Whether you want to shake up your vegetarian menu or you're new to the challenge of plant-based meals, meatless alternatives can not only fill the need nutritional need for protein, it can be tasty and protein-laden.
Even if you're never going to give up real bacon and will still enjoy the occasional cheeseburger, switching to a mostly vegetarian or vegan eating plan provides a slew of benefits, according to Mayo Clinic staff.
"A plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients," said the hospital website. "And people who don't eat meat—vegetarians—generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less and have a lower risk of heart disease than nonvegetarians do."
As for those just experimenting with vegetarian foods, the Mayo Clinic noted that even reducing meat intake has a protective effect. "Research shows that people who eat red meat are at an increased risk of death from heart disease, stroke or diabetes. Processed meats also increase the risk of death from these diseases."
If you want to start tapping into these health benefits, the best meatless alternatives can prove to you that vegetarian food can taste great while providing lots of nutrients.
These five meatless alternatives are tops both for taste and nutritional value:
Amy's California Veggie Burger Light In Sodium
Some vegetarian versions of carnivore favorites can involve so much salt and processing that they aren't much better than the original greasy burger, according to RodaleWellness.com. This prepackaged burger, though, has half as much sodium as most other veggie burger options and 5 grams of protein. Made with organic bulgur wheat, mushrooms, veggies and toasted walnuts, the Amy's burger scored high in a 6-ABC round-up of the best supermarket veggie burgers. They're dairy free, soy free, lactose free, vegan and kosher. All that comes with just 4 grams of fat and 110 calories.
Lightlife Organic Flax Tempeh
This meat alternative is a favorite of Women's Health resident nutrition expert Keri Glassman, who said, "If you've never had tempeh, you're missing out." Tempeh is made from cooked soybeans fermented with beneficial mold, for a chewy, nut-flavored "loaf." It has organic flax seed and organic brown rice as ingredients, because it's loaded with 20 grams of protein per 4 ounces. Try crumbling some into your scrambled eggs instead of using sausage or bacon.
When Men's Fitness asked Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group, to recommend nutrient-dense meat alternatives, seitan made her Top 10. It's made from wheat gluten, seasoned with salt and spices. It's low-carb and contains 21 grams of protein per half cup, along with phosphorus, selenium and iron. "Its texture is similar to that of meat and it has more protein than tofu and tempeh, making it a great alternative for men who don't love the thought of vegetarian alternatives," Moskovitz said. She suggests braising, baking, grilling or boiling seitan and substituting it in any recipe that calls for poultry.
Caramelized Onion-Veggie Burger
Sometimes, if you want to do it right you have to do it yourself and this meat alternative recipe from Health.com is easily worth the extra effort of cooking it at home. The base is lentils, which pack 35 percent of an adult's daily iron needs, and it also has 14 grams of protein and lots of essential minerals. The recipe requires 20 minutes prep time, takes 25 minutes to cook and serves six.
1 large garlic clove, chopped
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbs olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 cup canned lentils, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup whole-wheat breadcrumbs
1 large egg, whisked
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- Pulse first 3 ingredients in food processor until finely chopped.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a skillet; turn down to medium and cook onion, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Add mushroom mixture and cook, stirring, about 2-3 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, and let cool.
- Stir cooled mushroom mixture into lentils and combine with next 3 ingredients (through salt) until well-combined. Form mixture into 6 patties (about 1/2 cup each). Put cornmeal on a shallow plate, and coat burgers evenly.
- Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook burgers about 3 minutes or until golden brown on underside. Flip burgers, and top with cheese. Cook about 3 minutes more or until golden brown and cheese is melted. Serve burgers on buns topped with tomato slices and fresh basil leaves, if desired.
Another meat alternative you can make yourself comes from the Mayo Clinic. Using ingredients you can find in most supermarkets and dipped in honey mustard sauce, this pecan-crusted tofu has 3 grams of dietary fiber and 12 grams of protein in each of five servings.
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup egg whites
15 oz extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 5 planks
1, Heat the oven to 400 F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, combine the pecans, flour, brown sugar and salt; process until an even texture is achieved.
3. Remove pecan mixture from food processor and place in a medium bowl.
4. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the egg whites.
5. Dip each tofu plank into the egg whites, then into the pecan mixture. Place each plank on the baking sheet.
6. Bake the tofu planks for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.