Whenever anyone becomes vegetarian or vegan, one of the first questions they will inevitably get is, “But where do you get your protein?”
Clever plant-based peeps have done their research and know very well that there are many plant-based meat alternatives offering plenty of protein. Of course, there are the obvious sources of plant protein: soybeans (tempeh, tofu); legumes (lentils, chickpeas, and black beans); pea protein; and seitan.
But vegetables themselves also contain protein. Moreover, the proteins within those veggies are often more bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb and use them more efficiently. Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and sweet potatoes can sometimes contain as many as 4-5 grams of protein per cooked cup.
That said, you’re probably going to want a few other plant-based meat alternatives beyond the almighty vegetable in your diet. Allow us to help you with that.
The Scoop on Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
Gone are the days when the only plant-based meat alternative was a sorry-looking tofu log that tasted like cardboard and had a texture that made you question your vegan diet choice with every bite.
Thankfully, here at Nowadays, we have concocted what we believe to be the most amazing faux meat chicken on the market. It’s made out of non-GMO pea protein and six other ingredients you can actually pronounce and feel good about consuming.
Certainly, other plant proteins beyond peas create far less emissions than their animal counterparts, but we went with peas because of their high protein content and nutrient density.
When it comes to the many fake meat options on the market, we certainly cannot do it all (at least, not yet) and we’re glad there are other meatless meat companies in town.
But before we get into some of our favorite meat substitutes for pork, ground beef, veggie burgers, and other meatless wonders, let’s break down some of the ingredients you’ll typically find in plant-based meat alternatives.
Common Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
You’ve probably begun to notice more and more meatless products on the shelves of your local grocery store aisles, but have you ever stopped to read the ingredients? Different ingredients are used to produce different faux meat, and it’s important to familiarize yourself with them so you can make the best choice to suit your taste buds and your health goals. Here we go!
Jackfruit is as its name says: a fruit. Specifically, it’s a tropical fruit that grows on trees in Asia, Africa, and South America. It’s a funny looking gargantuan fruit with bumpy green skin and a pinkish sort of flesh.
As you peruse the shelves at the supermarket, you’ll probably notice that you can buy jackfruit in a can or pre-processed and seasoned.
What makes this interesting fruit so enticing for use as a meat alternative is its peculiar texture: it looks and feels like pulled pork. And thus, it’s the ideal meat substitute for pork because it feels, well, so meaty! It’s also perfect for tacos, stir fries, and sloppy joes because it can take on the flavor of any marinade or spices you add to it
It must be mentioned that while jackfruit makes for a stellar meat substitute for pork, it’s not very high in protein with just over 3 grams of protein per cup. While that’s higher than similar fruits, jackfruit is more for texture than protein content.
Legumes: Lentils, Soybeans, Chickpeas, and Black Beans
Legumes like lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and black beans won’t necessarily yield a particularly meaty texture, but since they are whole foods, they have some really lovely health benefits that come along with them. We’re talking things like fiber, which can positively impact cholesterol (score!); B complex vitamins; minerals, and of course, protein.
With regards to legumes and beans, lentils contain about 18 grams of protein per cup while soybeans have over 28 grams of protein per cup. Chickpeas contain more than 14 grams of protein per cup and black beans contain about 15 grams of protein per cup.
Whichever bean you fancy, legumes are most often used to make meat alternatives for veggie burgers and sausages both for their high protein content and texture.
Seitan and Wheat Gluten
Seitan is an interesting ingredient made from wheat gluten. As you may know, wheat gluten is made from flour, except that it’s hydrated and then processed to remove essentially everything but the gluten.
This is so enticing because when you remove the starches from the flour, you get a more elastic and meaty texture. As such, seitan is a popular high-protein meatless alternative to chicken and pork with more than 21 grams of protein per cup. You can usually find it in the grocery store in the same section where you find tofu, tempeh, and prepared jackfruit.
Tofu might be the godfather of all plant-based meat alternatives, but not all tofu is created equal. When buying tofu, first decide the level of firmness you want. If you’re using tofu to make a pudding, you’ll want silken tofu. If you’re using tofu as a substitute for some kind of meat, you’ll want it to be firmer. Likewise, if you want to use it like ground beef so you can form it into some kind of meatball, you’ll want it to be firm.
Once you know the texture you want, look for tofu that’s made with non-GMO sprouted soybeans. When you sprout these or any other beans, you effectively make them easier to digest and remove any of the anti-nutrients (compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients) that can cause digestive problems in some people. Generally speaking, a one-cup serving of tofu offers 14 grams of protein.
Tempeh is typically made out of fermented soybeans, but it can also be made out of other fermented beans and grains, such as rice. It’s firm and great for use as faux bacon, chicken strips, and even broken up to mimic ground beef.
Tempeh is high in protein with a whopping 31 grams per cup. It also has a meat-like texture that’s perfect for tacos and breakfast skillets. It tends to have a bit of a flat taste, so it’s always a good idea to season it and even marinate it whenever possible.
As you know by now, we love pea protein for many reasons, including its high protein and iron content, as well as its low fat content. Yellow peas pack a punch with 16 grams of protein per cooked cup.
We also love that peas are more sustainable and good for the planet since they produce low CO2 emissions compared to farming meat (and we personally use peas from U.S. farmers, something we are very proud of). Pea protein is often found in meat substitutes for chicken, like Nowadays nuggets, as well as veggie burgers, protein powders, and even plant-based milk.
Contrary to popular belief, quinoa isn’t a whole grain. It’s actually a seed, and it’s considered to be one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. (In other words, it contains all nine essential amino acids your body cannot produce on its own.)
Quinoa is great for use in veggie burgers and breakfast sausages, and is a powerhouse with about 8 grams of protein per cooked one-cup serving, along with 5 grams of fiber.
This is probably the most commonly used source of protein for meatless meat. Soybeans are used to make tofu and tempeh, as mentioned above, but they are also used to make protein powder and protein isolate (which contains more protein per serving than just the simple powder). Protein amounts vary based on the product.
In its isolate and whole bean form, you’ll find soy in everything from veggie burgers to ground beef substitutes like those from Gardein. It’s high in protein and research has shown that it may even help to lower bad cholesterol.
It should be noted that while soy seems to dominate the plant-based landscape, some people try to avoid it for a variety of reasons. For instance, soy is a common allergen, has estrogen mimicking effects, tends to be genetically modified, and may impact thyroid function.
Our Top Picks for Plant-Based Meat Alternatives
Now that you have a better idea of some common sources of protein, it’s time to share a few top products we think you’ll love. But don’t just take our word for it — we’ve even included real reviews from real people raving about these fake meats!
You know we’re biased, but our favorite meat substitute for chicken is Nowadays chicken nuggets! Made with just 7 simple ingredients, our nuggets are a better option for you and your family. Plus, these tasty morsels are perfectly crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
While you can easily pop them in the oven and have a delicious and nutritious snack ready in minutes, you can also use them in recipes that’ll please even picky eaters. Stuffed squash boats, anyone? Or how about Nowadays stuffed pastry cups with plant-based cream cheese and cranberries? The possibilities are endless, and we’re happy to share them all with you.
What others are saying:
“OMG. Insane! They are amazing, delicious, and SO-crazy meat-like! I don’t know how you made this magic happen, but I bow down to the Nowadays team,” says Michelle C.
“Total game changer for my littles. My 4yo and 7yo picky eaters love them. I love them. We will not be without. So great in kids lunches and late afternoon high protein snack. Brilliant!” from Cari G.
See? You don’t have to take our word for it. Try Nowadays nuggets today!
Photo credit: Abbot’s Butcher
If we were going to produce a meatless ground beef product, you know for sure we’d use peas. But since we haven’t done that yet, we’re thrilled about the meatless ground “beef” from Abbot’s Butcher.
It’s soy-free, non-GMO, and made with peas, porcini mushrooms, and a delicious assortment of other seasonings and ingredients you can both recognize and pronounce. You can easily sub this for any dish that would use ground beef: tacos, burgers, meatballs — the whole nine yards.
What others are saying:
“This plant-based meat is my favorite in tacos for a simple dinner — so delicious!! I absolutely love the texture, flavor and how easily it cooks up with avocado oil on the stove. Can't get cleaner ingredients than this!!” says an anonymous Amazon customer.
“Cooked it up and used it on salads throughout the week. Definitely the highest quality plant based protein I’ve been able to find, and tastes amazing. A++” says an anonymous Whole Foods customer.
Photo credit: Upton's Naturals
As we touched on earlier, jackfruit is the ultimate meatless substitute for pork. And while you can indeed buy your jackfruit in a can and season and texturize it yourself, we highly recommend getting a premade and pre-seasoned option.
We’re particularly smitten with Upton’s Naturals, which offers four flavors: original, shredded, chili lime, and bar-b-que, which gives you many different ways to use it.
What others are saying:
“This is a godsend for my occasional cravings for the taste of dishes traditionally made with meat. Light to digest and enough texture to pass for the real deal when mixed with onions, peppers and other veggies. Can't wait to serve jackfruit tacos at the weekend and try the other flavors too!” says Anna S. on Amazon.
“This product is a great alternative to fresh jackfruit … convenience and versatility! Who knew you could have fajita-style jackfruit ready to go for tacos and meals vs. having to cut a whole jackfruit!” says another reviewer on Amazon.
Photo credit: Hilary’s
For brevity’s sake, we are perhaps unfairly lumping all veggie burgers into this one category. There are a few types of veggie burgers on the market: some that aim to mimic meat directly (think Impossible and Beyond burgers) and some that simply aim to make tasty patties that don’t necessarily have the same texture as meat.
We’re particularly partial to those made from whole foods, such as Hilary’s Fiesta Black Bean Burgers. What we love about them is their flavor and ingredient list that’s free from the top 12 common allergens including eggs, dairy, and corn. Plus, you can conveniently pick them up at most local grocery stores.
What others are saying:
“I’m definitely not vegetarian and I hate that whenever I’ve tried anything that IS I’m always disappointed and mostly because of all the crap ingredients that come in the food. But this … this is soooo good! Love love love the ingredients and the taste!” says Ruby V.
“Delicious! I am such a fan of the nutritious ingredients and the flavor of this burger,” says Abigail.
Plant-Based Meat Alternatives: Easy to Love
Whether you’re just starting a vegetarian or vegan diet or you’re already a plant-based devotee, we hope you’ve found some encouragement here. Unlike the days of old when tough blocks of tofu were the only plant-based meat alternatives, today there’s no need to sacrifice taste for your health.With a plethora of ingredients for meatless meat products like soy protein, pea protein, legumes, quinoa, and wheat gluten, and an even longer list of companies whose passion is to curate the yummiest meat substitutes, it couldn’t be easier to enjoy animal-free protein and crave better anytime you want.