Alternatives. We all want them. Whether you want to figure out a different way to work out that keeps pressure off your knees or are looking for a lightened-up version of your favorite restaurant food, you want to be able to tweak things to your needs. For those on special diets, that might mean finding alternatives to carbs, sugar or saturated fats. If you are a soda addict, you might be looking for alternative ways to hydrate. And, if you're a vegetarian, vegan or are simply looking to eat less meat, you want to find alternative meat products that look and taste good, yet are still nutritious.
“Meat alternatives (also called meat analogues) can be a tasty and nutritious way to meet the body’s nutrient needs while incorporating more plant-based foods in your meal plan,” registered dietitian and certified health coach Becky Hand says. "Since the main role of meat is to provide the body with protein, this is the nutrient that should become your focus when selecting a meat alternative."
When working with her clients, Hand shares the following five selection tips:
- Keep your eye on protein: Since a three-ounce portion of cooked meat contains about 20 grams of protein, make sure that three ounces of the meat alternative contains at least 10 grams of protein. Breakfast-type meats are often portioned in one-and-a-half-ounce servings, so make sure these contain at least five grams of protein.
- Watch out for sodium. Meat alternatives often contain large amounts of sodium to enhance flavor. Aim for less than 450 milligrams in a three-ounce portion of meat or less than 250 milligrams in a one-and-a-half ounce portion of breakfast-type alternatives, such as sausage or bacon.
- What’s the oil? Select varieties that list a healthy oil source in the ingredients, such as olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil or corn oil. All of these fats become liquid at room temperature. These polyunsaturated fats have been shown to help improve heart health and lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. Return to the shelf any product that contains highly saturated fats such as coconut oil, butter or lard. Overall, that three-ounce portion should contain no more than two grams of saturated fat.
- Don’t fear the soy: While the internet is filled with "clickbait" regarding the dangers of soy, don’t be taken in by these scare tactics. There is no scientific evidence to support those claims. Soybeans are a great source of high-quality protein and work well for meat alternatives, along with other legumes and vegetables so do your research before ignoring soy as an option.
- Buy and try. If you are new to the meat alternative arena, you may want to begin with a brand such as MorningStar Farms which is readily available in most markets. Then, become more adventurous by trying others that not only meet the nutritional recommendations provided here but also match your personal taste preferences.
A Better (Meatless) BurgerMorningStar Farms Grillers Original Burgers
If you're looking for a perfect burger substitute that meets nearly all of Hand's requirements, these grillers are a great place to start. With just 130 calories, five grams of fat, 16 grams of protein and 390 milligrams of sodium per patty, these veggie burgers deliver up plenty of that char-grilled burger flavor you crave, without any of the animal by-products.
Amy's Sonoma Veggie Burger
For more of that veggie flavor in every bite, consider Amy's veggie burgers. The Sonoma burger contains potatoes, mushrooms, celery, carrots, oats, quinoa, walnuts and other vegetable-based ingredients. One burger is just 140 calories with five grams of fat, five grams of protein and 450 milligrams of sodium. They are also certified gluten-free.
Gardein Chipotle Black Bean Burger
Meat-free and gluten-free, this delicious burger alternative from Gardein is great for your next grill out. Made with chipotle seasoning for a little kick of spice, these burgers also contain 140 calories, six grams of fat, 420 milligrams of sodium and six grams of protein.
Go Meatless in the Morning Lightlife Smart Bacon
Often, vegetarians and vegans lament that they miss bacon the most when giving up meat. Luckily, there are many "fakin' bacon" substitutes available that can nearly pass for the real thing, starting with these veggie bacon strips by Lightlife. Add them to a side of toast for breakfast, eat them on their own or use them as a topping for your sandwiches or salads. One strip contains 20 calories, one gram of fat, 150 milligrams of sodium and two grams of protein.
MorningStar Farms Sausage Links
Add a meat-free protein to your breakfast with these veggie sausage links. In one serving (two links), you'll eat 80 calories, three grams of fat, 300 milligrams of sodium and nine grams of protein. Not a bad way to start your morning!
Follow Your Heart Vegan Egg
Just when you think there's no way you could find a suitable egg substitute, Follow Your Heart came up with one that gets rave reviews on Amazon. The egg mix is raw, vegan, gluten-free, kosher and more. All you have to do is whisk or blend the powder with ice water to use whenever an egg is called for, either in recipes or as a standalone meal or snack. Two tablespoons contain 35 calories, one gram of fat, 150 milligrams of sodium and three grams of protein.
Snacks & Crumbles Primal Hot and Spicy Meatless Jerky
Made from shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, canola oil, seaweed extract and other vegetarian products, this meatless jerky is high on flavor, energy and protein. One package of jerky contains 108 calories, four grams of fat, 334 milligrams of sodium and six grams of protein. These snacks do not need refrigeration, making them great for on-the-go snacks to stash in your fanny pack or office drawer.
Lightlife Smart Ground Meatless Crumbles
If you're looking for a meat substitute that tastes like and has the texture of ground meat, these crumbles will make a great addition to a lot of recipes that call for ground meat. You can sprinkle them on top of your salads, cook them up in a chilli or use for Taco Tuesday. One-third of a cup contains 70 calories, zero fat, 320 milligrams of sodium and 11 grams of protein.
Louisville Vegan Jerky Co. Pete's Smoked Black Pepper
Take your jerky love up a notch with these gourmet flavors from the Louisville Vegan Jerky Co. The smoked black pepper is their most traditional flavor and was created with baseball great Pete Browning of the 1880's Louisville Colonels as inspiration. This jerky is salty, mild and contains just a tad of sweetness that will make you wonder if it's really vegan. Each one-ounce serving contains 70 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 500 milligrams of sodium and seven grams of protein. Keep in mind that it's a little over Hand's sodium recommendations, so you might want to eat a little less than a serving.
Which meat alternative products do you love?
We hope you love these products as much as we do. SparkPeople may collect a small percentage of revenue from the links on this page. Prices subject to change.