From Trevor: “I recently had a fairly lengthy look at the ingredients list on a few vegan meat substitute products, and was somewhat concerned at what I saw. I was wondering if there is a noticeable difference between brands when it comes to nutritional quality of vegan ‘meats’? What ingredients should I want both included in, and excluded from these products, and how often would you recommend their consumption?”
As you might imagine, there are a wide variety of vegan meat substitutes out there, so it would be hard to offer a concise evaluation across the board. But here are a few things to consider:
1. In general, the fewer ingredients, the better.
2. In general, the more ingredients you can pronounce, the better!
3. I tend to gravitate toward the Gardenburger, Tofurkey and Boca brands. However, you should always check ingredients on any “meat substitute” for dairy or eggs. ( Morningstar seems to be the worst offender of this, as egg whites are rampant throughout much of their line.)
4. Always lean toward organic ingredients.
5. Yes, it is always advisable to use vegan meat substitutes instead of real animal products. HOWEVER, understand that these ARE highly processed foods and should always be used sparingly.
6. As for how many servings per day, I would say it gets down to two things: your total bodyweight/coloric requirement and your overall level of health. Obviously, a higher number of servings per day of these products (in the context of a stellar diet that includes plenty of fruit, veggies and whole grains) will mean something different to an athletic male who weights 200 pounds vs. a less active female who weights 110 pounds.
So, in very broad strokes here, I would limit the amount of servings to one or two per day, unless you’re over, say, 170 pounds, and then you could possibly add a third. Again – this is broad strokes, and remember, a half-a-carton of soy milk doesn’t equate to just one serving! At any rate, what you will want to avoid is this business of having some kind of refined soy product at every meal.
Health-wise, if you are overweight or dealing with any other serious health condition like high blood pressure, heart disease or cancer, then I would restrict these products even further and lean toward more natural protein sources like legumes, spirulina, nuts, seeds and a variety of whole grains, among other things. This is mainly because many of the vegan meat substitutes will have a high degree of sodium or even fat, so you’ll want to focus on simpler, cleaner foods.