Droves of people are steering towards a more plant-centric diet. And we love it! Increasing the number of plant-based dishes opens people up to wider variety of vitamins and nutrients. Good for the planet, and your body, we celebrate plants!
Transitioning to a plant-based or plant-focused diet brings about questions regarding protein and quality. What are the best meat replacement options, if any? There are a ton of vegan and vegetarian-friendly meat substitutes. However, not all are healthy.
Before you dive into trying plant-based meat replacements, make sure you investigate for yourself. This article breaks it down for you.
Tofu is a popular food used most commonly in Asian cuisine derived from soybeans. The soybeans process into soy milk, then the curds go through processing into pressed blocks (1). Pluses: high in calcium, magnesium, protein and iron. Furthermore, this plant-based protein source contains all essential amino acids (2). But don’t go running to the store just yet!
Tofu contains phytoestrogens which affect women differently, and sometimes negatively (3). Some women, depending on pre or post menopausal symptoms, tolerate phytoestrogens differently. That being said, soy is a crop commonly sprayed heavily with pesticides. Pesticides contain high levels of endocrine disrupters, which do affect estrogen levels, among other things (4). If you buy tofu, only choose organic to avoid those harsh xenoestrogens.
Bland in taste, it absorbs the flavors around it. It also comes in a variety of textures, soft to firm based on your dish or your preference. We vote to stay away from this one.
Tempeh, like tofu, is made from soybeans. However, the process by which it is made is a little bit different. Instead of being made into milk, these soybeans go into a calculated fermentation process. A mold culture called rhizopus spreads and grows around each soybean, forming a tight bond between each bean, bringing them together as one solid piece (5).
Tempeh brings similar pros and cons as tofu. Tempeh is high in calcium, magnesium, and iron. It is also high in protein and contains all essential amino acids. The non-organic variety will be high in endocrine disruptors and should be avoided.
What makes tempeh unique is that it goes through a fermentation process, thereby making it easier to digest. This could potentially make it a better option for consumers who have sensitive stomachs (6). Tempeh can be steamed, sliced, sauteed, crumbled, or eaten as bought in the store. The options are endless. It has a slight mushroom-like smell, but blends in well into most dishes. Tempeh is suitable for anyone not sensitive to soy or mold. Check out our stuffed avocado recipe here.
Seitan is a popular meat replacement made from wheat. More precisely, wheat gluten, the main protein found in wheat. The starch in the wheat becomes extracted, leaving high-protein vital wheat gluten behind (7). It’s often formed into a “roast” or sliced like sandwich meat.
The meat-like texture compares to chicken. It contains lots of protein, though not a complete protein because it lacks one essential amino acid, lysine (8). High in selenium, it supports healthy thyroid function (9).
Not suitable for people allergic to gluten (celiac) or those sensitive to gluten or grains, this option remains suspect. Highly processed, and inflammatory, this option is something we’d avoid.
Jackfruit is just that: a fruit. When harvested early, young jackfruit (which hasn’t had the chance to ripen and sweeten yet) makes a very convincing meat replacement. Found in cans and sold in syrup or brine, you’ll want to buy young jackfruit canned with brine if you intend to make it “meaty.” Jackfruit pulls apart in a way that very much resembles pulled pork.
Jackfruit does not actually contain a lot of protein, but does contain lots of fiber (10). In comparison to other meat replacement products, jackfruit is one of the more natural and less processed options. If you can’t find it at your local grocer, try the nearest Asian market (but we’ve seen it at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s).
Plant-based eaters are wise to include another source of plant-based protein to pulled jackfruit dishes. This simply adds protein to the meal, since jackfruit lacks it (10). We like it for those focused on a whole foods diet, or those plant-based eaters limiting processed foods.
Textured Vegetable Protein
Textured vegetable protein, also known as textured soy protein, is a soy flour product that has had the fat content removed. It is high in protein and contains only one ingredient: defatted soy flour. Sold in dry form, it requires re-hydration before eating.
Often added to chili, soups and tacos, TVP tastes and feels like ground turkey or chicken. While easy to use, those with soy allergies must abstain. Like all other soy products, go organic whenever possible. This happens to be highly processed, so we don’t use it much, if at all.
Faux Meat Products
The goal of a faux meat product is clear: to mimic actual meat products without using any animal products or byproducts. Although plenty of these vegan meat substitutes do a great job seeming like the “real thing,” they vary in terms of actual health. Highly processed and full of common allergens like soy and wheat, this products gets a thumbs down. Though they contain some protein, they also contain added flavors and preservatives.
We don’t think these products serve your body or mind well. Best to steer clear! The only one that’s “ok” (but still contains a few ingredients we don’t like is Beyond Meat.
Nuts, Mushrooms and More!
So many things end up with a meaty texture! Nuts, mushrooms, cauliflower and more give the taste and texture of meat (when done right). Check out some of our faves…
Vegan Bolognese (inside the 131 Method program)
If you go fully plant-based, don’t forget to discuss it with your health care professional. You’ll want to know which vitamins and minerals hover too low in vegan diets.
When it comes to making swaps with meat alternatives, it really isn’t black and white. Take into account your preferences and individual dietary needs. Still not sure? Get in the kitchen and trying out some recipes to for inspiration.