Plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables are the building blocks of a nutritious plant-based diet. And nowadays, there are so many vegan "meat" substitutes that not only taste great in recipes but also bump up the protein.
Plant-based diets have plenty of nutritional benefits: In fact, they're linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
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But if you ever still have a craving or don't want to completely forgo your favorite recipes, vegan meat substitutes are a great protein option. In fact, plant-based meat alternatives are more sustainable than animal products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use, and can be healthier in many cases, per a July 2022 review in Future Foods. Just enjoy them in moderation, as you would meat.
"I recommend limiting vegan meat alternatives to one to two servings per week," says Christianna Gozzi, RD, LD. "It is best to enjoy vegan meat alternatives with fresh vegetables and whole grains to reap the benefits of a plant-based diet."
How We Chose
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 you should consider.
To help us in our search for the best vegan meat substitutes, we chatted with five dietitians and food experts for their input and suggestions, and also chose products based on the following criteria:
- Nutrient content
- Taste and texture
- Ease to cook
1. Beyond Plant-Based Ground Beef
- Protein: 20 grams
Beyond Meat products like this ground "beef" are some of the most nutritious vegan meat alternatives. A 4-ounce serving of this one has 20 grams of protein and offers iron and B vitamins, plus some calcium, zinc and potassium.
Plus, when compared to other popular brands, Gozzi says Beyond Meat may be better for your heart. "I recommend Beyond Meat over other common brands because it has a better ratio of fats," she says. "In Beyond Meat, the majority of fat comes from heart-healthy unsaturated fats, while in leading brands, most of the fat is saturated."
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $7.99
2. Everything Legendary Plant-Based Burgers
- Protein: 21 grams
With 21 grams of protein and low levels of total and saturated fats and carbs, Gozzi says these plant-based burgers are a considerable option for those who want to enjoy a flavorful and nutritious burger. "Although slightly higher in sodium than other brands, this brand has less total fat and saturated fat," she says.
The folks over at Everything Legendary are committed to creating clean plant-based food products, which you can see if you read the nutrition labels for these burgers. Everything listed comes from real, whole foods — which is a good thing.
Better yet, one of these patties will give you 35 percent of your daily needs for iron, an important nutrient for vegetarians and plant-based eaters.
Buy it: Target.com Price: $5.49
3. Dr. Praeger's Perfect Burger
- Protein: 20 grams
Use these meatless burgers for meal prep on Sundays. "This burger has a healthier nutritional profile and recognizable ingredients. That is, if you read the ingredient list, you should be able to identify everything as an actual 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 taste on their own and are quite delicious with a whole-grain bun." The best part is, you can prepare them however you want, including baking them in the oven for a fuss-free meal.
Buy it: Amazon ($6.49); ($5.99)
4. Field Roast Italian Garlic and Fennel Sausage
- Protein: 25 grams
Craving sausage and peppers, reach for these vegan sausages from Field Roast. These faux sausage links are full of delicious Italian garlic and fennel flavors plus an impressive 25 grams of protein per serving.
"Field Roast sausage has a desirable texture and it comes in a variety of flavors," says Kelly Jones, RD, LDN. "The protein comes from wheat, and depending on the flavor, they include other plant food ingredients like eggplant, dried bell peppers, garlic, potato, apples and sage."
5. Bob’s Red Mill Textured Vegetable Protein
- Protein: 13 grams
"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
- Protein: 9 grams
You don't have to search high and low for a delicious vegan chicken sandwich patty — Ruth says this one is very similar in flavor to the traditional crispy chicken patty you know and love.
These patties have other nutritional perks, too. "They are low in saturated fat, have a reasonable sodium content and have 9 grams of protein per serving," Ruth says.
The best part is, cooking up these patties isn't time-consuming at all. You have the option to simply 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," Gozzi says.
7. Gardein Ultimate Frozen Falafel Burgers
- Protein: 12 grams
These vegan falafel patties offer another great way to enjoy a burger without the meat — especially if you are also soy- and/or dairy-free.
"These vegan patties are made without soy and dairy and they're loaded with veggies like kale," Ruth says. "They are also low in saturated fat and provide 12 grams of protein per patty."
Enjoy this burger with a whole-grain bun, sliced cucumbers and tomato, some crumbled feta and a drizzle of tzatziki sauce on top.
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $4.99
8. Lightlife Smart Dogs
- Protein: 7 grams per dog
Vegan hot dogs can be enjoyed any way you love eating traditional dogs — with ketchup, mustard, relish, sauerkraut or any combination of them all. Our experts say these taste just like the real thing, and they'll be a hit even among picky eaters.
These vegan hotdogs clock in at just 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 to enjoy without all the drawbacks of processed meats, says Kiran Campbell, RD.
9. Morningstar Farms Veggie Grillers Crumbles
- Protein: 10 grams
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 just 70 calories, 2.5 grams total fat (none of which is saturated) and 210 milligrams of sodium. Plus, you'll get 10 grams of protein," she says. These crumbles have about 76 percent less fat than ground beef, so they're a good swap for anyone trying to take in less fat.
Health benefits aside, this vegan meat is also pretty easy to cook. Simply saute it on a skillet, cover and stir occasionally until it's ready to serve.
How to Buy Vegan Meat Substitutes
If you are new to vegan meats, Gozzi advises selecting products considering these factors first:
Watch Out for Sodium
Like many packaged foods, even those of the "healthy" plant-based variety can be hidden sources of sodium.
"I advise my clients to always check for the amount of sodium in their vegan meat substitutes, as some have much more than others," Gozzi says. "Sodium is added for both flavor and food safety, but too much sodium in your diet increases your risk for heart disease."
"I recommend aiming for less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving of vegan meat," she adds.
Pick Options Low in Saturated Fat
Gozzi says that 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 ratio of total fat to saturated is not much different than 80/20 ground beef," she says. "With this in mind, I suggest looking for a vegan meat brand that has no more than 5 grams of saturated fat."
Try Different Options
Above all, Gozzi says that the best way to choose the right vegan meat product for you is to try different options and preparation methods. Look up different ways to prepare vegan meats and go with 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 the other because different seasoning blends are used."
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