1 in 4 Meat Substitutes Don’t Have Enough Protein—Here’s How Much To Look For on the Label

Photo: Stocksy/Ina Peters
The whole point of a meat substitute is to substitute meat with something made from plants. If you're vegan, vegetarian, or striving to eat a primarily plant-based diet, you're likely no stranger to such products as "beef" crumbles that taste meaty enough to fool your friends or vegan "seafood" that'll make you do a double-take. While plant-based meat substitutes might mimic the taste and texture of the real thing, some don't offer nearly as much protein.

According to a new survey conducted by Safefood, a quarter of meat substitutes don't have enough protein to be considered an adequate protein source. The survey took into account 354 meat-substitution products and vegetarian ready-to-eat meals, including vegetarian versions of chicken, meatballs, beef crumbles, sausages, nuggets, and fish. Researchers found that most are highly processed, and many aren't as nutrient-rich as you might expect. If you're expecting a meat substitute to fulfill your daily protein intake, be sure to check the nutrition panel.

Experts In This Article

"If you locate 'protein' on the nutrition facts panel, you will see grams listed and if you look all the way to the right, you may see a percentage listed. This is the percent daily value," says Melissa Rifkin, RD. . "Unfortunately, it will not be listed on all food products, but you can use the grams listed to calculate the percent daily value on your own. In order for one single meat substitution product to be considered high in protein, it must contain at least 20 percent of the Daily Value determined for protein." Personal protein needs vary depending on an individual's age and activity level, but the Food and Drug Association (FDA) has determined 50 grams of protein to be the daily value for a 2,000 calorie diet.

It's also important to pay attention to the source of the protein as well as what other ingredients are listed. "Many meat substitute products have lengthy ingredient lists," says Rifkin. "This isn’t all bad as many of the items listed are vitamins and minerals added into to create a well-rounded food product." However, many meat substitutes contain preservatives (including sodium) and chemicals used for food dye, too.

Here's what a registered dietitian thinks of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat:

Meat substitutes are often made with soy, tempeh, peas, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, beans, or mushrooms. On their own, each of these ingredients is full of nutrients—and most, in fact, are good sources of protein (with the exception of. mushrooms). Still, Rifkin says it's a good idea note the protein content on the nutrition facts panel to make sure it counts as the primary ingredient.

"As with all dietary approaches, it's good to consume a variety of food products to receive a wide array of nutrients," says Rifkin. "While meat substitution products can be one source of protein for a plant-based eater, they can also consume beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds to meet their nutrient needs."

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