What is Plant-Based Meat––and is it Good for Us?

Ever wonder what plant-based meat is actually made from—and if it’s healthier? Learn more about ingredients and picking the best options.

close up of a stack of plant-based meat patties

Plant-based meat has exploded in popularity over the last few years. What once was only found in specialty stores is now available in national grocery chains and is a common offering on restaurant menus.

But what is plant-based meat and should you be eating it if you’re following a plant-based diet?

What is plant-based meat?

Wondering what is plant-based meat? Well, plant-based meat is a meat alternative that aims to offer a similar taste, texture, and nutrient profile as meat from an animal.

According to the International Food Information Council, over two thirds of Americans have tried a plant-based meat alternative in the past year.

Reasons for choosing these meat alternatives range from focusing on healthfulness of the product to taste preference and sustainability benefits.

If you’re following a plant-based diet, then you’ve likely given plant-based meat a try. It’s popular because it offers a versatile source of protein, often with a taste similar to that of animal proteins.

These products may also make the transition to a plant-based diet easier if you’re a heavy meat eater and are missing your favorite animal proteins.

plant-based meat on a griddle with grilled onions

What is plant-based meat made from?

If you’re wondering what plant-based meat is made from and what are plant-based burgers made of, here’s the intel!

So what is in plant-based meat? Plant-based meat is made with one or more plant proteins, plus additional ingredients like fats and seasoning.

Popular plant proteins used in plant-based meats include wheat gluten, pea protein, and soy protein. But more recently, alternative proteins like hemp have been used to make plant-based burgers, crumbles, and other plant-based meat products.

As for what is a plant-based burger, the ingredient variations make a significant difference in the nutrient profile of the final product.

Wheat protein

Wheat protein or wheat gluten is a common ingredient in plant-based meat. Products that are wheat based are not suitable for a gluten-free diet, however.

While wheat gluten, also known as seitan, is not a complete protein, it does offer a significant protein source with approximately 75 grams of protein per about 3 ounces.

Soy protein

soy burger patty on a grill

Soy-based meat alternatives are popular because soy is a high-protein ingredient that contains all the essential amino acids. This means it’s a complete protein.

However, soy is one of the eight major allergens as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and those with a soy allergy must avoid these products.

However, a study in Nutrition Today found that soy allergies are less prevalent that we may have thought. Allergies to soy are lower than allergies to the other top seven allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and wheat).

Soy-based “meat” contains 23 grams of protein per about 3 ounces.

Pea protein

Pea protein is another popular ingredient in plant-based meats because it’s an allergy-friendly, high- protein ingredient.

Pea protein contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein and a good source of plant-based protein.

While one cup of peas contains approximately eight grams of protein, a 1-ounce serving of a pea protein supplement contains 27 grams of protein.

Hemp protein

Hemp was recently designated as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) ingredient by the FDA. Since then, it’s popped up as an ingredient in multiple plant-based foods, including plant-based meats.

Hemp is considered to be a complete protein, as it contains all of the essential amino acids. A 1-ounce serving  of hemp protein contains approximately 12 grams of protein.

Is plant-based meat better than real meat?

Plant-based meat is a convenient plant-based protein. Making the switch to a plant-based diet often means making a drastic change to the foods you eat.

But with plant-based meat, that switch can be easier as it brings familiarity to the recipes you’d typically eat on an omnivore diet.

This familiarity can be the difference between sticking to a plant-based diet or leaving it behind for the animal-based recipes you love. For many, plant-based meat offers the best of both worlds.

A woman cutting into a plant-based burger with a knife

However, despite its convenience and taste benefits, plant-based meat can either be very nutritious or can be a less than healthy option.

Depending on the nutrient profile of the plant-based meat you choose, it can be a significant source of sodium and saturated fat. In fact, some plant-based meat alternatives have even more saturated fat than their real-meat counterparts.

This makes carefully reviewing labels and ingredient lists very important before you decide which plant-based meat is best for you.

One study in Nutrients reviewed plant-based meats and cheeses and compared their nutrient profiles to animal-based meats and cheeses.

The researchers found that most plant-based options were lower in calories, total fat, and saturated fat.

However, the researchers also indicated that the total and saturated fat quantities in plant-based meats were not significantly lower than the amounts found in animal-based meats.

They also noted the wide variation of fat content between products, making it important to scrutinize nutrition facts before purchasing.

Common brands of plant-based meat

Multiple plant-based meat brands exist in today’s market. The following are some of the most popular, but there are many others that are not listed here.

Keep in mind that many brands have different formulations between products, so if you have an allergy requiring you to avoid a specific ingredient, it’s best to review labels for each product before making a purchase.

Beyond Meat

package of Beyond Meat plant-based burgers

Beyond Meat is a popular plant-based meat that closely mimics beef in taste and appearance. It’s a pea protein-based product that boasts claims like non-GMO, gluten- and soy-free.

Beyond Meat offers multiple plant-based meat options from burgers to sausages, all with varied nutrient profiles. And yes, you can freeze most plant-based meat like Beyond!

Impossible Foods

package of Impossible burger patties

Impossible Foods is like Beyond Meat in that its products closely resemble beef. However, the difference is that Impossible Foods products are made using a genetic engineering process to create plant-based heme.

The ingredients also include soy protein, one of the eight major allergens. The Impossible Foods brand makes a variety of products—including burgers, sausage, meatballs, and even chicken nuggets.

Of note, the Impossible Foods burgers contain coconut oil, which results in a higher saturated fat product than some of the other plant-based meats on this list.

Incogmeato Morning Star Farms

Package of Incogmeato chik'n nuggets

Incogmeato by Morning Star Farms makes soy-based meat alternatives such as burgers, ground crumbles, chick’n tenders, and breakfast sausage.

Morning Star Farms also has other plant-based products made from more traditional ingredients like beans and peas.

Daring.

Package of Daring. plant chicken pieces

Daring. makes plant-based chicken from soy protein. Flavors offered include original, breaded, cajun, and lemon & herb.

Some of the varieties offered are gluten free, while others include gluten. Be sure to check labels if gluten is an ingredient of concern for you.

Gardein

Package of Gardein mandarin orange crispy chick'n

Gardein offers a variety of plant-based meat products. The company offers plant-based chicken, beef, and fish, as well as soups and meals made from the plant-based meat products.

Some of the plant-based meat varieties, like the chick’n tenders, include a combination of wheat gluten as well as soy protein and pea protein.

Lightlife

Package of Lightlife plant-based chicken fillets

Lightlife is a plant-based food company that offers a variety of plant-based meat products, including plant-based crumbles, burgers, breakfast patties, sausages, chicken tenders, hot dogs, and more.

Lightlife offers a variety of plant-based proteins with some meats made from pea protein and others made with soy protein.

Field Roast

Package of Field Roast buffalo wings

Field Roast is a plant-based meat and cheese company that offers a variety of plant-based meat options including sausages, burgers, deli slices, hot dogs, and roasts.

The protein types used in the Field Roast products vary from pea and fava protein to wheat gluten.

Tips for cooking with plant-based meat

Cooking plant-based meat is easy simple. Many plant-based meat products have multiple cook methods, giving you flexibility in preparation based on the cooking equipment and time you have to prepare the product.

Often, plant-based meat products can be cooked in the oven, on the grill, or in a skillet. Some types can also be cooked in the microwave and still produce a similar result.

Most plant-based meat products will provide details about cooking along with food safety measures such as testing the internal temperature to ensure the product has been cooked properly to prevent foodborne illness.

burger patty wrapped in a sesame bun with all the fixings

Plant-based meat is a versatile protein that can be used in a variety of recipes. Plant-based burgers can be eaten like you would eat a real burger, and plant-based beef crumbles are a great substitute for real meat in recipes that call for real beef crumbles.

If you’re using plant-based meat in recipes, you may need to tweak other ingredients to ensure the best outcome. Some plant-based meats are lower in fat than real meats and may require additional fat during cooking.

In addition, many plant-based meats are already seasoned which may mean less seasoning is needed during preparation.

Ultimately, it may take some experimenting with plant-based meat products in your favorite recipes to get the desired result, but with a little practice, plant-based meat can easily replace real meat in most of your go-to recipes.

The bottom line

The healthfulness of plant-based meats varies depending on the brand and product. Choosing the best option for you requires reading both the nutrition facts panel as well as the ingredient list.

Look out for plant-based meats that are high in sodium and saturated fat and skip those with ingredients you need to avoid such as those made with a major allergen.

Remember, plant-based meats are versatile and easy to use in place of real meat in your favorite recipes. Experiment with different varieties, brands, and cook methods to find the best plant-based meat for you.

You will also need to know if plant-based meat goes bad. This information is often on product websites.

Sources

Ever wonder what plant-based meat is actually made from—and if it’s a healthier choice? Find out more about ingredients and selecting the best options.
Plant-Based Eating |

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