Meat substitutes

We found many vegetarian meat substitutes are alarmingly high in salt - and taste bland.
 
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01.Introduction

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If you're looking to eliminate or reduce meat quantities in your diet, meat substitutes can be a convenient option. The products you'll find on shelves range from sausages and burgers, to mince, deli slices and cottage pies. But just how tasty or healthy are these vegetarian alternatives?

CHOICE asked a handful of staff to taste a selection; unfortunately, we found the healthiest of the bunch (see how they compare nutritionally) just don’t taste that great. Some products  - like the schnitzels - were so high in salt we could not recommend any of these. In fact, high sodium was an issue with many of the products we looked at, so it's well worth checking the nutrition label if you're considering buying a meat substitute. Our article on salt outlines the risk factors of too much dietary salt.

Best and worst choices

Burgers

Australian Eatwell Lentil Vegetable Burgers scored top out of the burgers for nutrition, but failed the taste test. Most of the panel rated them poor or very poor, with one describing the texture as “very mushy and floury”. Frys Vegetarian Traditional Burgers are only OK for total fat, saturated fat and sugar. Many found this product salty, and with good reason – it has a staggering 810mg of sodium per 100g.

Sausages

Of the sausages, both the Quorn and Australian Eatwell rank the highest for nutritional value. Some said that despite being plain, bland and dry, the Quorn sausages tasted like real sausages. Some said Australian Eatwell had a good taste, but not at all like meat, while others hated them, remarking on their awful taste and texture.

Schnitzel

We don’t recommend any of the schnitzel products; all contain too much sodium to be considered healthy options.

Chicken-style and snacks

Frys Vegetarian Chicken Style Strips get the red light for saturated fat, while Sanitarium Vegie Delights Bacon Style Rashers have a staggering 1050mg per 100g of sodium – almost half the upper level of intake. For our testers, the Tivall Vegetarian Nuggets stand out for taste. If you’re after a snack-type product, Quorn Pieces are the healthiest choice and would make a good addition to stir-fries. While most thought it tasted bland, they praised its chicken-like texture.

Maintaining a healthy diet

If you’re going to eliminate or reduce meat quantities take care to maintain a nutritionally sound diet. A balanced diet, centred on plant-based foods, can contain all the essential nutrients required for optimum health, provided you plan ahead. Careful planning is needed as vegetarian diets can sometimes be low in some essential nutrients.

Compared with their meat-inclusive counterparts vegetarian diets generally:

  • contain lower levels of animal protein and cholesterol (none if you’re vegan).
  • are lower in saturated fatty acids.
  • are higher in folate, fibre, antioxidants, phytochemicals and carotenoids.

If you are keen to try these products make sure you only eat in moderation and check the nutrition panel carefully. They’re processed foods and, as such, are often high in sodium.

How we test

Taste test CHOICE asked 10 members of staff to taste test veggie burgers, sausages, schnitzels and snack foods. We didn’t test every single product available as we couldn't get enough tasters for such a large-scale taste test. A representative of each brand was included and each product was presented on a plain plate with no brand identification. Our panel consisted of a mixture of vegetarians, ex-vegetarians and meat eaters and tasters were asked to comment on the flavour and texture of each product presented to them.

Nutritional analysis Using the energy, protein, total fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium from nutritional information panels, we rank the products based on their protein content. However, protein is also available from other food sources such as soy products, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

For a range of recipe ideas, including various vegetarian options, see Cook's CHOICE.

 
 

 

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