Plenty of 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 increase the protein content.
Plant-based diets have many nutritional benefits: In fact, according to Harvard Health Publishing, they’re linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
If you still get cravings or don’t want to do without some of your favorite recipes completely, vegan meat substitutes are a great protein option – but only in moderation.
“I recommend limiting vegan meat alternatives to one or two servings per week,” says Christianna Gozzi, RD, LD. “Vegan meat alternatives are best enjoyed with fresh vegetables and whole grains to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet.”
When it comes to vegan meat substitutes, don’t believe all the hype. Some are more nutritious than others, and there are a few factors to consider.
To help us in our search for the best vegan meat substitutes, we spoke to five nutritionists and food experts to get their input and suggestions, and also selected products based on the following criteria:
- nutrient content
- taste and texture
- Easy to cook
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 has 20 grams of protein and offers iron and B vitamins, as well as some calcium, zinc, and potassium.
Also, Gozzi says Beyond Meat might be better for your heart compared to other popular brands. “I recommend Beyond Meat over other popular brands because it has a better fat ratio,” she says. “Beyond Meat gets the majority of its fat from heart-healthy unsaturated fats, while leading brands have most fat from saturated fats.”
2. All legendary plant-based burgers
With 21 grams of protein and low in total and saturated fats and carbohydrates, Gozzi says these plant-based burgers are a solid option for those looking to enjoy a tasty and nutritious burger. “Although this brand has a little more sodium than other brands, it has less total fat and saturated fat,” she says.
The folks at Everything Legendary are committed to making clean, plant-based food products, which you can see by reading the nutritional information for these burgers. Everything listed comes from real, whole foods — and that’s a good thing.
Better yet, one of these patties provides you with 35 percent of your daily requirement of iron, 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. That means if you read the ingredients 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 some calcium, potassium and iron. These have a great flavor of their own and are delicious with a whole wheat bun.” The best part is that you can make them however you like, including baking them in the oven for a no-fuss meal.
4. Roasted Italian Garlic and Fennel Sausage
If you’re craving sausage and peppers, reach for these Field Roast Vegan Sausages. These artificial sausage chunks are packed with delicious Italian garlic and fennel flavors, as well as an impressive 25 grams of protein per serving.
“Field bratwurst has a desirable texture and comes in a variety of flavors,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, RD. “The protein comes from wheat and includes other plant-based food ingredients like eggplant, dried peppers, garlic, potatoes, apples, and sage, depending on taste.”
buy it: Amazon ($54.99, for a four-pack); Target ($5.49)
5. Bob’s Red Mill Textured Vegetable Protein
When you stock some textured vegetable protein (TVP) in your pantry like this one from Bob’s Red Mill, you can make 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 has 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 look far for a delicious vegan chicken sandwich patty – Ruth says this 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 have 9 grams of protein per serving,” says Ruth.
The best part is that making these patties is not time consuming at all. You have the option to just heat them in the oven or microwave and that’s it! “A vegan meat 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-free and/or dairy-free.
“These vegan patties are soy-free and dairy-free and loaded with veggies like kale,” says Ruth. “Plus, they’re low in saturated fat and provide 12 grams of protein per patty.”
Enjoy this burger with a whole wheat bun, sliced cucumber and tomato, some crumbled feta and a dollop of tzatziki sauce.
- Protein:7 grams per dog
Vegan hot dogs can be enjoyed anywhere you like to eat traditional dogs—with ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut, or any combination of all. Our experts say these taste just like the real thing and will be a hit with even picky eaters.
These vegan hot dogs only have 50 calories and 7 grams of protein per dog. They’re also low in fat and sodium and a light option for kids or adults without the downsides of processed meats, says Kiran Campbell, RD.
9. Morningstar Farms Veggie Grillers Crumbles
Campbell says this is 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 has only 70 calories, 2.5 grams of total fat (none of which is saturated), and 210 milligrams of sodium. Plus, you get 10 grams of protein,” she says. These crumbles have about 76 percent less fat than ground beef, so they’re a good substitute for anyone trying to cut down on their fat intake.
Aside from the health benefits, this vegan meat is also pretty easy to cook. Simply sauté it in a pan, cover and stir occasionally until ready to serve.
Before you buy vegan meat substitutes
If you’re new to vegan meat, Gozzi advises choosing products with these factors in mind first:
Like many packaged foods, those of the “healthy” plant-based variety can be hidden sources of sodium.
“I advise my customers to always be aware of the amount of sodium in their vegan meat substitutes, as some contain a lot more than others,” says Gozzi. “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, particularly saturated fat, which poses a risk to your heart health.
“Another thing about vegan meat that surprises a lot of people is that the total fat to saturated fat ratio isn’t much different than 80/20 ground beef,” she says. “With that in mind, I suggest looking for a vegan meat brand that has no more than 5 grams of saturated fat.”
Above all, Gozzi says that the best way to choose the right vegan meat product for you is to experiment with different options and preparation methods. Look for different ways to cook vegan meat, go with quick methods, and choose flavor profiles you already love.
“The best way to choose vegan meat is to keep the preparation simple and try cooking different brands,” she says. “Maybe you like one brand more than the other because they use different spice blends.”