The Best Veggie Alternatives To Meat

When it comes to meat substitutes, you've got lots of options. We've come a long way since 1982 when the first "commercially sold veggie burger," called "VegeBurger" made its debut as dry mix that needed to be rehydrated and shaped before cooking (per Smithsonian Magazine).

Making the swap from meat to plants has health benefits. Registered dietician Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, told Brightly, "Eating a vegetarian diet has been found to help lower risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, as well as help with weight loss."

Adding more plants to your diet also helps the environment. According to Green Eatz, food consumption, along with housing and transport, are the big three contributors to a U.S. household's carbon footprint. If you eat one kilogram of beef, or about 2.2 pounds, it has the same environmental impact as driving your car 63 miles.

Whether you're looking to lower your carbon footprint, add some variety to your usual tried-and-true rotation, or just want to eat less meat and more veggies, there are a ton of choices out there. If you're cooking for a partner or children who are less enthusiastic about making the switch, these options can aid you in creating noteworthy dinners that'll convince family members to look forward to a plant-based meal.

Beyond Meat is an easy first step

The Kitchn calls Beyond Meat a "super approachable product." Due to its similarity to meat, they recommend it as a great option for people exploring meat substitutes who "may be nervous about learning to cook new things."

According to the manufacturer's website, Beyond Meat gets its protein from peas, mung and faba beans, and brown rice. Beet juice and apple extract help Beyond Meat look convincingly like actual meat.

Besides burgers, Beyond Meat is an easy substitution in tacos, meatballs, and just about any recipe that uses ground meat. Bohemian Vegan Kitchen offers a roundup of 15 of the best, including shepherd's pie and a loaded vegan chili.

Impossible Burger got scientific to replicate meat

Epicurious rated the Impossible Burger the winner of its plant-based meat competition. They felt the product hit all of the key beef metrics, from its raw presentation to how it cooked. But perhaps most importantly, judges found the taste to be "fatty, savory, and meaty."

To achieve, well ... the impossible, Impossible Foods says that it "engineered a type of yeast" that it ferments to replicate heme, the molecule that imparts the taste and smell of real beef.  

With 8 grams of saturated fat per 4 oz serving, however, Impossible Meat probably shouldn't be a daily option. Krystal George, MPH, RDH told Women's Health that her preferred meat alternatives are "whole food, plant-based protein options such as beans and legumes." She also only recommends eating "meat-like substitutes when you're wanting something different, or quick to prepare." 

Jackfruit looks like pulled meat

According to the Cleveland Clinic, unripe jackfruit is a perfect fit for savory dishes. "Jackfruit's stringy texture makes it a good vegan substitute for pulled pork or chicken," says dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD.

Jackfruit is a great source of fiber, vitamins A and C, and minerals like copper and magnesium, says Healthline. In addition, jackfruit has three grams of protein per cup.

Taste of Home recommends using jackfruit in sandwiches, soups, omelets and stir fries. If you want a quick meal, jackfruit is available cut and pre-packaged for convenience. To eliminate unnecessary salt from the packaging process, rinse the jackfruit first. Toss with your favorite sauce and enjoy.

Seitan or 'wheat meat' is a timeless option

Savory in flavor, seitan has been enjoyed as a protein choice for over two thousand years, according to The Kitchn. Whether you buy a ready-made package or make it yourself, seitan is gluten, the protein that is found in wheat.

Seitan has almost as much protein as beef loin, but with less fat, according to Healthline. While seitan is an excellent choice for those who are soy-allergic, it's not an option for people with a gluten intolerance.

Spruce Eats calls seitan 'wheat meat,' noting how meat-like the protein's texture is after cooking. With its mild flavor, seitan can be seasoned and spiced up according to your desired level of heat. Grill and serve with barbecue sauce, or pan fry in a stir fry or curry.

Beans and lentils are nutritional superstars

Packed with fiber, protein, and potassium, lentils and beans are one of "the most unprocessed" meat substitutes available, according to Women's Health. Both can be purchased dried or canned.

The variety of beans and lentils offers creative options for meals. Forks Over Knives recommends substituting chickpeas for chicken and turkey. For a bacon alternative, they suggest using roasted beans with chili powder and smoked paprika. Lentils add texture to recipes and make a superb beef substitute, says Rafi's Spice Box. The blog suggests using brown or green lentils to emulate the texture of ground beef.

For a colorful and selection of lentil recipes, Oh My Veggies has lentil sloppy joes, a lentil cobb salad, and lentil enchilada pasta.