When transitioning to a vegan diet, you probably feel a bit overwhelmed at first. And that’s completely normal! Many of us are used to kind of just eat whatever foods we have on hand and consider tasty. Plus, most of us didn’t grow up worrying about meeting all our nutritional needs. When switching to a vegan diet though, all of a sudden, we start to really think about what we actually put into our bodies. And in the beginning, this can be confusing because we have learned that animal products play a vital role in our diets.
But let us clear one thing right away: don’t think that a vegan diet is that much more complicated than meeting all of your nutrients as a non-vegan! Especially replacing meat with natural vegan alternatives is easier than ever! Read on to learn more about the best vegan meat alternatives which will help you to replace the nutrients you’d get from meat, eggs and dairy products.
Note: As the demand for vegan products is growing, there are many meat substitutes that resemble meat in flavours, textures, and appearance. However, they’re sometimes over-processed, high in saturated fat and contain excessive amounts of sodium. Therefore we want to focus on five less processed and nutritious vegan meat substitutes that supply you with the essential nutrients you need in your diet.
1. Lentils and their health benefits
Lentils? Yes, lentils! This basic cupboard staple is often overlooked! Lentils are not only a great source of plant-based protein, but also inexpensive and add amazing texture and flavour to any dish.
Lentils contain high amounts of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and potassium and are made up of over 25%, which makes them a great meat alternative. They’re also an excellent vegetable source of iron – an important mineral, which is required daily.
In addition to lentils, other whole-food sources of plant-based protein, such as beans, nuts, seeds and whole soy, also provide fibre and prebiotics to help your gut stay healthy.
Though different types of lentils may vary slightly in their nutrient contents, 198g (one cup) of cooked lentils generally provides about:
- Calories: 230
- Carbs: 39.9g
- Protein: 17.9g
- Fat: 0.8g
- Fibre: 15.6g
- Thiamine: 22% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Niacin: 10% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 18% of the RDI
- Folate: 90% of the RDI
- Pantothenic acid: 13% of the RDI
- Iron: 37% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 18% of the RDI
- Phosphorous: 36% of the RDI
- Potassium: 21% of the RDI
- Zinc: 17% of the RDI
- Copper: 25% of the RDI
- Manganese: 49% of the RDI
Our favourite vegan lentil recipes:
- Lentil ‘meatballs’
- Lentil bolognese
- Roasted cauliflower lentil dahl
- Nacho bowl with green lentil ‘meat’
2. Tofu and its health benefits
Tofu is a versatile ingredient with many health benefits. It’s a lovely source of protein and contains several anti-inflammatories, antioxidant phyto-chemicals making it a great addition to an anti-inflammatory diet. Tofu is also a valuable plant source of iron and calcium– in addition to fibre, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese.
One 100g (3.5-ounce) serving of tofu offers:
- Protein: 8g
- Carbs: 2g
- Fibre: 1g
- Fat: 4g
- Manganese: 31% of the RDI
- Calcium: 20% of the RDI
- Selenium: 14% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 12% of the RDI
- Copper: 11% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 9% of the RDI
- Iron: 9% of the RDI
- Zinc: 6% of the RDI
How to prepare tofu:
Tofu is categorised as silken, regular, firm, extra-firm and super-firm. Firm tofu, most commonly used for cooking savoury dishes, has a similar consistency to feta. Silken tofu on the other hand is the softest type and can be compared to young white cheese or quark.
As firm tofu contains a lot of water, you need to press it before cooking, especially if you are frying, baking or grilling it. Simply wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen or paper towel and put a stack of books or something heavy such as a frying pan on top. Leave for 15-25 minutes. Alternatively, you can use your hands to press it lightly. Just make sure you’re distributing the pressure evenly and don’t push too hard.
Our favourite vegan tofu recipes:
- 5-ingredient chocolate mousse
- Pretzel nuggets by Addicted to Humus
- Vegan ricotta-stuffed courgette rolls
- Sweet and sour tofu
- Peanut tofu bowl
3. Tempeh and its health benefits
Commonly known for its high protein content, tempeh is a plant-based protein source that originated in Indonesia and offers a range of health benefits. This vegan meat alternative is incredibly rich in calcium, iron and magnesium. For example, about 150g of tempeh contains about 2/3 of the calcium found in 230ml of whole milk.
Tempeh is made from fermented soya beans and can usually be bought in a block. It’s slightly nutty flavour and ability to absorb the flavours of any food or sauce to which it is added, lends it to many sorts of dishes, from chilis and stews to salads and tacos.
A 84g (3-ounce) serving of tempeh contains these nutrients:
- Calories: 162
- Protein: 15g
- Carbs: 9g
- Total fat: 9g
- Sodium: 9mg
- Iron: 12% of the RDI
- Calcium: 9% of the RDI
- Riboflavin: 18% of the RDI
- Niacin: 12% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 18% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 21% of the RDI
- Manganese: 54% of the RDI
Our favourite vegan tempeh recipes:
- Baked peanut tempeh
- Peanut and lemongrass tempeh satay by the Minimalist Baker
- Tempeh reuben by My Darling Vegan
- Smokey tempeh burrito bowls by the Minimalist Baker
4. Jackfruit and its health benefits
This one is probably still one of the less known vegan meat alternatives. The jackfruit is a species of tree in the fig, mulberry, and breadfruit family and originated in the region between the Western Ghats of southern India and the rainforests of Malaysia. While it is technically a fruit, its consistency is similar to that of chicken or pork.
Jackfruit is a real winner when it comes to its nutrients! The fruit contains a moderate amount of calories, providing 155 in a 165g (one cup) serving. In addition, jackfruit contains some of almost every vitamin and mineral that you need, as well as a decent amount of fibre.
165g (one cup) of sliced jackfruit provides the following nutrients:
- Calories: 155
- Carbs: 40g
- Fibre: 3g
- Protein: 3g
- Vitamin A: 10% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 18% of the RDI
- Riboflavin: 11% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 15% of the RDI
- Potassium: 14% of the RDI
- Copper: 15% of the RDI
- Manganese: 16% of the RDI
Our favourite vegan jackfruit recipes:
- Easy jackfruit burger
- Jackfruit ‘tuna’
- Jackfruit and sun-dried tomato curry by Nourishing Amy
- Jackfruit Pot Pie by Soy Devision
- Jackfruit ‘Crab’ Cakes by Veganosity
5. Seitan and its health benefits
Seitan is a chewy protein-rich food made from wheat gluten and commonly used in cooking as a meat substitute. Unlike tofu or tempeh, which are made from soybeans, seitan is made entirely out of hydrated gluten, the main protein found in wheat.
Luckily it’s really hard to mess up seitan! It’s neutral taste and meat-like texture lends it to a variety of dishes. Add it to your favourite stir fry, salad or sandwich and shred it into tacos.
Seitan contains very little fat and roughly the same amount of protein as animal meat. It is also a good source of several minerals and low in carbohydrates. When cooking with store-bought seitan just make sure to check the sodium content, as some products contain higher amounts of sodium to extend the product’s shelf life.
Source: Nutrition Data
28g (one ounce) of seitan (made from 28g vital wheat gluten) contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 104
- Protein: 21g
- Selenium: 16% of the RDI
- Iron: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 7% of the RDI
- Calcium: 4% of the RDI
- Copper: 3% of the RDI
Our favourite seitan recipes:
- Home-made seitan by Yup It’s Vegan
- Creamy mushroom & seitan pasta
- Seitan fajita bowls by Jessica in the kitchen
- Curry seitan ‘chicken’ bowl by Rabbit & Wolves
- Mongolian seitan by Yup It’s Vegan
Did you give any of these vegan meat alternatives a try?
We absolutely love seeing your creations! If you cook with any of suggested vegan meat alternatives, tag us on Instagram as @weareveano.
Please keep in mind that this blog is only meant to give you a rough idea of a plant-based lifestyle and vegan meat alternatives available. We’re not qualified nutritionists ourselves and rely upon our own experience from following a plant-based diet over the last four years. In addition, we look at what experts at the World Health Organisation, the Vegan Society and Medical News are recommending. We highly encourage you to use additional resources to support your transition to a plant-based diet and to try different foods whenever you feel like it.
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Co-Founder of Veano