Many whole grains, fruits and vegetables are the building blocks of a nutritious plant-based diet. And these days, there are so many vegan “meat” substitutes that not only taste great in recipes, but also increase the protein content.
Plant-based diets have many nutritional benefits: in fact, they’re linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
But if you ever crave or don’t want to give up some of your favorite recipes altogether, vegan meat alternatives are a great protein option to use — do it in moderation.
“I recommend limiting vegan meat alternatives to one to two servings per week,” says Christianna Gozzi, RD, LD. “It’s best to consume vegan meat alternatives with fresh vegetables and whole grains to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet.”
When it comes to vegan meat alternatives, don’t believe all the hype. Some are more nutritious than others, and there are a few factors you should consider.
To help us in our search for the best vegan meat substitutes, we spoke to five dietitians and food experts for their feedback and suggestions, and also chose products based on the following criteria:
- Nutrient content
- Taste and texture
- Ease of cooking
1. Beyond Plant-Based Ground Beef
Beyond Meat products like this ground “beef” are among the most nutritious vegan meat alternatives. A 4-ounce serving of this contains 20 grams of protein and offers iron and B vitamins, as well as calcium, zinc, and potassium.
Plus, compared to other popular brands, Gozzi says Beyond Meat may be better for your heart. “I recommend Beyond Meat over other mainstream brands because it has a better fat ratio,” she says. “In Beyond Meat, the majority of the fat comes from heart-healthy unsaturated fat, while in the major brands, most of the fat is saturated.”
2. All Legendary Plant-Based Burgers
With 21 grams of protein and low levels of total and saturated fat and carbohydrates, Gozzi says these plant-based burgers are a great option for those who want to enjoy a tasty and nutritious burger. “Although slightly higher in sodium than other brands, this brand contains less total fat and saturated fat,” she says.
The folks at Everything Legendary are committed to creating clean, plant-based food products, which you can see if you read the nutrition labels on these burgers. Everything listed is from real, whole foods, which is a good thing.
Best of all, one of these patties will provide you with 35% of your daily iron requirement, an important nutrient for vegetarians and plant eaters.
3. Dr. Praeger’s Perfect Burger
Use these meatless burgers for Sunday meal prep. “This burger has a healthier nutritional profile and recognizable ingredients. In other words, if you read the ingredient list, you should be able to identify everything as real food,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, RD.
“Each burger has 20 grams of protein and offers calcium, potassium and iron. These taste great on their own and are quite delicious on a whole grain bun.” The best part is that you can prepare them however you want, including baking them in the oven for a hassle-free meal.
4. Italian sausage with garlic and fennel
Craving sausages and peppers, go for these vegan sausages from Field Roast. These mock sausages are packed with delicious Italian garlic and fennel flavor, plus an impressive 25 grams of protein per serving.
“Field Roast Sausage has a desirable texture and comes in a variety of flavors,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, RD. “The protein comes from wheat and, depending on the flavor, it includes other plant ingredients like eggplant, dried peppers, garlic, potato, apples and sage.”
Buy it: Amazon ($54.99, for a four-pack); Target ($5.49)
5. Bob’s Red Mill Textured Vegetable Protein
Stocking textured vegetable protein (TVP) in your pantry like this one from Bob’s Red Mill can help you create all kinds of meatless meals in no time, says Kristi Ruth RD, LDN.
“TVP is a fantastic meat alternative because it can be used in a variety of dishes, like chili, tacos, spaghetti, casseroles, and stir-fries. It takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with” , she says. “It also contains no saturated fat, a negligible amount of sodium, and offers 13 grams of protein per 1/4 cup serving.”
6. Morningstar Farms Original Chik Patties
You don’t have to search high and low for a delicious vegan chicken sandwich patty – Ruth says this one tastes very similar to the traditional crispy chicken patty you know and love.
These patties also have other nutritional benefits. “They’re low in saturated fat, reasonable in sodium, and contain 9 grams of protein per serving,” says Ruth.
The best part is that cooking these patties doesn’t take long at all. You have the option of simply reheating them in the oven or microwave, and that’s it! “A vegan patty like this is great on a whole grain bun with mashed avocado, lettuce and tomato,” says Gozzi.
7. Gardein Ultimate Frozen Falafel Burgers
These vegan falafel patties offer another great way to enjoy a meatless burger, especially if you’re also soy and/or dairy free.
“These vegan patties are made without soy or dairy, and they’re loaded with veggies like kale,” says Ruth. “They’re also low in saturated fat and provide 12 grams of protein per patty.”
Enjoy this burger with a whole grain bun, sliced cucumber and tomato, crumbled feta and a drizzle of tzatziki sauce on top.
- Protein:7 grams per dog
Vegan hot dogs can be enjoyed when you like traditional dog food – with ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut, or any combination of them all. Our experts say they taste just like the real thing, and will be a hit even among picky eaters.
These vegan hot dogs are only 50 calories and 7 grams of protein per dog. They’re also low in fat and sodium, and they’re a light option for kids or adults without all the downsides of processed meats, says Kiran Campbell, RD.
9. Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Grills
Campbell says it’s a great vegan meat option for any recipe that calls for ground beef, but is especially useful for making vegan burgers and meatballs.
“Each 1/2 cup serving is only 70 calories, 2.5 grams of total fat (none of which is saturated), and 210 milligrams of sodium. Plus, you’ll get 10 grams of protein,” she says. . These crumbles contain about 76% less fat than ground beef, making them a good swap for anyone trying to eat less fat.
Health benefits aside, this vegan meat is also quite easy to cook. Simply sauté it in a skillet, cover, and stir occasionally until ready to serve.
Before buying vegan meat substitutes
If you’re new to vegan meats, Gozzi advises you first select products with these factors in mind:
Like many packaged foods, even “healthy” plant-based ones can be hidden sources of sodium.
“I advise my customers to always check the amount of sodium in their vegan meat alternatives, as some have a lot more than others,” Gozzi says. “Sodium is added for both flavor and food safety, but too much sodium in your diet increases your risk of heart disease.”
“I recommend aiming for less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving of vegan meat,” she adds.
Gozzi says some vegan meat products are high in fat, especially saturated fat, which poses a risk to heart health.
“Another thing about vegan meat that surprises a lot of people is that the ratio of total to saturated fat isn’t much different than 80/20 ground beef,” she says. “With that in mind, I suggest looking for a brand of vegan meat that contains no more than 5 grams of saturated fat.”
Above all, Gozzi says the best way to choose the right vegan meat product for you is to try different options and preparation methods. Research different ways to prepare vegan meats and opt for quick methods, and choose flavor profiles you already love.
“The best way to select vegan meat is to keep it simple with preparation and try cooking different brands,” she says. “You may find that you like one brand more than another because different seasoning blends are used.”