You may have noticed that plant-based meats are becoming more widely available. These are products made with plant-based ingredients that can be used in recipes that traditionally use meat, making them vegetarian or vegan.
As someone who follows a vegan diet, I can attest that many meatless alternatives can be used in the same ways you might use meat. For example, there are meatless burgers, hot dogs, bacon, ground crumbs, meatballs, and even deli slices.
Many of them are so versatile and delicious that people who don’t necessarily follow a vegan diet enjoy eating them, too.
However, despite their popularity, you may be wondering if plant-based meat alternatives are healthy.
This article looks at the nutritional value of some of the most commonly used plant-based meat alternatives, as well as the benefits and downsides to consider.
Today, an increasing number of plant-based meat alternatives are available. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular varieties.
Seitan is a vegetarian alternative to meat made with vital wheat gluten. It has a delicious flavor and chewy texture that works well in stir-fries, sandwiches, stews, and pasta dishes.
Nutritionally, seitan is an alternative to high-protein plant-based meats. It also generally contains small amounts of iron, calcium, and potassium (
In many grocery stores, you can find seitan in the form of tasty thin cubes, slices, or slices that are ready to use.
You can also make seitan at home using vital wheat gluten, vegetable broth, flavoring agents such as soy sauce or liquid amines, and garlic. All you have to do is mix the ingredients in a blender, make a paste, then boil the dough strips to cook them.
However, because it is made with gluten, seitan is not suitable for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Beyond Meat Products
Beyond Meat is a popular brand of plant-based meat products. While initially recognized for its debut vegan burger, called Beyond Burger, the brand now also makes vegan ground meats, sausages, meatballs, and chicken.
The main ingredient in Beyond Burger is pea protein. Also contains refined coconut oil, rice protein, cocoa butter and dried yeast.
Beyond Burger is soy and gluten free and is naturally colored using beet juice. One pie provides 100% of the daily value for vitamin B12, 40% for zinc, and 20% for iron (3).
Impossible Burgers is a concept similar to that of Beyond Burger. Impossible Foods, the brand behind these burgers, also makes meatless sausages, chicken nuggets, and pork alternatives using plant-based ingredients.
Instead of pea protein, Impossible Burgers use potato and soy proteins.
They get their meat-like flavor from heme iron. While it is usually derived from animal products, the heme iron used in Impossible Burgers is derived from the root nodules of the soybean plant and is made through the fermentation of genetically modified yeast (
The Impossible Burger delivers an array of micronutrients. For example, one muffin provides 50% of the daily value for zinc, 130% for vitamin B12, and 25% for iron (5).
The jackfruit is a large tropical fruit that grows in Asia, Africa and some areas of South America. It has a thick, green, bumpy rind, a smooth, threadlike inner pulp, and edible seeds (
Due to its consistency and mild flavor, jackfruit is often used in place of meat dishes such as pulled pork. For example, I like to put regular jackfruit in my slow cooker with barbecue sauce and onions to make sandwiches.
Jackfruit is low in calories and doesn’t contain as much protein or fat compared to other plant-based meat alternatives. However, it does provide some fiber and a small number of micronutrients, such as iron, potassium, and calcium (7).
Foods containing soybeans
Soybeans are a legume and one of the original plant-based meat alternatives. Soy-based foods tend to have a mild flavor and versatile texture, making them ideal for use in many traditional meat-based dishes.
Foods that contain soy include the following common choices:
- soybean. Also known as edamame, soybeans are a great addition to quick stir-frying. You can also cook it and eat it as a snack.
- tofu; A sponge cake made of soybeans, water, and tofu can be squeezed, cubed, and cooked. You can use it in a stir-fry or salad, slice it and add it to sandwiches, or break it up and cook it with vegetables (similar to how some people might use scrambled eggs).
- Tempeh. This is a fermented soybean product sold in tall blocks. Tempeh works well as thin slices and added to stir-fry or crumbles and used in stews, chili, tacos, or scallops.
- Meat alternatives containing soybeans. Some of the more processed vegan meat alternatives, such as prepackaged vegan burgers, use soy protein in their recipes.
Today, there are more vegetarian alternatives to meat than ever before. Some of the most popular are seitan, jackfruit, soy foods, and prepared products that mimic traditional meats, such as those from the Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat brands.
Below is a comparison chart of the basic nutritional composition of the vegetarian meat substitutes discussed above.
The nutritional information provided is for one serving, the amount of which can vary between products and brands and is listed below.
Among the popular meat alternatives, Seitan, Beyond Burger, and Impossible burger are the highest in sodium, protein, and calories. The latter two are high in total and saturated fats. Jackfruit and tofu are low in calories and sodium, and free of saturated fat.
Some of the main benefits of consuming plant-based meat alternatives are subjective in that many people choose to consume them for a variety of personal reasons.
For example, I take vegetarian meat alternatives because they are more in line with my personal ethics than eating meat.
Eating plants means that I do not support industrial animal farming or its effects on animal welfare, the environment, and public health (
Additionally, some plant-based meats are devoid of nutrients that some people might want to limit for heart health, such as saturated fat and sodium — although amounts depend on the specific product (
In recent years, research has linked a high intake of processed and red meat to an increased risk of some cancers, particularly colon and breast cancer (
On the other hand, most Western diet patterns lack important nutrients such as fiber, which is known to help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases (
Since plants are the only natural sources of fiber, a whole food-based, plant-based diet is a simple way to increase your fiber intake — as well as get more vitamins, minerals, and compounds that provide more health protection (
Additionally, the great thing about plant-based meats is that many of them offer a similar taste, texture, and variety to meat, so they can work well for people who don’t want to consume animal products.
Many people prefer to eat plant-based meat alternatives due to their attitudes towards animal welfare and the environment. Some meat alternatives are also devoid of certain nutrients that some people would like to limit, such as saturated fat and sodium.
While plant-based meat alternatives can offer a number of benefits, they may also have some downsides to consider.
For example, not all plant-based meats are produced equal.
Some highly processed products, such as those in Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger, are just as high in total and saturated fats as their meat counterparts. A burger contains more sodium than a single piece of beef, which may not support heart health (
Additionally, many packaged meat alternatives contain other ingredients that some people don’t want to consume, such as refined oils, modified cornstarch, dextrose, or added sugar.
The best way to avoid any ingredients you care about is to read the ingredients list in any packaged vegan meat substitute.
Finally, while tofu is inexpensive, other plant-based meat alternatives can be more expensive per serving.
Not all plant-based meat alternatives are inherently healthy. Some still contain large amounts of saturated fat and sodium, as well as other ingredients you may want to avoid. In addition, some processing options can be somewhat expensive.
As with any food, the healthiest choices among plant-based meat alternatives are those that you can eat as close to their original, whole form as possible.
For example, jackfruit or soy food such as tofu undergo much less processing than products such as Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger.
However, this does not mean that other plant-based meat alternatives cannot also fit into an overall healthy diet. Although more processed, Impossible and Beyond Burgers are good sources of plant-based protein. It can be said that they are healthier options than fast food hamburgers.
When choosing a vegetarian alternative to meat, it’s a good idea to choose types like jackfruit and soy foods more often and incorporate highly processed options into your diet less frequently.
Don’t forget, you can also use legumes – such as beans, peas, and lentils – in place of meat in many recipes. These are not only inexpensive but also packed with beneficial nutrients and easy to incorporate into veggie burgers, chili, soups, stews, tacos, and salads.
The healthiest way to enjoy plant-based meat alternatives is to choose the least processed options, such as whole soy foods, jackfruit, and legumes, most of the time, and consume gourmet burgers and other meat alternatives less frequently.
Today, an increasing number of plant-based meat alternatives are available. Many of them are so tasty and accessible that even people who don’t follow a vegan diet enjoy eating them.
From a nutritional standpoint, many alternatives to highly processed meat are not necessarily healthy options. For example, they tend to be high in sodium and saturated fat.
While I recommend focusing on less processed meat alternatives most of the time — such as seitan and whole soy foods — products like Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger can still be enjoyed occasionally as part of an overall healthy diet.