiving enough protein in your diet in order to stay healthy. Protein is every bit as important as vitamins, carbohydrates, and regular exercise when it comes to your overall health.
You see, protein helps build and repair body tissues such as bone, blood, skin, and muscles. Proteins also help increase overall muscle mass and strength. In addition, they help boost your metabolism so you can burn more fat.
A scientific study even showed that a high-protein diet helped lower blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides. Protein also helps you feel fuller with less food, which is great for weight maintenance or loss.
To help you get started, we’ll take a look at some of the top meat substitutes throughout this special report.
Important Note Before We Begin:
When choosing a meatless product, carefully check the ingredients and the nutrition label. You want to make sure it isn’t loaded with unhealthy fats and salt, or are over-processed.
Look at the number of ingredients as well – the more ingredients there are, the more highly processed the product is. Also, look for sodium and added sugar (fruit sugar is a natural form that’s better for you).
Not all products even contain enough protein to satisfy the daily recommended amount, so always read the labels. Some meat substitutes will contain added vitamins and nutrients that may be lacking in a typical vegetarian diet, like iron, zinc, and Vitamin B12.
In fact, only a few plant foods contain all nine of the essential amino acids needed. These are called complete proteins.
Soy, buckwheat, and quinoa are among the few plants that are complete proteins, so be sure to eat a variety of plant foods in order to get all of your essential amino acids.
Today, we’ll look at the top ten meat substitutes, as well as some nutritional information that you should know.
Meat Substitute #1: Tofu
Most meat substitutes are typically made of legumes like soy or peas, vegetables, and cereals. Those plants produce nearly as much protein as your body needs and can be combined to equal as much as you’d get from eating meat.
Tofu is the classic and most well-known meat substitute. It’s made from soybeans and has been used in Asia for centuries as an inexpensive, but healthy source of dietary protein.
It’s also low in calories and easily absorbs aromas and flavors from the spices and marinades you may use.
This makes it a versatile part of your diet. It’s meant to be eaten more like cheese – as a flavorful meal component all its own – though you can make some nice alt-meat products from it.
You make tofu by soaking soybeans, then mashing them with more water to make a puree. The next step is to filter the puree to separate the fibrous solids from the liquid part.
Heat the liquids to just below boiling points so it curdles, making the solid tofu in much the same way as cheese is made. You then press the tofu into slabs and cut it into whatever shape you wish – usually simple rectangles. The fibrous solid part of the puree, called okara, can be dehydrated and used as alt-meat chunks or mince.
Tofu comes in extra-firm, firm, soft, or silken. You can also press even more water from it before cooking for a crispier product.
Some recipes call for it to be patted dry before cooking. Make sure you follow your recipe to get the most flavor from your tofu.
Silken tofu is great for smoothies, while extra-firm can be fried or grilled like regular meat.
One cup of tofu usually contains about 188 calories, 20 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, 868 milligrams of calcium, 13 milligrams of iron, and 0.7 grams of fiber.
One thing to look for is a non-GMO product or certified organic. According to a 2016 study, about 82 percent of the world’s soybean farms grow genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Many consumers are leery of GMOs since we haven’t been eating them for very long and don’t know the long-term consequences of such products.
Soy is what’s called a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine needed amino acids. It’s usually fortified with Vitamin B12, which isn’t found in plant-based proteins.
Note that soy does contain natural phytoestrogens, so you shouldn’t eat it more than once or twice a week.
If you’re pregnant or have had hormone-related cancer, talk to your doctor before eating tofu because the natural hormone might cause severe problems.
Meat Substitute #2: TVP
Soy Protein or Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) – Dehydrated soybeans can be mixed with water to make an inexpensive, healthy meat substitute.
Soy protein is usually sold as mince, chunks, cutlets, or balls. Like tofu, it easily absorbs odor and flavor from the other ingredients you’re cooking with it. This protein is ideal as a replacement for meat patties, meatballs, cutlets, and meat sauces like chili or bolognese.
Soy protein is low in sodium and does have some fiber. It also contains magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and calcium.
This product is usually more highly processed than some of the other meat substitutes, so read the nutrition label carefully before you buy it. Make sure you’re getting only soy in your substitute.
A one-cup (dry) serving of TVP or soy protein contains about 222 calories, 35 grams of protein, 0.83 grams of fat, 164 milligrams of calcium, 6.3 milligrams of iron, and 12 grams of fiber. It’s also a good source of magnesium and some of the B vitamins.
Soy is a high-protein plant, however the isolating factor in making the protein isolate strips away many of its natural nutrients.
Be sure to look for organic or non-GMO products to avoid pesticide concentration from the extraction process.
Also, find out where your soy product is coming from. Soy farming is responsible for most of the deforestation in Brazil, for example, and we should set an example that we don’t want that occurring.
Meat Substitute #3: Tempeh
Tempeh is also made from the versatile soybean. It’s a traditional Indonesian food made from fermenting the whole beans.
Like cheese, tempeh uses the action of special bacteria to break down some of the bean proteins and make them more easily digestible by human beings.
Tempeh has a drier texture with around 20 percent protein and is high in fiber, which makes it ideal for a meat substitute.
Various grains and other beans can also be incorporated with the tempeh to give it a heartier flavor and texture. It does have a subtle tangy flavor with a nutty aftertaste, so tempeh isn’t for everyone. You can grill, fry, sauté, or bake it – and try it in a lettuce wrap or grain bowl. It’s especially good as a barbecue meat substitute.
The fact that tempeh is fermented also helps maintain a healthy gut bacteria environment, like eating yogurt. It’s also high in calcium and antioxidants, and its high manganese content may help regulate blood sugar. It’s usually low in sodium as well.
Since it’s so high in fiber, you need to incorporate it into your diet more slowly, to avoid bloating and gas.
One cup of tempeh usually contains about 319 calories, 34 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 184 milligrams of calcium, 4.5 milligrams of iron, and is a good source of magnesium and Vitamin B6.
Check the nutrition label with tempeh. If it’s had grain added, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid that variety and look for another preparation. It’s also not for those with soy allergies, of course. It’s great for a dairy-free or lactose-intolerant diet because of the added calcium.
Meat Substitute #4: Seitan
This protein is found in ordinary wheat. Seitan has a consistency similar to meat and is easy to prepare and season. It’s been used in Asian cooking for thousands of years and has kept people healthy without the consumption of expensive meat.
You make it by washing wheat flour dough in water until all the starch granules have been removed. This leaves the wheat gluten, which is then steamed, baked, or boiled to give it a meat-like texture.
This is a time-consuming process, and it goes without saying that this protein is not suitable for anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Seitan powder is widely available in many countries.
It’s inexpensive and can be used to make vegan sausages or meat cuts like cold-cuts or cutlets. It has a mild flavor similar to chicken. You can also buy seitan in strips. It’s great for stir-fries, curries, or salads, and you can grill it as a kebab.
The flavor is similar to a mushroom, but if you season it properly, it can taste just like chicken! Texture- and appearance-wise, seitan is the most similar to meat. It’s good sliced on a sandwich, as a pizza topping or taco filling, or just as strips on a bed of lettuce.
A four-ounce serving of seitan contains about 140 calories, 28 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fat. It’s also high in riboflavin, niacin, and Vitamin B6, but it doesn’t have any iron or calcium.
Unlike other meat substitutes, seitan is not a complete protein. This means it does not contain all nine amino acids like meat and soy does.
In order to maintain a healthy diet, add some different vegetable proteins along with the seitan, like quinoa, pumpkin seeds, white beans, or lentils.
Also, many of the already-prepared varieties contain preservatives and additives like soy sauce, sodium, and stabilizers.
Check the nutrition label before buying.
Meat Substitute #5: Lupin Protein
Lupins are legumes like soybeans. They’re native to the Mediterranean but grow readily in Europe, where they’re thought to be the meat substitute of the future.
You can make almost any type of meat substitute from lupin protein, including sausages, cutlets, and doner kebabs.
Lupin Protein Isolate contains nearly 90 percent protein, which is a pretty high amount for a plant. It doesn’t have any cholesterol or gluten, nor does it contain lactose.
It’s used not only in meat substitutes but also in dairy or flour substitutes. There’s even ice cream made with this plant protein!
One cup of lupin contains about 193 calories, 5 grams of fat, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 85 milligrams of calcium, 2 milligrams of iron, and 5 grams of fiber. You should be able to find lupin protein in most organic food stores, vegan groceries, or online.
Green Spelt – This is the term for spelt grain that has been harvested while only semi-ripe. Spelled is actually a species of wheat, one of the oldest cultivated grains in human existence. Ancient grains like spelled may be healthier than modern ones.
Once it’s harvested, the grain is roasted and dried, so it lasts longer on the shelf. This also gives the spelt an intense flavor. Roasted spelled is also more easily digested, so you don’t get as much digestive upset as with some of the legumes or fermented products.
Green spelt gives you lots of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus. One cup of cooked spelt contains around 246 calories, 51 grams of carbohydrates, 7.6 grams of fiber, 10.6 grams of protein, and 1.6 grams of fat. It’s a good source of fiber and protein.
Semolina and bruised grain made from green spelt is good for making meat-like patties, cutlets, and balls.
You can find green spelt in organic or health food stores, in the form of cutlets, bruised grain, or semolina.
Meat Substitute #6: Oat Flakes
Oat flakes are a great source of iron and zinc. They’re usually easily found in any grocery store or supermarket and are not very expensive. They give you a slow, steady supply of carbs and that makes you stay full longer and even help you lose some weight.
One serving (about 50 grams) of oat flakes contains 178 calories, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of fiber, and 5.5 grams of protein.
You can make oat flake cutlets with fried oat dough combined with vegetable broth, a little fat, grated veggies like carrots or zucchini, and other vegetable proteins.
You can even find “pulled oats,” which is a meat alternative to pulled pork. These are made of oat bran, oat flour, oat protein, pea protein, fava bean protein, oil, and salt.
The “pulling” process creates a meat-like texture that has fooled non-vegans into believing it’s actually meat.
Meat Substitute #7: Black Beans
Black beans, like most legumes, are rich in protein and fiber. They’re dark-colored due to colorful chemicals called anthocyanins. They’re good antioxidants. The darker the bean, the more anthocyanin, and the healthier they are.
Black beans are usually made into hamburger-like patties, which have a similar texture to ground beef.
Black beans are also eaten as is, especially in Mexican meals. If you buy them canned, you can drain the liquid and save it for later use or simmer the beans with a ready-made sauce. They’re gluten-free, of course, as are all legumes.
One-half cup of black beans contains 114 kilocalories of energy, 7.6 grams of protein, less than a gram of fat, 20.4 grams of carbohydrates, 7.5 grams of fiber, 23 milligrams of calcium, and 1.8 milligrams of iron. They also provide magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and some B vitamins.
Meat Substitute #8: Chickpeas
This legume actually has more protein than many types of meat. They’re very filling and are the main ingredient in many Mediterranean foods like hummus and falafel. Chickpeas are also rich in iron, calcium, and fiber.
One cup of chickpeas gives you about 267 calories, 14.4 grams of protein, 4.2 grams of fat, 44.7 grams of carbohydrates, 12.5 grams of fiber, 80.4 milligrams of calcium, 4.7 milligrams of iron, along with magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K.
One interesting fact about chickpeas: if you whip the brine or liquid (aquafaba) from the can of peas, you can make a vegan meringue that works just like the egg-white one!
The pea proteins leech out into the water, making it similar to an egg white.
Just add a little cream of tartar as a stabilizer, beat or whip slowly at first, then when you get that froth started, up the speed to get a fluffy meringue.
Add sugar and vanilla and you’ve got a tasty dessert.
Meat Substitute #9: Pea Protein
Another common legume, the pea gives you lots of iron and protein, while still being low in fat and cholesterol.
Pea protein is one of the newcomers on the meat substitute market and can usually be found in vegan-friendly grocery stores.
It’s tough to mimic the texture and feel of ground beef, but pea protein isolate or textured pea protein does a pretty good job of it. Some meat substitutes use beets to color the pea protein isolate and give it that “medium-rare beef” look.
Pea protein, as all legumes, is gluten-free. It’s also soy-free and GMO-free, which is a recent concern with vegetables.
Remember that the pea protein does contain less fiber and starches than the whole pea.
Growing peas requires less water and land than other crops, and peas (and other legumes) “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere into forms other plants can use.
Meat Substitute #10: Jackfruit
Jackfruit, a native of India, mimics the texture of pulled pork if it’s harvested just before it’s ripe. It’s got a slightly sweet flavor, but with seasoning, can fool the mouth into thinking it’s meat.
Jackfruit is high in fiber, magnesium, B6, and antioxidants. It’s also fairly low in carbohydrates.
1 cup of jackfruit contains 157 calories, 2.5 grams of fiber, 739 milligrams of potassium, and 2.8 grams of protein.
It’s not a complete protein, though, so pair it with a legume or grain for a healthier meal.
Some of the pre-seasoned packages have added sugar so check the nutrition label before you buy.
Top Substitution Brands
When it comes to meat substitutions, there are many brands to choose from, especially as it has become popular.
Let’s look at some of the most popular brands you can try:
Beyond Meat – This company uses pea protein to make its “ground beef” products like Beyond Beef. They use beet coloring to make a nice “natural-colored” burger patty.
MorningStar Farms – At the moment, Kellogg’s offers several vegan products (dairy and egg-free) like Buffalo Chik Patties, Buffalo Wings, and Chicken Nuggets. Look for the yellow “V” for vegan on the package.
Gardein – In addition to Classic Meatless Meatballs, this company also offers fishless fish like a golden fishless fillet and crablets mini-cakes.
Tofurkey – They’ve been around since 1980 and are most famous for their holiday roast, but they also offer deli slices, veggie dogs, tempeh bacon, vegan pizza, and chorizo-style ground “beef.”
Field Roast – These are made with grain protein, and include vegan sausages, deli slices, roasts, burgers, and even a meatloaf. Try the vegan cheese Chao Slices on their Field Burger.
Yves Veggie Cuisine – This company was founded in 1985 and offers a wide range of products like Vegan Grain Strips with BBQ Sauce, Original Meatless Jumbo Hot Dogs, Meatless Canadian Bacon, and Veggie Brats Classic.
Trader Joe’s – This grocery chain carries a wide variety of vegan products like Chickenless Crispy Tenders. And the more you buy, they more they’ll come up with.
Lightlife – Look for the prominent “certified vegan” logo for this company, which makes a variety of products like Smart Dogs.
Boca Burger – Another one that’s been around awhile. They use pea protein to make their burgers and Spicy Chik’n Patties.
Sweet Earth Natural Foods – They’re known for their seitan, burritos, and pea protein burgers, but they also make “bacon” and three flavors of ground round. Double-check the label though, to make sure it’s vegan.
Simply Balanced – This is Target’s brand of four meatless products, and includes Mushroom Miso Meatless Turkey, Teriyaki Meatless Turkey, Smoky Chipotle Meatless Chicken, and Korean Barbecue Meatless Chicken.
Did you know that a higher intake of plant protein has been proven to be associated with a lower mortality rate?
In one study, scientists found that South Asians living in the United States had far fewer cardiometabolic risk factors when they followed a vegetarian diet.
Meat markets also mean health risks like swine flu and salmonella. Further, the use of antibiotics in raising meat animals means the development of pathogens that are resistant to most of our common drugs.
All of this means that meat is becoming more hazardous than healthy, so it’s no wonder that more people are turning to meat substitutions.
In addition, processed foods are just not good for either your body or for the environment. Even if you’re not fully vegetarian, you can cut back on red meat consumption and switch to healthier meats like fish and chicken or turkey.
We’ve covered just a few of the options within this special report, but please continue your research. Look for other recipes, brands, and options as new ones become available on the market.
Meat substitutes are an inexpensive way to get your body the protein it needs to repair and replenish body cells and tissues.
They’re good for you, good for animals, and good for the environment!