Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on November 05, 2021

Tofu

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Tofu is a plant-based choice that packs a protein punch -- half a cup has over 11 grams. Tofu is made of soybean curds pressed into blocks, and it's free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat. Because it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with, you can make tofu taste like you want it to for almost any dish. 

Tempeh

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Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has even more protein than tofu. Half a cup has over 16 grams. You can marinate tempeh before cooking to give it flavor, and sauté it for a crispy outside.

Seitan

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With about 8 grams of protein per each half cup, seitan is another good non-meat protein source that takes on the flavor of any seasonings you add. But if you’re gluten intolerant, seitan isn’t for you. It’s made from cooked wheat gluten.

Jackfruit

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Yep, this fruit can take the place of meat. Jackfruit is full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Plus, with 2.6 grams per cup, it has much more protein than most other fruits. You can use it as an alternative for shredded meat in barbecue or pulled pork recipes. But be aware: While it has more protein than fruit, it has much less than meat. So its benefits are more in terms of texture and taste than nutrition.

Mushrooms

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Grilled portobellos are savory, “meaty,” and can fill a hamburger bun nicely. But if you’re looking for protein and other nutrients you get from meat, mushrooms aren’t the way to go. They have only 3 grams of protein for every 1 cup and lack the iron, B12, and zinc meat brings to the table.

Beans

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For a filling protein/fiber combo, beans are an ideal pick. One cup of lentils comes with almost 18 grams of protein and a whopping 15.6 grams of fiber -- around half your daily recommended value. You can easily sub them for ground beef in tacos, chili, and other similar dishes.

 

Textured Vegetable Protein

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Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is a meat replacement made of soy flour with the fat removed. Half a cup has 17.5 grams of protein, but is higher in carbohydrates than other meat substitutes at 11.5 grams. You can use it to give a meat texture to dishes, or you can also find it shaped as meat products, like chicken nuggets.

Chickpeas

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Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are the protein (and fiber) powerhouses that make up hummus. But you can also use them to make baked falafel, which is solid enough to serve as a meat-free patty. Half a cup of chickpeas offer over 7 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, with low fat, no cholesterol, and plenty of vitamins and minerals.

Blends

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There’s an almost endless supply of pinch-hitters for meat made of a combination of soy protein products, wheat protein products, and plant proteins. Common brands include Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, MorningStar Farms, Boca, Gardein, and Tofurky. Although many of these choices can deliver protein, they’re also often highly processed and high in sodium, so read labels carefully.

Which Is Healthiest?

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Your personal health needs will help decide which meat sub is best for you. But in general, it’s good to go for whole foods like beans over processed foods like blends. Impostor meat products tend to overload on sodium, saturated fats, and added ingredients. Talk to your doctor if you’re on the fence about the right meat alternative.

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SOURCES:

USDA: “National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,” “What are benefits of tofu?”

Michigan State University Extension: “Tofu: a versatile source of protein.”

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Protein Foods for Your Vegetarian Child,” “Vegetarian Glossary of Terms.”

August Escoffier School of Culinary Arts: “The Many Flavors of Seitan.”

Plant Foods for Human Nutrition: “Carotenoid composition of jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), determined by HPLC-PDA-MS/MS.”

International Food Information Council Foundation: “Should We Actually Tell the Jackfruit To “Hit the Road”?”

American Institute for Cancer Research: “Mushrooms for Meat Substitute.”

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber.”

Mayo Clinic: “Meatless meals: The benefits of eating less meat.”

Soyfoods Association of North America: “Textured Soy Protein.”

Colorado State University Extension: “Vegetarian Diets – 9.324.”

Arizona State University: “Garbanzo Beans.”

Michigan State University Extension: “The very versatile falafel.”

Beyond Meat “Beyond Burger.”

Impossible Foods: “What Are the Ingredients?”

Kellogg’s: “Morningstar Farms® Garden Veggie Burgers.”

Tofurkey: “Roast & Wild Rice Stuffing.”

Gardein: “Ultimate Beefless Burger.”

Boca: “All American Veggie Burgers.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Popular plant-based meat alternatives.”

Harvard Health: “Impossible and Beyond: How healthy are these meatless burgers?”