The Best Plant-Based Meat Alternatives, According to Dietitians

Hillary's World's Best Veggie Burger contains simple, whole food ingredients

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Best Plant Based Meat Alternatives

Verywell Fit / Amelia Manley

With a shift towards less meat consumption and more plant-based eating, the need for high-quality, plant-based meat alternatives has increased exponentially. There are many nutritious options on the market made from whole food ingredients such as vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

Reviewed & Approved

Our top pick is Hillary's Eat Well World's Best Veggie Burger because it's tasty, nutritious, and has no additives. If you're looking for a tofu option, try the Nasoya Organic Sprouted Super Firm Tofu 16 oz. Pack.

It's important to look at the protein being used in the meat alternative. Some meat-alternative products contain added proteins like pea or soy protein, making them more comparable to meat in protein content, but these are typically more processed than those made with whole food, plant-based ingredients (like vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains) and can come with additional additives and fillers. Other meat alternative are low in protein, but provide similar taste and texture to meats, like jackfruit.

Another thing to keep an eye on is the sodium level— since most plant-based meat alternatives are pre-seasoned, they may also be high in added sodium. This is especially important to keep in mind if you are watching your sodium intake. To help you find the best meat alternative for your needs, we researched a variety of options, considering their nutritional value, taste, texture, certifications, and price.

Here are the best plant-based meat alternatives, according to dietitians.

What Exactly Is a Food Additive?

Food additives are any ingredients added to foods for color, freshness, preservation, nutritional value, flavor, texture, and appearance. Additives technically range from simple ingredients like salt, sugar, vinegar, spices, and baking soda to vitamins and minerals to more highly processed ingredients like artificial colors, fat replacers, and dough strengtheners.

Since some people are sensitive to certain additives, for the purposes of this article, the term "additive" is used to describe highly processed ingredients that didn't historically exist and have been used to create a texture and flavor experience that more closely mimics meat. Regardless of whether or not a product contains additives, if you have allergies or sensitivities, please read all labels carefully to ensure that the product contains ingredients that you can consume.

Best Veggie Burger

Hilary's Hilary’s Eat Well World’s Best Veggie Burger

4.7
hilarys-veggie-burger

 Courtesy of Hilarys

Pros
  • No additives

  • Simple ingredient list

  • 3 grams of fiber

Cons
  • Only 3 grams of protein

Our top pick, Hilary's Worlds Best Veggie Burgers genuinely live up to their name. While lower in protein than other veggie burger options, they came out on top for their simple, nutrient-dense ingredient list with no additives or fillers and delicious taste and texture. These USDA Organic plant-based burgers are made from allergy-friendly ingredients such as millet, sweet potato, and leafy greens. While the taste and texture are nothing like a beef or turkey burger, these veggie burgers are a good source of energy-containing whole grains and vegetables with 3 grams of filling fiber per patty. Top with a slice of cheese or serve with a three-bean salad to create a meal with substantial protein.

Hillary's Burgers are free from the top 12 common food allergens, including gluten, soy, corn, and nuts. Plus, they're conveniently stored in the freezer, so you can pull one or two out whenever the mood strikes. Whether you choose to cook the patty on the grill, in the oven, or on the stovetop, the versatile patty can be ready in 10 minutes.

Price at time of publication: $5 (2 patties)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
1 patty (91 grams) | Calories: 160 | Protein: 3 grams | Sodium: 260 milligrams | Fiber: 3 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: Yes | Additives: No

Best Jackfruit

Upton's Naturals Vegan Bar-B-Que Jackfruit

Upton’s Naturals Jackfruit Bar-B-Que

Amazon

Pros
  • No additives

  • Simple ingredient list

  • 4 grams of fiber

Cons
  • Only 1 gram of protein

If you're looking for a vegan, gluten-free meat alternative with a texture similar to shredded meat, jackfruit may appeal to you. Jackfruit, a fruit native to Asia and Africa, is rich in collagen-boosting vitamin C and heart-healthy potassium. While it doesn't offer protein comparable to meat, the tasty fruit contains filling dietary fiber that will help to keep you satisfied. With only 1 gram of protein per serving, this product would  be best paired with plant-based protein sources like beans, tofu, or quinoa

Upton's Naturals Bar-B-Que Jackfruit satisfies the craving for a smoky, BBQ taste with a shelf-stable, high-fiber plant-based product. It's great on a sandwich, as a salad topper, folded into a quesadilla, or paired with a whole grain. If you take a look at the ingredient list, the product includes only a few ingredients, such as tomato paste, onion, garlic, and paprika. One 2.65-ounce serving contains 4 grams of fiber.

Upton's is easy to prepare. Simply pan fry for eight to ten minutes until thoroughly heated.

Price at time of publication: $6 (10.6 ounces)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
2.65 ounces (75 grams) | Calories: 45 | Protein: 1 gram | Sodium: 250 milligrams | Fiber: 4 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: No

Best Tofu

Nasoya Organic Sprouted Super Firm Tofu 16 oz. Pack

Nasoya Organic Tofu Super Firm
Courtesy of Nasoya.com.
Pros
  • Versatile

  • Water drained and pre-pressed

  • 14 grams of protein

Cons
  • Minimal flavor on its own

Soy gets a bad rap; however, minimally processed soy like this Nasoya Super Firm Tofu is an excellent plant-based form of protein. Soy is a controversial food due to the estrogen-like properties of its isoflavones; however, research supports that moderate amounts of soy may be safely consumed by most individuals, except for those with a soy protein allergy. It may be beneficial to consume less processed forms of soy, including tofu, tempeh, edamame, and miso, since they retain more of the diverse nutritional value of the soybean than something more processed like soy protein isolate.

This sprouted tofu uses soybeans that have been germinated, resulting in a product with higher protein and calcium content than typical tofu. One three-ounce serving of Nasoya's Sprouted tofu contains 12 grams of protein and 20 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium. The USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified tofu is pressed and ready to cook. It's delicious cubed and stir-fried with vegetables or served alongside rice.

Price at time of publication: $3 (16 ounces)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
⅕ piece (91 grams) | Calories: 130 | Protein: 14 grams | Sodium: 10 milligrams | Fiber: 2 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: Yes | Additives: Magnesium chloride and calcium sulfate

Best Burger Substitute

Beyond Burger Plant-Based Patties

Pros
  • 20 grams of protein

  • Texture and taste similar to real meat

Cons
  • 5 grams of saturated fat

  • Contains additives

If you're looking for a plant-based burger that looks and cooks like beef, Beyond Burger is for you. With white, fat-like flecks of cocoa butter and red color from beet juice, the plant-based patties resemble traditional meat burgers. The juicy patties also provide 20 grams of plant-based protein per patty and is soy and gluten-free. The primary ingredient of Beyond Burger is pea protein, a processed protein made from yellow peas. The drawback to a patty so closely resembling beef is that it is made using more processed ingredients rather than whole foods.

Compared with a four-ounce 80/20 ground beef patty, a Beyond Burger patty has 35 percent less saturated fat. Each burger also contains 2 grams of dietary fiber and 390 milligrams of sodium, which may be something to consider in your daily salt intake. They're easy to cook on the stove or grill, requiring approximately four minutes per side.

Price at time of publication: $5 (2 4 ounce patties)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
1 patty (113 grams) | Calories: 230 | Protein: 20 grams | Sodium: 390 milligrams | Fiber: 2 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: methylcellulose, potassium chloride, sunflower lecithin

Methylcellulose is a tasteless, synthetic compound derived from cellulose, an insoluble fiber that makes up the cell walls of plants.  While methylcellulose is an FDA approved food additive (often used in the food industry as a binding and thickening agent), it does come with some controversy, as it’s the main ingredient in many bulk-forming laxatives. The amount of methylcellulose used in food products is not usually listed on the nutrition label, however, it is typically used in small amounts (often <2%). With moderate consumption of methylcellulose containing foods, you will likely not reach the established upper limit of 5 mg/kg body weight/day.

Best Plant-Based Sausage

Field Roast Italian Garlic & Fennel Plant-Based Sausages

Pros
  • 25 grams of protein

  • Versatile

  • Texture and taste similar to real meat

Cons
  • Higher in sodium

  • Contains additives

Field Roast makes tasty plant-based sausages that substitute pork and beef with vital wheat gluten, vegetables and seasoning. Wheat gluten is made by extracting the gluten, a wheat protein, from wheat flour, which provides texture and elasticity to products.

The Non-GMO Project Verified, Italian-flavored sausages contain fennel, garlic, eggplant, onions, and bell peppers to give a fragrant kick to your favorite pasta, sauté, or grill night. They're quick and easy to cook on the grill, or sautéed in a pan. Each link boasts 25 grams of protein with 10 percent of the daily value of iron. The links do contain a fair amount of sodium—600 milligrams per link—so you'll want to factor that into your daily salt intake.

Both meat-based and plant-based sausages are usually highly processed, containing additives, and sometimes high amounts of sodium and saturated fat, so they should be consumed in moderation. Field Roast sausages contain trisodium phosphate, which is an FDA approved, GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) food additive used as a taste and texture enhancer and preservative. This type of inorganic phosphorus is absorbed in higher concentrations than organic phosphorus found naturally in foods, so those with kidney disease should be particularly cautious when consuming inorganic phosphate containing foods.

Price at time of publication: $6 (4 sausages)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
1 sausage (92 grams) | Calories: 220 | Protein: 25 grams | Sodium: 600 milligrams | Fiber: 0 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: No | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: Wheat Protein Isolate (Wheat Gluten, Trisodium Phosphate, Malic Acid, L-cysteine)

Best Faux Sausage Crumbles

Plant Boss Organic Italian Plant Sausage

Pros
  • USDA Organic and Non-GMO

  • Derived from organic pea protein

  • 15 grams of protein

Cons
  • Requires simmering (and a longer cook time) to incorporate the powdered, flavor mixture

  • Higher in sodium

Plant Boss is one of the few organic plant-based meat brands on the market, made from organic pea protein. This product is flavored with organic spices like fennel seed, oregano, basil and cayenne, creating an Italian flavor profile perfect for a plant-based meat sauce over pasta, or as high-protein plant-based topping to pizza. Other than a small amount of guar gum in the tomato powder ingredient, there are no other additives or preservatives.

Plant Boss offers a variety of plant-based, faux meat products including Breakfast Plant Sausage, Plant Burger Mix, Plant Chili, Plant Taco, and Unflavored Crumbles. Their products are all USDA Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free and soy-free.

Key Specs:
Serving size:
1/3 cup dry (24 grams) | Calories: 90 | Protein: 15 grams | Sodium: 430 milligrams | Fiber: 2 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: Yes | Additives: Guar gum

Best Bean-Based Burger

Dr. Praeger's Purely Sensible Foods Black Bean Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Dr. Praeger's Black Bean Quinoa Veggie Burgers
Courtesy of DrPraegers.com.
Pros
  • 7 grams of fiber

  • No additives

  • Simple ingrediets

Cons
  • Only 5 grams of protein

Beans and legumes are excellent, high-fiber plant-based proteins that offer robust flavor and various health benefits. Dr. Praeger's Black Bean Quinoa Veggie Burgers combine black beans, smoky chipotles, and tricolor quinoa to create a tasty, crave-able meat alternative. With 5 grams of protein per serving, this comes in slightly lower than other meat alternatives, so try pairing it with other sources of protein, like whole grain bread and a slice of cheese, to boost your protein intake.

Dr. Praeger's is committed to making high-quality products with fewer ingredients. This burger is no exception: it's Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Gluten-Free, Certified Vegan, and kosher. Each burger contains 7 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.

Price at time of publication: $6 (4 patties)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
1 burger (71 grams) | Calories: 150 | Protein: 5 grams | Sodium: 290 milligrams | Fiber: 7 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: No

Best Faux Chicken

Daring Original Plant-Based Chicken

Pros
  • No additives

  • 14 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber

Cons
  • Contains processed soy

If you're looking for a plant-based alternative to chicken breasts, try Daring Original Plant-Based chicken made from soy-protein concentrate. This product has short ingredient list with no additives, and is seasoned with spices including paprika, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cardamon, giving great flavor. In addition to the original flavor, they offer Cajun and Lemon & Herb varieties as well as a breaded chicken option.

One serving of Daring plant-based chicken contains 5 grams of fiber and 14 grams of protein per serving, making it a satisfying meat substitute. The protein content does come from soy-protein concentrate, which is more processed compared to whole food, plant-based products containing beans and whole grains. It is however, non-GMO and gluten-free, so it's good option for those with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivities.

Price at time of publication: $8 (8 ounces)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
2.5 ounces | Calories: 90 | Protein: 14 grams | Sodium: 400 milligrams | Fiber: 5 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: No

Best Faux Seafood

Good Catch Fish-Free Tuna

Good Catch Fish-Free Tuna

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Plant based source of Omega-3 DHA

  • Convenient on-the-go option

  • 14 grams of protein

Cons
  • Higher in sodium

  • Contains highly processed soy concentrate

While seafood is not technically meat, this plant-based protein product is rich in flavor and helps to preserve the oceans' natural resources. Good Catch's fish-free tuna is made from the company's proprietary protein blend of pea protein, soy protein, chickpea flour, lentil protein, faba protein, and navy bean flour. The vegan, non-GMO Project Verified product tastes and looks like tuna, and comes in three varieties: Naked in Water, Mediterranean, and Oil & Herbs. This versatile "tuna" can be eaten out of the pouch for a high protein snack or used as a salad topper, in a sandwich or tossed in a bean or pasta dish. 

Each one-serving pouch of the Mediterranean flavor contains 14 grams of protein. Plus, it also contains 350 milligrams of DHA from algal oil, a plant-based source of omega-3s. This product does contain a fair amount of sodium—450 milligrams per pouch—so you'll want to factor that into your daily salt intake.

Price at time of publication: $5 (3.3 ounces)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
1 pouch (94 grams) | Calories: 100 | Protein: 14 grams | Sodium: 450 milligrams | Fiber: 1 | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: Soy Lecithin

Best Faux Ground Beef

Gardein Gluten-Free Ultimate Plant-Based Beefless Ground Crumbles

Gardein Gluten-Free Ultimate Plant-Based Beefless Ground Crumbles

Amazon

Pros
  • Versatile

  • 18 grams of protein

  • 5 grams of fiber

Cons
  • Processed soy protein concentrate

High in protein and fiber, Gardein Beefless Ground Crumbles make for a great ground beef alternative. The taste and texture is similar to real meat, so swap this in as a plant-based alternative for any recipe that calls for ground meat. Try it mixed with Mexican spices for a tasty taco filler or mixed into tomato sauce for a vegan bolognese.  

Soy protein concentrate is the main ingredient, which is a common, processed protein in meat alternatives. However, it is a complete protein source providing 18 grams of protein per serving with all essential amino acids. This product is also non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free so it is safe for anyone who has an allergy to dairy or gluten or does not eat any animal products. One ¾ cup serving contains 18 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

Price at time of publication: $6 (13.7 ounces)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
¾ cup (87 grams) | Calories: 120 | Protein: 18 grams | Sodium: 360 milligrams | Fiber: 5 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: Yes | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: Yes

Best Faux Chicken Nuggets

Nowadays Original Nuggets

Nowadays Original Nuggets

Nowadays

Pros
  • Simple ingredient list

  • 13 grams of protein

  • Taste and texture similar to regular chicken nuggets

Cons
  • Online retail only

  • Expensive

Whether you’re nostalgic for a childhood favorite or looking for an easy, plant-based protein option that the whole family can enjoy, nuggets can be a great option. Many of the faux chicken nugget products on the market are highly processed, made with protein concentrates and other additives that people may be sensitive to.

Enter Nowadays - these plant-based nuggets are non-GMO, soy-free, and contain seven ingredients, providing 13 grams of protein per serving from organic pea protein. They are flavored with yeast and mushroom extracts, and breaded with whole wheat flour.

Additionally, Nowadays nuggets are lower in sodium (250 mg) and higher in fiber (5 grams) compared to most traditional chicken nuggets, and contain no additives. Stock these in the freezer for a convenient snack or pair with a side of veggies and grains for a complete meal.

Price at time of publication: $50 (2 boxes/100 nuggets)

Key Specs:
Serving size:
5 nuggets (85 grams) | Calories: 120 | Protein: 13 grams | Sodium: 250 milligrams | Fiber: 5 grams | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: No | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: No

What to Look for in a Plant-Based Meat Alternative

Ingredients

Always take a look at the ingredient list to know exactly what is in your meat alternative. Many meat alternatives contain highly processed ingredients that may not be okay for people with sensitivities or allergies. Aim to select a product that is made with whole food ingredients that you can easily identify, such as beans, whole grains, legumes, nuts, or seeds.

Many meat alternatives contain allergens such as soy and gluten. Consider your individual health needs and allergens when choosing a plant-based option.

Protein

Take a look at the protein source and amount of protein in plant-based meat alternatives. Less processed plant proteins such as tofu, whole grains, legumes, and beans are preferred protein sources compared to more processed soy isolates, textured vegetable protein (TVP), and wheat gluten because the less processed forms retain more of the nutrients and benefits of the original food. Additionally, we know that whole, plant-based foods in their original form are health supportive, while there is less conclusive research on heavily processed, plant-based ingredients.

Also, look at the amount of protein the product provides. Plant-based products will likely contain less protein than meat products. However, meat alternatives that are primarily tofu or bean and legume-derived products will likely contain more protein than whole-grain based products. Meat alternatives made with soy isolates, textured vegetable protein (TVP), and wheat gluten are typically highest in protein, but they are more processed. Look at the ingredient list and consider which protein is best for your individual nutritional needs and preferences.

Sodium

Meat alternatives tend to contain extra sodium to enhance flavor and extend shelf life. Take a look at the sodium levels on the nutrition facts label and factor that into the recommended intake of less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

Taste and Texture

Plant-based products vary in taste and texture. If you're looking for a product that looks, tastes, and cooks like meat, you may want to select a product like Beyond Meat. Some people, particularly vegans, have an aversion to products that look and taste like meat. For them, grain or bean-based veggie burgers may be preferred.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are plant-based meat alternatives healthy?

    Abby Cannon, JD, RD says, "Incorporating more plant-based meals that consist of real, whole foods (as opposed to processed ones) into your diet supports optimal health and can help reduces the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Consuming more plants increases the fiber, essential vitamin and mineral, antioxidant, and phytochemical content of your diet."

    Plant-based meat alternatives may be a good source of protein suitable for those following a vegan or plant-based diet; however, many of these products are highly processed and should be consumed in moderation. These "alternative" products are thought to be healthier—for humans and the environment—than typical red meat or poultry products. Cannon adds, "High consumption of meat and dairy fuels climate change because meat and dairy production involves a high amount of water and land use, deforestation, destruction of topsoil, and loss of wildlife. It's also responsible for 60 percent of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions."

    However, many products contain highly processed ingredients that are still being studied by researchers. If you follow a plant-based or vegan diet, prioritize whole food sources of protein, such as legumes, tofu and tempeh, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. If you select a plant-based meat alternative, choose an item that contains a small amount of ingredients and ensure you can identify each ingredient.

  • What is the healthiest plant-based meat alternative?

    The answer to this question changes constantly as research comes out on plant-based meat alternatives and as experts recognize that "healthy" is subjective. For example, tofu is not healthy for someone with a soy allergy but is a great choice for someone who can eat soy, because it is high in protein and contains all essential amino acids.

    Choosing products that are made with as few ingredients as possible (so you can ensure each ingredient is okay for you) and are not heavily processed may be the most healthful choice, since processing removes some of the nutrients naturally found in the food. A great example is organic sprouted tofu, which is typically made from water, organic soybeans, and a few preservatives to ensure freshness.

    Note that soy is a controversial food due to the estrogen-like properties of its isoflavones; however, research supports that moderate amounts of soy may be safely consumed by all individuals except for those with a soy protein allergy.

Why Trust Verywell Fit?

A personal note on my recommendations written above. As a dietitian, I am cautious to recommend meat alternatives as many brands contain questionable ingredients and tons of sodium.

That being said, there are some great options on the market, such as the plant-based meat alternatives above. In writing this article, I spent time looking at current clinical research on soy and other plant-based proteins. I also looked at multiple products and brands and consulted with trusted peers in dietetics.

I believe the products in the round-up are made by trusted brands and I would recommend the above products to friends, family, and clients. You can currently find Hilary's and Dr. Praeger's burgers in my freezer. Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN

Additional reporting to this story by Anne Cook Carroll

As a Registered Dietitian, Anne Carroll uses her clinical expertise to cut through marketing claims and get down to the science. These are all products that she has researched, vetted, and would recommend to her clients in private practice and incorporate into her own cooking.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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