People have been increasingly turning to meat alternatives for a variety of reasons, including environmental, ethical, and health concerns. No matter the reason, it is a good idea to do some research into the best meat alternative options. Often, meat-free products are advertised as healthy because they are vegetarian or vegan, but actually contain preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients.
In recent years, more research has been done on plant-based diets. Studies have shown that eating more plant-based foods can help reduce chronic inflammation, improve heart health, boost mental well-being, and much more. Dairy consumption has also been linked to health problems such as acne, hormonal imbalances, and cancer. In this post, we will explore the healthiest meat alternative choices, and take a look at which options are suitable for those with gluten or soy intolerances.
Tofu is probably the most commonly used meat alternative in North America but has been used in Asian cuisine for ages. It is made from soybeans and is rich in protein and calcium. On its own, tofu is quite bland and tasteless, which has given it a bad reputation. However, its spongy texture allows it to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with. The preparation of tofu is important, and purchasing extra-firm tofu and pressing the moisture out of it before cooking makes a huge difference. When cooked well, tofu can be extremely flavorful and add great texture to meals. There are many recipes and videos online outlining how to make the best tofu. Plain tofu is usually gluten-free, but make sure to check the ingredients, as flavored options may have wheat ingredients. Of course, tofu is not soy-free and should be avoided by those with soy allergies.
Tempeh is growing in popularity as more restaurants and cafes offer vegetarian and vegan options. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and is high in protein, fiber, calcium, and vitamins. Because it is fermented, tempeh contains prebiotics, which have been shown to benefit gut health. Tempeh is usually firmer and more textured than tofu, and may be a nice way to switch things up if you are used to eating tofu. Tempeh with only soybeans should be gluten-free, but some varieties include other grains, so always check the label if gluten is an issue for you. Again, tempeh is not soy-free.
Seitan is less popular than tofu but is great at mimicking meat texture, especially ground beef. It is made from processed wheat gluten, so it is not gluten-free. However, it is usually soy-free and is therefore a good option for individuals with soy allergies. It is high in protein and has a dense, chewy texture that holds up to many kinds of preparation. You can buy it at the store or make it yourself. Keep in mind that seitan is processed food and should be eaten in moderation.
Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
TVP is inexpensive and easy to use. It is made from dehydrated soy, and when you rehydrate it, you can use it for anything you like. TVP should be gluten-free, high in protein, and is an extremely versatile meat alternative. Like seitan, textured vegetable protein is processed food and may not be the best choice for every day.
Mushrooms are a great meat replacement for a savory, meaty taste. Mushrooms are healthy and filling, but will not provide the same kind of protein as other meat alternatives. One great use for mushrooms is as a replacement for burger patties. Use a large portobello mushroom on your bun and load it up with your favorite fixings. Mushrooms are naturally gluten-free and soy-free, and are not processed.
Have you heard of jackfruit? You are probably wondering how fruit could ever serve as a meat replacement. Jackfruit is an exotic, tropical fruit, native to South India. It is in the same family as figs and has a mild, slightly sweet taste. The texture of jackfruit is comparable to that of shredded meat, which makes it a suitable meat replacement. Jackfruit is packed with nutrition and contains a moderate amount of protein and fiber, antioxidants, and almost every vitamin and mineral you need. Compared to other fruits, jackfruit has a lot of protein at 3 grams per cup. Since jackfruit is whole, unprocessed fruit, it is naturally gluten and soy-free.
Beans and Legumes
In terms of choosing whole foods, beans and legumes are your best bet to replace meat and still get loads of protein and other nutrients. When it comes to nutrition, choosing foods in their most natural state is the surest way to get the healthiest foods with the most nutritional benefit. Beans and legumes are protein-rich foods, which make them perfect meat substitutes. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive, especially when bought dry. Canned beans and legumes are more expensive, but make it very easy to add beans and legumes into whatever recipe you want. There are a huge variety of beans and legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, etc. They are all gluten-free, but of course, soybeans contain soy. Always read the ingredient label as sometimes sneaky ingredients make it into processed foods. Lentils are high in fiber, folic acid, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Beans are high in protein, folate, and antioxidants. Legumes are low fat, zero cholesterol, high in calcium, have essential amino acids, and contain powerful antioxidants. If you are not used to eating beans and legumes, start with ¼ cup and slowly increase your consumption, as they can be a little bit difficult to digest at first and may cause bloating.
As you can see, it is absolutely possible to eat a meat-free diet and still get the nutrition your body needs. It is also possible for meat lovers to eat meat-free dishes that are rich and satisfying. In this post, we have explored the healthiest options to replace meat in your diet. Processed alternatives such as frozen fake chicken fingers may be an appropriate option in moderation, but when it comes to every day, it is best to stick to the most natural foods possible. We hope this post was helpful and peaks your interest in trying some new meat-free dishes. The animals and the planet will thank you!
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