The Best Plant-Based Meat Alternatives, According to Dietitians

Experts we spoke to recommend Hillary's Eat Well World's Best Veggie Burger

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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 also 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, and grains) and can come with additional additives and fillers.

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.

Serving size: 1 patty (91 grams) | Protein per serving: 3 grams | Sodium per serving: 260 milligrams | Calories per serving: 160 | 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 Bar-B-Que Jackfruit
Courtesy of Thrive Market.
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.

Serving size: 2.65 ounces (75 grams) | Protein per serving: 1 gram | Sodium per serving: 250 milligrams | Calories per serving: 45 | 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.

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Pros
  • Versatile

  • Water drained/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. Previous research highlighted the cancer-causing potential of soy isoflavones, but recent evidence refutes this, suggesting that soy may actually reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. 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.

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

Best Burger Substitute: Beyond Meat Vegan Beast Beyond Burger Patties

Beyond Meat Beyond Burger
Courtesy of Walmart.com.
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.

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.

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

Best Faux Sausage: Tofurky Italian Sausage

Tofurky Italian Sausage

Courtesy of Walmart

Pros
  • 23 grams of protein

  • Versatile

  • Texture and taste similar to real meat

Cons
  • High in sodium

  • Contains additives

Finding a flavorful plant-based sausage with whole food ingredients that looks and tastes like savory meat links is a challenge. Many faux sausage links contain highly processed ingredients with gums and preservatives to hold everything together that some people may be sensitive to.

However, Tofurkey makes tasty plant-based sausages that substitute high-fat pork and beef with organic tofu and vital wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is made by extracting the gluten, a wheat protein, from wheat flour and is used to make seitan and lend texture and elasticity to yeast bread.

The Non-GMO Project Verified, Italian-flavored sausages contain sun-dried tomatoes and basil to give a fragrant kick to your favorite pasta, sauté, or grill night. They're easy to cook on the grill, in the microwave, or on the stove in under four minutes. Each link boasts 24 grams of protein with 15 percent of the daily value of iron and potassium. The links do contain a fair amount of sodium—620 milligrams per link—so you'll want to factor that into your daily salt intake.

Serving size: 1 link (99 grams) | Protein per serving: 23 grams | Sodium per serving: 620 milligrams | Calories per serving: 260 | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: No | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride

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 tri-color 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 another plant-based protein, like roasted chickpeas, 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.

Serving size: 1 burger (71 grams) | Protein per serving: 5 grams | Sodium per serving: 290 milligrams | Calories per serving: 150 | 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
  • Expensive

  • High in sodium

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 a more processed option, as it 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.

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

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 more processed than other 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.

Serving size: ¾ cup (87 grams) | Protein per serving: 18 grams | Sodium per serving: 360 milligrams | Calories per serving: 120 | 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

  • Great flavor

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. The protein does come from pea protein, which is processed, and the product adds flavor through yeast and mushroom extracts, but if you're not sensitive to these ingredients, Nowadays are a delicious choice.

Additionally, Nowadays nuggets are lower in sodium (140 mg), high in fiber (5 grams), 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.

Serving size: 5 nuggets (85 grams) | Protein per serving: 13 grams | Sodium per serving: 140 milligrams | Calories per serving: 120 | Vegan: Yes | Gluten-free: No | Non-GMO: Yes | USDA Organic: No | Additives: Yes

Final Verdict

If you're a fan of veggie burgers, try Hilary's Eat Well Veggie Burger (view at Amazon). If you're a tofu fan, try Nasoya's Organic Super Firm Sprouted Tofu (view at Walmart).

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

Be aware of 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. 

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 their whole-grain counterparts. Products 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, are turned off by 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?

    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. 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—tofu is not healthy for someone with a soy allergy but is a great choice for someone who can eat soy. 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.

What Experts Say

"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 necessarily increases the fiber, essential vitamin and mineral, antioxidant, and phytochemical content of your diet.

Additionally, 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." — Abby Cannon, JD, RD

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.

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7 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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  5. Beyond Meat. Beyond burger.

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