Understanding meat alternatives

Featured author: Jessica Wang
Jessica Wang is a registered dietitian based in Vancouver and the North Shore.

A 2018 survey from Dalhousie University found that there are 2.3 million vegetarians and 850,000 vegans in Canada, with the majority living in British Columbia! Luckily, numerous companies now offer a variety of plant-based meat alternatives that mimic the taste and texture of various meats.

About meat alternative products:

Meat alternatives are convenient, quick and easy to prepare. Most of them are sold as ready to cook and serve from frozen, making it super easy to whip up a quick meal. Unlike raw meat, you typically don’t have to worry about cooking these products to a food safe temperature.  But, always make sure to check the package for instructions on how to properly heat up the product.

The goal for someone transitioning into plant-based eating is to have most of your diet centered primarily around unprocessed whole foods, like choosing legumes, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds as your main source of protein. This also means leaving meat alternative products as treats at your next summer BBQ or that tofurkey roast at holidays for health purposes and also because they can be a bit more expensive if eaten regularly.

Plant-based diets are more environmentally friendly compared to diets rich in animal products. Plant production uses fewer natural resources, putting less strain on the environment. Meat production requires 7 times more land than a plant-based diet, and 10-20 times more energy than grain production

Because meat alternatives are made from plant proteins like soy, peas, legumes, and grains, they are usually lower in saturated fat, and higher in dietary fiber. Jessica compared 13 popular brands of plant-based burgers, and saturated fat ranged from 0 –8g per patty, with 10 out of the 13 brands containing 5g or less, and fiber was between 0-13g per patty. A diet higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat can be beneficial for heart health. Nearly all brands also provided a good amount of iron, zinc and B-vitamins, which are nutrients normally found in meat. By incorporating plant-based meat options more often, you’re able to support both the health of the planet, and yourself. See the infographic in this post for more health and nutritional information between the plant-based burgers Jessica compared.

What are these products made with?

There are four main types of plant-based proteins commonly used in meat alternatives:

Whole foods based products:

These products are typically made with legumes, like lentils and beans, whole grains, and a variety of veggies. These products are also usually highest in fiber. Coastie is a local Vancouver company that offers plant-based burger mixes made with whole, organic ingredients like peas, beans, seeds, and oats. They use sustainable glass jar packaging and can even deliver the product to your door!

Gluten-based products:

These products are made from gluten, the protein in wheat products (commonly seen as vital wheat gluten, textured wheat protein, or wheat gluten on ingredient lists). Brands that use gluten as the primary protein source include Field Roast, Tofurkey, TMRW Foods, and The Very Good Butchers. Based in Victoria, B.C., The Very Good Butchers offer a range of meat alternatives including burgers, ground meat, holiday roasts, sausages, bacon, ribs, steak, chicken, and hotdogs. Note that any product made with gluten is not suitable for those with celiac disease or wheat allergy.

Soy-based proteins:

These products are derived from soybeans. You may see this listed as soy protein concentrate or isolate, but it still means the product is based from soybeans. Brands that use soy protein as a base include Gardein, Yves, Morning Star, Impossible Burger, and Happy Veggie World.

Pea-based proteins:

These products are derived from the split pea and are also listed as pea protein concentrate or isolate. Beyond Meat, Lightlife, and Modern Meats are a few brands that use peas.

Some brands may also include a combination of these protein sources, for example Wholly Veggie, Big Mountain Foods and Sol Cuisine.

Many companies offer a variety of options like ground crumbles, burgers and sausages.  Any ground or crumbled product, like Beyond Meat, Lightlife, and TMRW can easily be seasoned and turned into taco filling, meatballs, as a topping on nachos, or in place of ground beef in tomato sauce or chili.  Some crumbles come pre-seasoned, like Coastie offering Mexican and Indian inspired flavours. Burgers and sausages are typically already seasoned, so all you need to do is throw them onto a grill, cook them on the stove top, or in the oven. Once cooked, sausages can be incorporated into a pasta bake, veggie breakfast skillet, a topping on pizza, between a bun or sprinkled onto a salad.

There are so many ways to get creative with these products, offering opportunities to explore new foods and flavours – whether you’re new to cooking, or experienced. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or looking for ways to introduce more meatless meals into your life, plant-based meat alternatives can have a place in your diet. With their increasing popularity, many brands can be found at your local grocery store. Next time you’re there, pick one up and give it a try!

Check out the video library on our PlantU Platform for more educational content about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Watch a video about meat alternatives

Compare plant-based burgers