A Nutritionists Guide to Meat Alternatives

With the momentum of plant-based eating options continuing to pick up speed, odds are that you’ve seen a number of meat alternatives on the shelves where you shop. Many people are choosing to try meat alternatives for health, ethical, or environmental reasons, or just because they want to try something new in their diet.

There are a number of foods and products that can be used to replace meat on your plate. Here are some of the most common meat alternatives available, what they’re made of, and some ideas for how to use them. 


Basic Foods Used to Replace Meat

There are a number of simple foods that can be used to replace meat in a variety of dishes. 

Tofu is a cake made of coagulated soy beans. The nice thing about tofu is that it takes on the flavor of almost anything, like marinades, sauces, and seasonings. It can be eaten cold and raw, can be grilled, baked, or fried. Tofu can be found in an array of textures, from silken to extra firm. 

Tempeh is made from fermented soy beans that have been formed into a rectangular shape. It can be sliced thinly and used to soups and stir fries, crumbled and used in sloppy joes and veggie burgers, or baked in sticks. 

Beans are an inexpensive way to replace meat in many dishes. For instance, beans can add a bulk of plant-based protein in chili, soups, salads, or to make veggie burgers. Beans can be found either dried or canned. 

Seitan is made from vital wheat gluten. Although not celiac-friendly, seitan is a high-protein plant-based option that can replace meat in many dishes. Seitan can be sliced thinly to take on the texture and appearance of roast beef, pulled pork, or other sliced meats. It can also be cut into cubes and used in soups, salads, and pastas. 


Ready Made Products That Replicate Meats                                              

There are also a growing number of brands that have come out with plant-based alternatives to replace traditional meat products. 

Beyond Meat makes burgers, sausages, and ground “beef” products. A Beyond Meat burger offers similar nutrition to a beef burger, coming in at 250 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 20 grams of protein per patty. They use ingredients like pea and mung bean protein, coconut oil, potato starch, and beet juice extract to give their products the color, texture, aroma, and flavor that people like about beef and sausage. You can find Beyond Meat products in the meat case at most grocery stores, alongside the traditional meat products. 

Impossible Foods makes burgers and ground “beef” products. They started in restaurant chains and can now be found in a number of grocery stores. The Impossible Burger uses soy and potato protein, the iron-containing molecule heme (which they source from plants), as well as coconut and sunflower oils to make its very meat-like characteristics. 

Gardein is a popular brand that makes a large line of meat alternatives found in the frozen aisle. Some of the most popular include meatless meatballs, breakfast sausage patties, veggie burgers, pork-less bites, chicken-less tenders, and beef-less tips. Gardein products are made with soy protein concentrate, along with veggies, seasonings, and cooked brown rice.  

Boca is another brand that has been around for a long time that makes frozen meat alternatives. You’ve probably seen their line of burgers, which include veggie burgers, chicken patties, and meatless turkey burgers. Boca now also makes chicken-less tenders, falafels, and meatless bowls. The Boca line is also based on soy protein concentrate, and includes other ingredients like gluten, corn oil, and cheese. These would not be considered vegan if they contain cheese.


Incorporating Meat Alternatives into Your Diet

The accessibility of meat alternatives, and increased awareness around how to use them, offers people the opportunity to expand their palate without having to subscribe to a specific diet. It’s easy to incorporate meat alternatives into your diet at your convenience and preference, whether it’s because of health-related reasons, ethical reasons, or simply because you feel like trying something new. 

Meat alternatives can be used in place of any meat you currently enjoy. For example, it can be as easy as substituting a veggie burger for a beef burger, meatless meatballs for beef meatballs, seitan in place of pulled pork, or mashed chickpeas in place of the chicken used in a chicken salad sandwich. 

With all of the meat alternatives available today, the possibilities are endless when it comes to trying new things with your diet if you choose to do so.

Ana Reisdorf

Fitness & Training Nutrition
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