Meat Alternatives

April 30th, 2009


In response to increased consumer demand, a growing number of food companies today are adding meatless entrees to their product lines, and supermarket shelves are stocked with  tasty meat substitutes.

Meat substitutes are made from vegetable proteins and other ingredients. One of the most common ingredients is soy, which has been linked to health benefits like reducing bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol. Additionally, soy protein provides all 9 essential amino acids and is full of isoflavones, which protect against breast and prostate cancer. Soy protein also causes less calcium excretion from the body, which reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

Some meat substitutes taste and look just like real meats, while others have their own unique texture and taste. Generally, they are lower in fat than meat and provide a lot of protein, iron, and vitamin B.

Meat alternative began back in 1922 with a Tennessee product called Soy Bean Meat. Now there are hundreds of different meatless brands and products. These meat alternatives nourish the 12-13 million vegetarians in the US, as well as those flexitarians looking for a healthy and affordable protein source.

Here are some of the most common meat alternatives:

TOFU. Probably the best known meat substitute. Made from the solid part of soy beans and soy milk. Texture can vary from firm–used in stir-fries–to silken–used in a dips, sauces and desserts. Health properties:

  • High protein
  • Good source of calcium, iron and vitamins B1, B2 and B3
  • Low fat

TEMPEH. Made from soybeans and grains. Has been a long-time staple in Indonesia. Firm texture and a tasty nutty flavor. Recommended as chicken substitute. Health properties:

  • high protein
  • all 9 essential amino acids
  • bone building nutrients
  • ease symptoms of menopause
  • lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers

SEITAN. Used in Asia for hundreds of years. High-protein gluten made from a rinsed flour and water dough. Sometimes called "wheat meat.’ Available at natural product stores and Asian markets.

TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (TVP). One of the first meat substitutes, made from soy bean flour and cooked to mimic meat texture. Available at local health food stores or supermarkets at a price a lot lower than meat. Soaks up flavors from spices and other seasonings due to its sponge-like texture. Just 1 cup of TVP granules and 7/8 cups of boiling water gives you about 2 cups of TVP. Health properties:

  • Low sodium
  • Low fat
  • Cholesterol free
  • High in potassium
  • High in fiber
  • High in protein, vitamins (including B12) and many minerals
  • All 9 essential amino acids

QUORN. Made from mycoprotein, a protein in the mushroom family. Then combined with egg white and vegetable flavors to give it the taste and texture of meat. Readily absorbs flavors. Available in a range of products, such as burgers, fillets, grill, bacon, and deli meats. Health properties:

  • Low-fat
  • High-fiber
  • All 9 essential amino acids
  • Few calories
  • Essential dietary fiber, which helps maintain healthy digestive system
  • Cholesterol-free