Meatless 'Meats' Can Be Good Nutritional Choices
Heidi McIndoo, M.S., R.D.
Faux meats, meat alternatives, meat replacers -- there are lots of names, but they all mean the same thing: plant-based alternatives to meats.
While meat alternatives were once restricted to select specialty shops, today grocery stores carry an increasing variety, often based on tofu, soy and other plant proteins, that offer great solutions for vegetarians, vegans or people simply interested in eating more meatless meals. Shelves are full of veggie dogs, veggie burgers, chicken-less wings, deli "meats," "bacon" and even roasts.
You might assume that just because meat alternatives are plant-based they are automatically healthy, but that's not always the case. Some are highly processed and may contain a fair amount of sodium. In addition, some products contain cheese and other ingredients that could drive up the saturated fat count.
But have no fear; there are plenty of healthy meat alternatives available, and we've done all the legwork to help separate the uber-healthy from the less healthy products.
Helpful hints. If you're looking for a meat-like entree for your plant-based meal, check out these tips to make the best choice:
1. Check the salt content. While many products are fairly low in sodium compared to most processed foods, there are a handful of meat alternatives that have almost one-third of a day's worth of sodium, according to the Dietary Guidelines daily limit of 2,300 milligrams.
2. Get protein. Because these products are used in place of meat, make sure you obtain adequate protein. The protein content of faux meats varies greatly, depending on the main ingredients, which can include grains, vegetables, beans, tofu and soy.
While most animal products contain about seven grams of protein per ounce, a guideline for meat alternatives is to look for at least 13 grams per serving -- the amount found in almost two ounces of meat.
3. Not all servings are the same size. Don't be fooled by super-low calorie options. A typical serving of meat is three ounces, but the serving size for these faux meats ranges from less than two ounces to more than five. Those smaller portions may not provide a big nutrition boost, leaving you feeling hungry soon after eating. Balance out the rest of your meal to provide enough calories and nutrients to satisfy you.
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