Meat isn’t your only option if you want a burger, a barbecue sandwich, or a savory centerpiece of a traditionally meat-containing dish. But not all of the plant-based meat alternatives are equal nutritionally. Here’s how some of the top options stack up:
Beyond and Impossible Burgers
These brands make beef-like crumbles and burgers that mimic the real thing pretty well. (They’re not identical, but as a person who happily eats beef, if I picked up one of these burgers at a party, I would assume it was beef unless somebody told me otherwise.)
- Calories: 250 to 270 per four-ounce patty
- Protein: around 20 grams per patty
We have a full rundown of the nutrition here. Bottom line, Beyond and Impossible burgers are nutritionally very similar to their beef counterpart. They’re slightly Higher in calories, fat, and carbs, with a similar amount of protein as beef per four-ounce patty. (That said, beef varies depending on the original fat content and how you cook it, so it seems pretty fair to put these all in the same ballpark.)
This fruit has a firm, stringy texture that has inspired many cooks to prepare it like shredded pork or chicken. Add some barbecue sauce and you have something that looks and tastes a bit like a pulled pork sandwich.
But nutritionally, jackfruit and pork have very little in common. Jackfruit has almost no protein! One cup of jackfruit chunks contains:
- Calories: 143
- Carbs: 35g
- Fat: 1g
- Protein: 2.6g
This makes it nutritionally comparable to a raw potato, not a meat. Pulled pork, on the other hand, has 600 calories per cup with 64 grams of fat and 36 grams of protein.
Jackfruit is a lower calorie option than pork, for sure; but a slider made with the stuff is nutritionally closer to a mashed potato sandwich.
Tofu may not be as trendy as these other meat alternatives, but it’s still delicious and versatile, while providing plenty of protein. Nutrition varies by brand and preparation, but to take one example, six ounces of House Foods extra firm tofu contains:
- Calories: 160
- Carbs: 4g
- Fat: 9g
- Protein: 16g
By comparison, 100 grams of chicken breast (about 3.5 ounces) provides 21 grams of protein in 172 calories. This makes tofu a decent alternative, as long as you account for the fact that it’s less dense. In other words, it takes up more space on your plate than a piece of lean meat, such as chicken with similar nutritional value.
Seitan is nearly pure wheat gluten, so if you’re avoiding gluten, this won’t be your thing. But it’s another great high-protein, plant-based ingredient that has the texture and density to substitute for meat in various dishes or even as a deli meat. A 100-gram portion of seitan contains:
- Calories: 143
- Carbs: 12g
- Fat: 2g
- Protein: 19g
That makes this plant-based protein another actual protein (sorry, jackfruit) that could substitute for a lean meat. It’s worth noting that the protein in seitan doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids that we need, so make sure you’re also getting protein from other sources like beans (or tofu!) to balance it out.
It’s impossible to tell you what’s in a typical veggie burger, since they’re all so different. So we’ll just use this space for a public service announcement to check the nutrition on your chosen patty. Some are high or at least moderate in protein; others are nearly all carbs. Take a look at what it contains, and make sure that if it’s not high in protein, you’re getting that nutrient elsewhere in your diet.