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My Search for the Best Veggie Burger and Meat Alternatives Money Can Buy

I've always been a pretty healthy eater. With the exception of the occasional overflowing charcuterie board and sporadic splurge, I eat a diet heavy in vegetables and try to stay away from one-too-many carbs on the regular. Still, I decided to give veganism a go last month—you know, in the name of journalism. And although I learned loads of things, like that nearly three-quarters of Americans don't manage to eat enough fruit and that non-dairy yogurt is a thing, one thing stuck with me majorly: There are a lot of delicious plant-based protein alternatives out there. Like, a lot.

Weeks after my vegan experiment was over, I found myself back in the aisles at Whole Foods, still hankering for new meat alternatives. Not because I've sworn off the stuff entirely, but more because I'm into how this type of diet makes me feel (basically, less bloated).

Here, you'll find honest reviews of meat alternatives that I found on my quest, ranging from faux meatballs to meat crumbles, complete with a nutritional analysis from Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D., owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness.

Before you jump on in, one note of caution: Meat alternatives are typically made using plants, peas, and soy protein. While these are all safe options, you'll want to make sure not to overdo it.

"Some soy is okay, but if you are eating a lot of these 'fake meat' products, you could be overconsuming soy and falling short on other nutrients," says Rumsey. "Soy should not be your only source of protein. Good whole-food, plant-based sources of protein include pulses—which include beans, peas, and lentils—as well as nuts and seeds and some grains like quinoa."

Ready to dive on in? Here are six of the best meat alternatives:

Beyond Meat Beyond Burger
Serving size:
1 patty
Calories: 290
Fat: 22 grams
Protein: 20 grams
The review: The Beyond Meat Beyond Burger blew me away from the second I took it out of the packaging. Sold in your grocery store's refrigerator section, this patty looks like it's made of meat. As in, it's thick like a meat burger and really has some weight to it. Same goes for the taste. Top this burger with lettuce, tomato, and a little special sauce (my favorite is Just Mayo's Awesomesauce, which is also gluten- and egg-free) and even a carnivore may fall for this simple swap.
The nutritionist weighs in: "I like that it has 20 grams of protein per burger, as many veggie burgers fall short on protein, but it's borderline high on sodium, with about 20 percent of the daily max. Also worth noting: It has pea protein, which is different from many veggie burgers that use soy protein." (Here's everything you need to know about soy.)
Overall grade: A-

Morningstar Farms Grillers Original
Serving size:
1 patty
Calories: 130
Fat: 6 grams
Protein: 15 grams
The review: I've kept Morningstar Farms Grillers in my freezer since I was in college. Not only do I like the taste, but they're a pretty low-calorie and low-fat way to amp up the protein in any meal. Just like a burger, I'd say that the patty by itself won't blow your taste buds out of the water, but if you make them on the grill or griddle, you'll get a delicious crust that kicks things to a new level. If using this particular option as an entire meal, I'd suggest doubling up on patties or supplementing the burger with a slew of other add-ins, like an ear of corn, salad, and maybe even some homemade baked sweet potato fries.
The nutritionist says: "Good on the protein and sodium front. Since they're low in calories, I'd suggest bulking it up to make a more filling meal. These have a long ingredient list of highly processed ingredients. Most of the protein comes from soy protein concentrate, a highly processed protein source." Note: Soy protein concentrate can be fine, but it has a max shelf life of two years.
Overall grade: B+

 

Gardein Classic Meatless Meatballs
Serving size: 3 meatballs
Calories: 150
Fat: 7 grams
Protein: 15 grams
The review: These meatballs remind me of tofu in that they absorb the flavors they're surrounded by. I tossed a few of these frozen into a pot of homemade sauce, and although I'll be the first to admit they're nothing like my Italian grandmother's meatballs, they were delicious. My ideal serving size would be about four or five, since they're not huge.
The nutritionist says: "Protein and sodium are pretty good. They have a long ingredient list with highly processed ingredients and a lot of soy-based protein. Eating too much of these ingredients, just too much of anything, can be 'bad' for you. Assuming you're enjoying the meatballs in moderation, they're good with me. Just make sure to include other whole-food forms of plant-based protein."
Overall grade: A-

Beyond Meat Crumbles
Serving size:
 1/2 cup
Calories: 80 
Fat: 3 grams
Protein: 13 grams
The review: These. Are. Epic (on the taste front, anyway). I used these meat crumbles in a faux meat sauce. The meat sauce, which I added some crumbled tofu to as well, was probably the best vegetarian "meat" meal I've ever made. These crumbles took on the flavors that I combined them with, and I felt really satisfied post-meal. Plus, pairing the crumbles with a chickpea pasta made the meal super filling. I will note, however, that I definitely doubled the serving size by the time I was done with my meal. Always easy to do when you're making things in large batches.
The nutritionist says: "There's a good amount of protein per serving and they're not too high in sodium. But it also includes caramel color, which is fine from time to time, but signals that this is highly processed." Note: The caramel color that's in Beyond Meat is ammonium- and sulfite-free, as opposed to what you might find in typical soft drinks.
Overall grade: A

 

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Tofurkey Ground Beef Style
Serving size
: 1/3 cup
Calories: 90 
Fat: 4 grams
Protein: 9 grams
The review: Simple, easy, tasty. I sautéed the faux beef on the stove and combined it with a simple taco seasoning from Trader Joe's (sodium overload, guilty). As expected, the product absorbed the flavor and certainly could've tricked my dinner guest for animal products. Texture-wise, it was softer than the real deal, but not off-putting.
The nutritionist says: "One serving is slightly low on protein, and if you increase the serving size you'd end up getting a lot more sodium, which isn't ideal. While you may see odd additions like xanthan gum and gum arabic, both act as thickeners and stabilizers that bind ingredients together, and both are safe to consume."
Overall grade: B+

 

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo
Serving size:
2.5 oz
Calories: 140
Fat: 10 grams
Protein: 9 grams
The review: The first thing that happened when I told friends that I was going vegan: "OMG, you need to try Trader Joe's soy chorizo!" They were right: This stuff is absolutely delicious. It comes in a casing, just like a typical sausage. Then, you squeeze it out onto a skillet to prepare. I topped Mexican-inspired salads with the chorizo and welcomed the burst of flavor. The texture is the exact same as its meaty brethren. The catch? It's salty.
The nutritionist says: "This is very high in sodium with over 30 percent of your daily max. But since the main ingredient is soy protein and the rest are just spices and flavorings like oil, garlic, and vinegar—that's something I like to see. Even though a short ingredients list tends to indicate less processed food, that's not always the case. That's why looking at the ingredients included, not just the length, is important."
Overall grade: A-

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