What are the best meat substitutes?

A meat substitute or meat alternative is a food that may have a similar taste, texture, or appearance to meat but does not contain meat. People eat meat substitutes for a variety of reasons. Some people choose not to eat meat at all for ethical reasons or due to other personal beliefs. Others may choose meat substitutes for health reasons.

Meat can cause digestive symptoms like diarrhea or constipation in some people. In fact, some evidence suggests that eating red meat may increase your risk of a gastrointestinal condition called diverticulitis. Evidence also suggests that eating less meat may be better for the environment and overall health.

Whatever the reason for choosing a meat substitute, it is vital to know which ones provide the nutrients a person needs. In this article, learn about a variety of meat substitutes and their nutritional content.

What are the best meat substitutes?

Popular meat substitutes. The following are some of the foods and products that people use in place of meat, whether for texture, flavor, or added nutrients.

Some vegetarian and vegan products may contain these meat alternatives along with other ingredients.

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Tofu is condensed soy milk that manufacturers press into blocks of varying firmness, similar to how milk from dairy is turned into cheese. Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all the essential amino acids that a person needs for good health.

Tofu is also versatile and tastes very mild, so people can try marinating it to give it the flavor they want. Some people use it as a substitute for eggs or mix it in hot dishes like soups and stir fries.

Many companies produce and sell tofu, so the nutritional content can vary between products. Typically, 1 cup of tofu contains:

  • Calories: 188.4
  • Protein: 20 grams (g)
  • Fat: 11.86 g
  • Calcium: 868 milligrams (mg)
  • Iron: 13.3 mg
  • Fiber: 0.744 g

If a person wants to avoid genetically modified (GM) foods, they may want to look for a tofu product that is certified organic or classified as non-GM. According to some research, 82% of the world’s soy farms have genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.


Tempeh is a traditional soy-based meat substitute from Indonesia. It has some key differences from tofu. Manufacturers make tempeh from whole soybeans, not soy milk, and use a fermentation process. Tempeh has a drier texture, and some products contain a mixture of other beans or grains.

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Because it contains all beans, tempeh can also contain more fiber and protein than tofu. It also contains gut-friendly probiotics and prebiotics as a result of the fermentation process.

Tempeh may not have the same versatility as tofu, as its flavor is stronger. People can sauté or fry tempeh and add it to salads or sandwiches. It is also suitable for use as a substitute for barbecue meat. A cup of tempeh contains:

  • Calories: 319
  • Protein: 33.7 g
  • Fat: 17.9 g
  • Calcium: 184 mg
  • Iron: 4.48 mg

Tempeh is also a good source of magnesium and vitamin B-6.


Seitan comes from wheat gluten. The production process removes the starch from the wheat, usually by rinsing it with water. This process leaves a protein-dense food that has a chicken-like texture and a mild flavor. Seitan, or “vital wheat gluten,” is an ingredient in many simulated meat products.

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Although it is nutritious, it is not safe for people with celiac disease and it is not suitable for people on a gluten-free diet. Some seitan products contain other ingredients, such as legumes or seasonings. A 4-ounce (oz) serving of seitan contains:

  • Calories: 140
  • Protein: 28 g
  • Fat: 2 g

Seitan is high in riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B-6, but does not contain calcium or iron.

Textured vegetable protein

Textured or textured vegetable protein (PVT) is a by-product of soybean oil extraction. Some people call it defatted soy flour.

Manufacturers producce PVT by separating the soy protein from the fat using a high heat process, resulting in a high protein curd type product. The Archer Daniels Midland company registered the PVT name in the 1960s. Generic names for similar items include total soy protein or PST.

PVT is dehydrated, so a person needs to soak it in hot water to cook it. Its texture when cooked is similar to that of ground beef. A 1-cup (dry) serving of TVP contains:

  • Calories: 222
  • Protein: 35 g
  • Fat: 0.83 g
  • Calcium: 164 mg
  • Iron: 6.28 mg
  • Fiber: 11.9 g
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