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Overview of Meat Alternatives for Vegans

meat alternatives
Vegan burger

Meat Alternatives

or how do vegans get their proteins from?

What is called “meat alternative”?

As the vegan diet is excluding eggs, fish, meat and all animal products, meat alternatives can be defined as all high-protein foods, that are suitable for vegans.

The main source of proteins for non-vegetarian people are mostly meat, fish and eggs so, how do vegans do to get enough proteins each day? Don’t worry there are many possibilities and we will present you an overview of the protein landscape for vegans (and they are delicious!).

What are the differences between real meat and meat alternative?

There are many differences between real meat and vegan alternatives.

  • Nutritional Composition

The Nutritional composition of 100g of average meat is about 27g of proteins, 8g of lipids (3g of saturated fatty acids, 3g of monounsaturated fatty acids, 1g of polyunsaturated fatty acids), 0g of carbohydrate, 1.7mg of iron, 1,3 ug of B12 vitamin.

But, as you will notice in What are the meat alternatives? section, the nutritional composition of meat alternatives can vary a lot, in terms of protein, lipid and carbohydrate amount but also the amount of iron and other minerals. Another difference is the amount of salt compared the real meat. As a lot of meat alternatives are processed foods, they can contain more salt than other products.

Finally, these products can also contain additives and preservatives, so have a look at the ingredient list.

Moreover, as meat alternatives from plant-based foods, they do not contain the B12 vitamin so it is important to get a reliable source every day. Some products may be fortified and in that case, can participate in your daily intake.

  • Taste

This is a strong point. Of course, as this is not real meat, the taste may be different, especially if you are trying non-processed food such as beans or cereals. However, you might be interested to know that some products suitable for vegans can have a taste very similar to meat or even fish. And don't worry, even if some options have a different savour, most of them are absolutely delicious.

  • Fabrication Process

Another difference between these two is the fabrication of the product. Real meat is a non-processed food. However, it is difficult to find non-processed meat alternatives except beans, cereals and tofu and tempeh which are the least processed products in this category. The consumption of processed meat needs to be limited as part of a diversified and well-balanced diet. Therefore, it is not recommended to switch all your meat intakes with vegan meat processed food.

What are the meat alternatives?

  • Cereals and Beans

This category regroups all foods from rice, pasta to chickpeas, lentils... These products are natural products and non-processed foods. There are a large variety of foods, from whole grains, refined ones to products with added savours. The benefits are that they also contain fibre, vitamins and minerals. When choosing cereals and beans, try to select whole grains, that have a higher amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The Nutritional information is as per below :

  • For cereals: example of 100g of raw white rice: 7g of proteins, 1g of lipids, 78g of carbohydrates, 1.5g of iron.

  • For beans: example of 100g of dry lentils: 25g of proteins, 1.5g of lipids, 50g of carbohydrates, 7g of fibre, 6g of iron ( but decreased by the presence of phytic acid), rich in phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, B1, B3, and B9.

  • Tofu and Tempeh

Tofu and tempeh are two products made from soybeans or juice from soybeans. The fabrication of the tempeh also includes fermentation. As you can notice below, their nutritional composition is closed to meat but the repartition of lipids are differents :

  • Seitan

Seitan is a meat alternative made from wheat gluten. It can be used for many purposes from nuggets, steak to sausages. The taste is neutral so it is easy to accommodate it with different flavours. It is also a high protein food as you can see below.

Seitan nutritional information
Meat Alternative - Seitan

Whatever you are a vegetarian, vegan or simply looking to green up your diet, why not give a try to meat alternative?

  • Mycoprotein

Mycoprotein is a naturally occurring fungus. Quorn is the main brand using mycoprotein in its processed products. You will be able to find a large variety of products, from vegan sausages, vegan kebabs meat, vegan ham slices, nuggets, burgers, to pepperoni or fishless fingers. Because all these products are different, it is difficult to make a single comparison with meat. However, you can see below two examples of products you can buy from Quorn.

  • Meat alternatives from plant-based food

You can also find many meat substitutes made from plant-based food such as chickpeas, peas, tofu or lentils. They are processed products that can be bought from Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger, Linda McCartney, Heck or Les Nouveaux Fermiers. Have a look in your supermarket in the vegan area or with the frozen food, it should be pretty easy to find them!

Usually, they are easy to use and as the taste is not too powerful, it works well with any other foods. However, these products are processed food. Therefore, it is important to carefully select them by looking at the amount of fat, salt, sugar and eventual harmful additives.

  • Textured Soy Protein

This meat substitute is made from soybeans that have been textured and dehydrated. Therefore, it is also a processed product. The taste is neutral. Thanks to the texture, you can easily use it to replace ground meat for example. You can buy this product under different sizes of proteins from very small to bigger ones. As the product is dehydrated, you will have to rehydrate it before use. Usually, it becomes 3 times bigger once done so you don't need to use a lot of soy protein to cook a meal.

Nutritional information textured soy protein
Nutritional Information

What are the differences between the meat alternatives and how do I pick the best one?

  • The Taste

First of all, one big difference is the taste of the product. Some products have been designed to taste like meat, but some others don't. Therefore, switching to a "meatless but meat-taste burger" might be easier for some people.

  • Processed and non-processed products

Moreover, meat substitutes are all very different as you have both processed and non-processed foods in this category.

When buying a processed product, I would recommend comparing at least 3 similar products to select the one with the smallest amount of saturated fat, salt, sugar. Have also a look at the eventual additive and preservatives in the products. If you don't have time to look at the ingredient list or if you are a bit lost with all the information on the package, just use Yuka or any similar application. This type of application is very useful for food shopping as it will do the work for you and simply provide an overview of the ingredients with a scoring.

Finally, have a quick look at the product sustainability. For example, some products are using sustainable palm oil which is much better than normal palm oil. Some products can also be locally produced so it can also be a good criterion to choose your favourite one.

Reason to try meat altenatives
Why should we try meat alternative?

How to green up your diet with meat alternatives?

Whatever you would like to green up your diet, start a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may want to try these alternatives. However, it is sometimes difficult to understand how to introduce these substitutes into your diet, so where should you start?

As I always say, doing a rapid and full switch to meat alternatives is most of the time not a good idea if you are looking for a long-term change. So here are some proposals to go step by step:

  1. Identify which one of your usual meals you can change. For example, you like lasagna, you may want to switch this meal to green it up!

  2. Identify which days of the week are the best to do a change. For example, you don't want to introduce new food on Thursday if this is the most stressful day of the week. On the contrary, try new food when you have time to cook, and where you relax.

Once you have in mind a few meals you could green up and which days are the best, you are ready to go)!

  • If you want to green up your diet

I would recommend you to choose a meat alternative that doesn't taste like "real meat". This way, you will slowly discover new tastes and get used to vegetarian or vegan alternatives, without having any frustration as you keep the meat in your diet. At first, I would recommend switching 1/3 of your meat/fish/egg meals with a veggie or vegan alternative. It is a good start and a great improvement for your health, carbon footprint and water consumption. Then, you will see how it goes and what to do next.

  • If you want to switch to a vegetarian diet

If you are currently eating meat/fish and you would like to switch to a fully vegetarian diet, it is also important to do it step-by-step. Meat alternatives are one of the big steps along the journey with changing your dairy foods.

In that case, I would recommend you to select both "meat taste" but also "non-meat taste" products to get used to new savours without being frustrated by the absence of meat. Then, introduce the meat alternatives over a period of 3 months until you only eat vegetarian foods. Also, don't blame yourself if you eat meat over the period. It is absolutely ok and it is even better than being totally discouraged after weeks of a vegetarian diet and stop everything.

  • If you want to switch to a vegan diet

If you are already a vegetarian, the switch might be easier. The last things you will have to switch are mostly dairy and eggs. I recommend you to read this article about plant-based milk which includes a step-by-step process to introduce plant-based milk.

However, if you are on a normal diet at the moment, I would recommend you follow the guideline to switch to a vegetarian diet.

Now that you know where to begin, remember to diversify your diet and not only switching to a full processed meat diet. The consumption of processed products needs to be limited. Try new products and foods, and keep in mind to make your meals delicious and to enjoy them!

Where is it possible to buy these products and how expensive are they?

The good news is that you should be able to find most of these products in your local supermarket. However, you might have to look in organic shops or vegan specialised shops for textured soy protein and maybe seitan or tempeh.

In terms of prices, beans and cereals are clearly the cheapest options. Tofu and textured soy protein are also affordable. However, tempeh and other meat substitutes can be a bit more expensive. Also, have a look at the frozen options which might be less expensive than the fresh ones.

The Bottom Line

I hope you like this blog post and that you learn one thing or two along the journey. And maybe, you will try one of these options in the next weeks or so? Please leave me a comment if you have any suggestions to improve this article.

If you have any questions regarding meat alternatives or if you are worried about your protein intake and need recommendations to green up your diet, don't hesitate to contact me.

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