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12 Plant-Based Meat Substitutes You Need To Stock Up On, Per Registered Dieticians

You know going meatless can have perks for both your health and the environment. That said, starting a plant-based diet can come with some challenges, like having to say goodbye to some of your favorite foods.

But, there’s good news: You can find so many plant-based meat substitutes out there—including vegetable burgers, tofu cubes, and plant-based “beef” patties—you may not even miss the meat. (Hello, vegan In-N-Out burgers!)

“Meat substitutes can be very helpful for those who are transitioning to a plant-based, vegetarian diet, and usually rely heavily on meat for their meals,” explains Krystal George, MPH, RDN. These plant-based alternatives help curb those cravings when you can’t have the real thing.

There are plenty of options on the shelves now, but they’re not always healthy and it’s important to pick your options carefully. Meat substitute processes include adding dyes, sodium, and artificial binders.

“I think the perfect balance is to focus more on whole food, plant-based protein options—such as beans and legumes— and allow some flexibility to consume meat-like substitutes when you’re wanting something different, or need something quick to prepare,” George says.

“Some companies are really doing all they can to make them as healthy as possible,” says George. Take Beyond Meat, for example. This brand worked with nutritionists to create a better-for-you version of their burger, made with avocado oil, that will hit shelves in the spring of 2024.

Plant-based proteins provide a solid option for anyone avoiding animal sources, and the ones that mimic animal sources offer up an easy way for carnivores to swap in a vegan or vegetarian meal to cut back on their meat consumption.

Don’t know where to start? These RD-approved options will taste so good, you won’t even miss the meat.

Meet the experts: Krystal George, RDN, is a registered dietitian and family therapist. Desiree Nielsen, RD, is a nutritionist with a focus on plant-based nutrition and gut health. Amy Shapiro, RD, is a consultant to many organizations, including natural foods brands, educational facilities, hotels and spas, television shows, food delivery companies, and fitness centers.

1. Pea Protein

It’s tough to mimic the texture and mouthfeel of ground beef, but pea protein isolate or textured pea protein nails it pretty well. Some brands use beets as food coloring to give it that medium-rare ground beef look, according to Desiree Nielsen, RD, the founder of Transformative Nutrition. It’s also gluten-free, soy-free, GMO-free, and contains tons of protein, she notes.

Be aware that it can be loaded with coloring and textural additives. “Eating hyper-processed meat substitutes like this once or twice a week as a treat would be fine within a healthy diet, but I wouldn’t make them a mainstay over simpler options like beans and high-protein veggies,” she says.

Team WH Favorite

Free Plant Coloring Pages! ⋆ The Hollydog Blog
Free Plant Coloring Pages! ⋆ The Hollydog Blog

Impossible Burger Patties Meat From Plants

Team WH Favorite

Impossible Burger Patties Meat From Plants 2. Tempeh

“One of my favorite vegetarian meat options,” says Amy Shapiro, RD, the founder of Real Nutrition. Not to be confused with tofu, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. The result is a thick, loaf-like substance that tastes delicious sliced in sandwiches, cubed in salads, or sizzled and smoked on a pan in place of bacon strips.

It’s a complete protein (meaning it contains all nine amino acids), and the fact that it’s fermented helps maintain healthy gut bacteria. It’s high in calcium, which promotes strong bones, and contains antioxidants, which helps ward off a variety of diseases. Tempeh is also rich in isoflavones, which may help fight certain cancers, Shapiro says, while its high manganese levels might help regulate blood sugar and, again, promote bone health.

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Tempeh is extremely high in fiber, so introduce it into your diet slowly to avoid bloating. Since store-bought versions can be high in sodium and other additives, you can also buy your own tempeh starter kit for a healthier DIY version.

Try one of Team WH’s favorites: Nature’s Promise Plant-Based Organic Tempeh

Houseplants Coloring Pages: Free Printable Coloring Pages of
Houseplants Coloring Pages: Free Printable Coloring Pages of

Related Story3. Seitan

This meat alternative, made from wheat gluten, acts as the star of many Buddha bowls—and thanks to its dense texture, it’s eerily similar to duck, but works well as a sandwich or pizza topping. If you have a soy allergy or prefer to avoid this ingredient for other reasons, note that seitan isn’t soy-based, so it’s a safe bet (unlike tofu and tempeh). It’s high in protein, which can help promote weight loss and muscle maintenance, Shapiro adds.

Since it is made of wheat proteins, people with gluten sensitivities, intolerances, allergies, or celiac disease should stay away. You also have to be careful about what you’re buying. “Quick store-bought varieties are often full of preservatives, seasonings, and additives like soy sauce, sodium, and stabilizers to help it taste better,” Shapiro says.

Unlike other meat alternatives, seitan is not considered a complete protein, so Shapiro recommends pairing it with other sources of plant-based protein like beans to balance it out.

Team WH Favorite

Primal Spirit Vegan Seitan Jerky

Houseplants Coloring Pages: Free Printable Coloring Pages of
Houseplants Coloring Pages: Free Printable Coloring Pages of

Team WH Favorite

Primal Spirit Vegan Seitan Jerky4. Jackfruit

Jackfruit mimics the texture of pulled pork—just check out this vegan BBQ sandwich. The India-native fruit has a slightly sweet flavor, but if you braise it in the right savory sauces, you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference. It’s high in magnesium, fiber, B6, and antioxidants, says Shapiro, while also being fairly low carb. The fiber content also helps with bowel regularity, weight loss, and cholesterol levels, she adds.

It’s not as high in protein as other meat alternatives, according to Shapiro, so pair it with other sources of plant protein like ancient grains and legumes for a complete, balanced meal.

Team WH Favorite

Upton’s Naturals Seasoned Jackfruit

Team WH Favorite

Upton’s Naturals Seasoned Jackfruit 5. Tofu

Tofu is made from congealed soy milk, Shapiro says. It’s the chameleon of vegan meat substitutes, absorbing virtually any flavor and can be served any time of day—from an a.m. Almond-Maple “French Toast” to a 30-minute Walnut-Miso Crispy Tofu dinner. The soy in tofu is a complete protein, which is a rarity in plant-based foods, Shapiro says. It’s also high in minerals like iron and calcium, which are particularly crucial for vegan diets. Tofu is often fortified with vitamin B12, which is not bioavailable in plant-based foods. Shapiro recommends going organic, and fermented (for some good gut bacteria) if possible.

Some studies have linked eating soy to breast cancer because soy contains isoflavones, which are plant estrogens, and high estrogen levels are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. But food sources of soy don’t have that much isoflavones to actually raise that risk, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, some studies have shown that consuming a diet rich in soy may actually prevent breast cancer in women.

Team WH Favorite

Mori-Nu Silken Extra Firm Tofu

Team WH Favorite

Mori-Nu Silken Extra Firm Tofu 6. Lentils

“Lentils are natural foods, rich in fiber, protein, and potassium,” says George. Lentils are also pretty much the most unprocessed forms of plant protein you can find. Limiting processed foods is helpful so that you can avoid excess sugar or sodium.

If you’re following a low-carb diet, lentils may not be for you. “While they do have slow-releasing energy due to the amount of fiber in them, half a cup of lentils can have as much as 20 grams of carbs, making it unsuitable for those with more restrictive diets,” says George.

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Team WH Favorite

Whole Foods Organic Green Lentils

Team WH Favorite

Whole Foods Organic Green Lentils 7. Black Beans

Like lentils, black beans are unprocessed and very high in plant protein. “This, in addition to their carbs, fiber, and antioxidants, makes black beans nutritional powerhouses,” says George. Even though they don’t have all the essential amino acids that make up a complete protein, a cup of black beans can have as much as 15 grams of protein and fiber.

Many black beans come in cans filled with saltwater, which increases their sodium content quite substantially, warns George. It’s better to stick with organic options that are in tins containing unsalted water. To find these, look for cans with labels that say, “no salt added,” as those usually contain lower amounts of sodium.

Team WH Favorite

Goya Black Beans

Team WH Favorite

Goya Black Beans 8. Chickpeas

Did you know that if you combine chickpeas and brown rice, you get a complete protein because you’ll be getting all nine amino acids? Sounds like a good deal. But even on their own, chickpeas are star ingredients. A cup of garbanzos has about 35 grams of fiber and 39 grams of protein, making them a satiating option for any meal.

The high carb and fiber content can lead to gas and other gastrointestinal issues in people with sensitive guts, as a lot of the sugars found in chickpeas are indigestible. If this is you, it’s probably better to skip chickpeas and go with other protein options, like tofu and tempeh, instead.

WH Team Favorite

Whole Foods Organic Garbanzo Beans

WH Team Favorite

Whole Foods Organic Garbanzo Beans 9. Plant-Based Sausages

“I think it’s cool that companies are making more mock meats and isolates to decrease meat consumption,” says George. Mock sausages are essentially made mostly with pea protein, so they’re usually bursting with protein (more than 20 grams), and they’re an easy way to satisfy your cravings and still get the texture of sausage when you’re transitioning to a plant-based diet.

Since these are heavily processed most of the time, George recommends only consuming them sparingly and not making them a huge part of your daily diet. She also suggests opting for items with lower sodium content and more protein, since that’ll help you stay satisfied without that icky bloated feeling you get after. Looking for an easy dinner idea? The WH Test Kitchen’s Plant-Based Bratwurst-Apple Salad recipe takes just 20 minutes.

Try one of Team WH’s favorites: Beyond Meat Plant-Based Sausage

10. Plant-Based Chicken

Chicken nugget lovers, get pumped. “It really depends on the brand, but most plant-based chickens are made with soy or pea protein, making them very high in protein,” says George. “They really mimic the taste of chicken incredibly well, so they’re great for people who are transitioning and want a chicken-like feel.”

While they can be great sources of fiber and have less saturated fat than ground beef might, they also can have a lot of sodium and binders that will make them hard on sensitive stomachs. “These foods are processed at the end of the day, so I wouldn’t recommend them on a daily basis,” says George.

WH Team Favorite

Daring Original Plant-Based Chicken Pieces

WH Team Favorite

Daring Original Plant-Based Chicken Pieces 11. Bean-Based Pastas

Looking for an alternative to meat substitutes that pack on the protein but don’t feel like you’re eating meat? Pastas made with beans and legumes, like chickpeas or edamame, pack on the protein without mimicking an animal product. And they’re gluten-free! These protein-packed pantry pastas provide a great vehicle to tons of veggies, plus the sauce of your dreams. Best part? The dish will leave you feeling full, thanks to added fiber.

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WH Team Favorite

Banza Chickpea Pasta

WH Team Favorite

Banza Chickpea Pasta12. Vegetarian Deli Slices

“Many vegan and vegetarian deli slices are now made with lentils, which means they’re much more natural, while still being high in protein,” says George. “They’re great to add into sandwiches for a snack which is low-effort yet still pretty nutritious.” Noted!

It’s important to keep in mind, “not all slices are created equal, and I would watch out for the ones with added flavor,” says George. You know the drill: Those with added flavoring have more artificial ingredients and sodium, which can lead to bloating and gas, explains George.

Tofurky Smoked Deli Slices

Tofurky Smoked Deli Slices

Marissa Miller has spent a decade editing and reporting on women’s health issues from an intersectional lens with a focus on peer-reviewed nutrition, fitness trends, mental health, skincare, reproductive rights and beyond, and currently holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from Cornell. She is an avid yoga practitioner, half-marathon runner, snowboarder, and former dance coach and choreographer. In addition to Women’s Health, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NBC News, GQ, Vogue, CNN Style, and more. Marissa lives in Montreal with her two cats. She is represented by Howland Literary and her debut novel PRETTY WEIRD will be published by Skyhorse Publishing in 2021.

Nikhita Mahtani is an NYC-based freelance journalist covering primarily health and design. She graduated with an M.A in Magazine Journalism from New York University and loves to debunk popular health myths. Her idea of wellness includes a sweaty spin class, wine with loved ones, and experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.

Becca Miller (she/her) has been working in the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen since 2018, where she researches and writes about tasty recipes, food trends and top cooking tools. She graduated from NYU with a liberal arts degree focusing on creative writing. She makes killer scrambled eggs, enjoys a glass of un-oaked chardonnay and takes pride in her love of reality television.

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