Meat substitutes

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

Lead pic

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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Instructions

Comparison table list

  • By default ALL tested products are listed. You can select up to five items to view in a side by side comparison.
  • Additional columns can be viewed by using the Next/Previous buttons.

Using the filters

  • Use the filters to show only products that meet your specific requirements or which have the specific features you're interested in. Selecting filters automatically updates the Comparison table list.
  • The number shown in brackets represents the number of products that will be shown if you select that filter. 
  • You can view additional filters by selecting the Show more filters button.

cereal_TABLE_NOTES

Compare products

 
Table Allowing the user to select a number of products dependant on their filter options.
Items to compare

Select up to 5 items below.
Then click the compare button

Compare
 
Price ($)Overall scoreCategoryProtein (per 100g)Energy (kJ per 100g)Total fat (per 100g)Saturated fat (per 100g)Sugars (per 100g)Sodium (per 100g)Brand
           
Vegetarian chargrilled burgers7.49naBurger1859350.50.6700Tivall
Tofu vegie burgers (A)4.15naBurger17.273291.10.7290Nutrisoy
Vegetarian traditional burgers (A)5.49naBurger15.86274.42.25.3810Frys
Vegie delights Not burgers (A)4.99naBurger15.58707.20.71.2325Sanitarium
Vegie delights Lentil pattiesnanaBurger12.174080.81.7350Sanitarium
Vegie delights Thai sweet chilli and lime gourmet vegie burgers5.99naBurger10.37309.12.64.6535Sanitarium
Southern style burgers (A)5.99naBurger10.282910.821.9402Quorn
Chickpea gourmet vegetarian burger4.99naBurger7.697880.55.3150Pappa Nutal
Mediterranean gourmet vegetarian burger (A)4.99naBurger7.697880.55.3150Pappa Nutal
Red lentil vegie burgers4.98naBurger76440.70.16.5270Australian Eatwell
Chickpea and sunflower seeds vegie burgers4.98naBurger6.87323.80.47.5490Australian Eatwell
Exotic satay vegie burgers4.98naBurger4.95680.70.28.1290Australian Eatwell
Lentil vegetable burgers (A)4.98naBurger4.65161.40.31.1370Australian Eatwell
Meditarranean vegetable burgers3.79naBurger4.35081.40.31.5370Australian Eatwell
Vegie delights BBQ sausages4.95naSausages20.87207.30.61.9680Sanitarium
Vegie delights Original soy sausages4.95naSausages20.57708.60.73.9565Sanitarium
Vegie delights Vegie sausages (A)4.95naSausages17.382010.60.91.2590Sanitarium
Vegie delights Curried sausages4.95naSausages17.283010.70.91.2590Sanitarium
Vegie delights Rosemary, sage and parsley gourmet vegie sausages5.99naSausages16.310708.54.110.8550Sanitarium
Vegie delights Sundried tomato and kalamata olive gourmet vegie sausages5.99naSausages14.58806.82.98.5550Sanitarium
Meat free, soy free Sausages (A)5.99naSausages10.24072.71.21.1510Quorn
Tomato, onion and basil sausages4.48naSausages7.64631.10.26.6786Australian Eatwell
Sweet thai chilli vegetable sausages4.48naSausages7.55340.80.047.4657Eatwell Gourmet Selection
Vegie sausages - chickpea and spinach (A)4.48naSausages6.44510.90.043.5544Australian Eatwell
Garden fresh mixed vegetable sausages (B)4.48naSausages6.24325.1501Eatwell Gourmet Selection
Chickpea and spinach sausages4.48naSausages4.34111.30.24.5652Australian Eatwell
Vegetarian schnitzels (A)7.00naSchnitzels1675580.91.5700Tivall
Vegie delights - tender schnitzels (A)4.99naSchnitzels1579081.11.4670Sanitarium
Vegetarian crumbed schnitzels (A)6.59naSchnitzels12880114.951.6600Frys
Schnitzels cheese and spinach meat free soy free (A)5.99naSchnitzels9.1936122.23.3642Quorn
Vegetarian chicken-style strips (A)6.99naChicken-style strips20.41000135.20.7800Frys
Vegie delights Tender fillets4.95naChicken-style strips14.96306.40.72.1515Sanitarium
Pieces (A) (B)5.99naChicken-style strips14.84111.50.3370Quorn
Dippers (B)6.53naChicken-style strips10.96968.10.9485Quorn
Vegie delights Bacon style rashers (A)3.59naDeli slices18.598012.61.13.21050Sanitarium
Vegie delights Deli luncheon Henchen4.95naDeli slices18.57806.71.22.2710Sanitarium
Vegie delights Deli luncheon Smoked4.95naDeli slices17.77907.610.9625Sanitarium
Vegie delights Smoked deli slices3.69naDeli slices14.67209.50.80.6830Sanitarium
Vegetarian nuggets (A)5.50naNuggets16920121.31.5700Tivall
Vegetarian chicken-style strips6.99naNuggets1279094.630.3700Frys
Vegetarian frankfurters5.50naFrankfurters181021161.82.6800Tivall
Vegetarian cocktail sausages (A)5.50naFrankfurters181021161.82.6800Tivall
Vegie delights Hot dogs (A)4.95naFrankfurters16.67106.60.60.9465Sanitarium
Vegie delights - vegie mince4.95naOther21.45200.80.40.7410Sanitarium
Vegie delights - vegie roast with rosemary and mint glaze7.62naOther208805.30.62.2690Sanitarium
Meat free, Soy free Mince (B)5.99naOther15.94341.60.548Quorn
Veg express hearty vegetarian cottage pie6.58naOther11.93933.41.750.69400Frys
Vegie delights - Indian kumera and spinach kebabsnanaOther10.87109.72.63.4450Sanitarium
Sausage rolls6.53naOther9131022101.6599Quorn
Pasties6.53naOther5.5108014.56.51.5359Quorn
Compare

Using the table

Nutrients Based on information provided on the label.
Traffic light criteria are based on the latest nutrition recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and internationally.
Price is based on prices paid in Sydney supermarkets on February 2011.

Table notes

na No overall score is available for these products as our taste test wasn't conducted on all products available. The comparison table will not work without this column in the table.
(A) Products that were included in the taste test.
(B) Where there is no figure showing in the nutritional breakdown, this figure is <1.0g/100g.


 

03.Thinking of becoming a vegetarian?

 

Semi-vegetarians eat poultry and/or fish, dairy foods and eggs but generally exclude red meat.

Lacto vegetarians avoid meat, seafood and eggs but include dairy foods and plant foods.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid meat and seafood but include eggs, dairy foods and plant foods.

Vegans only consume food of plant origin.

Making the transition to vegetarianism can be challenging, but there are a variety of strategies available:

  • Some kick meat out of their diet immediately, while others make the transition gradually.
  • Meat substitutes may come in handy here; you could use Sanitarium Vegie Delights Mince in your spaghetti bolognese or Quorn Pieces in stirfries.

Concerned about Vitamin B12?

Several nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and some omega 3, could be lacking in a poor vegetarian diet, as these are found mainly in animal foods. Vegans are especially at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Its key role is in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system and formation of red blood cells; deficiency results in macrocytic anaemia. To counter this, vegans should eat fortified foods or take supplements. Sanitarium claims its meat substitute products are high in vitamin B12. Vegetarians who eat dairy products will get vitamin B12 and calcium, both of which are missing from a vegan diet.

Non-animal sources and alternatives

Non-animal sources of other important nutrients are:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids Linseeds, soybean oil, rapeseed oil, tofu and walnuts.
  • Vitamin A Green leafy vegetables, yellow/orange vegetables and fruit.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) Fortified breakfast cereals and soya drinks and almonds.
  • Vitamin D Exposure to sunglight, fortified breakfast cereals, vegetable margarines.
  • Calcium Fortified soy beverages, sesame seeds, fortified fruit juice, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, tofu, beans and pulses, or even calcium supplements.
  • Zinc Tofu, legumes, peas, nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals and wholemeal bread.
  • Iron Fortified breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, dried fruit, green leafy vegetables, beans and pulses, molasses, nuts and seeds, tofu.
  • Selenium Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, molasses, wholemeal bread.
  • Iodine Iodised salt, seaweed.
  • Protein Soy products, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, wholegrains.

Facts and fiction

It’s hard to feel full after a vegetarian meal

False: Proteins from plant sources like legumes, wholegrains, seeds and nuts are low GI and good sources of fibre. These foods break down slowly and release blood sugar gradually into the bloodstream, leaving you feeling fuller for longer.

The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a measure of how the carbohydrate in a food affects your blood glucose levels as it’s digested, absorbed and metabolised. If this happens quickly, there’s a rush of glucose into the bloodstream followed by a quick fall – the food is higher in the GI scale. If it gives a slower and gentler rise and fall in blood glucose, the GI is lower. 

Vegetarians have less energy than meat eaters

False: A properly planned vegetarian diet provides all the necessary nutrients and is nutritionally equivalent to a balanced omnivorous diet. Plant based foods and wholegrains, along with a combination of fruits, vegetables and legumes provide vegetarians with plenty of energy to get through the day.

If you give up meat and meat products, there’s not much left to eat

False: There are plenty of options available to vegetarians. Mediterranean and Asian cuisines are largely based on plant foods, and a recent study by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has confirmed that the Mediterranean diet has a wide variety of health benefits for lifestyle diseases. Most restaurants have options for vegetarians. Meat substitutes are one option, but there are hundreds of books dedicated to vegetarian food, including how to make your own veggie burgers and sausages. Check out recipes on Cook's CHOICE for more ideas.

Producing meat takes a greater area of land, than producing plant foods

True: Approximately seven hectares of land is required to produce the same quantity of protein from beef production as can be obtained from one hectare of wheat or rice. However, grains cannot be grown where soil is of poor quality or there is low rainfall, so in countries like Australia meat is grown in some of these areas.

Vegetarians are usually healthier than those who consume an omnivorous diet

True: Vegetarian diets are generally higher in fibre and lower in fat and cholesterol. There is growing evidence that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from cancer, heart disease, strokes and have a longer life expectancy. People who choose a vegetarian diet for health reasons are also likely to have other healthy practices: such as exercising regularly, not smoking, or abusing drugs or alcohol. However, an omniverous diet following the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating can also provide you with all the essential nutrients for good health.

Are Quorn products safe?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in the US is advocating a ban on Quorn, citing excessive adverse reaction reports from consumers - which now includes Australians. With a large range of products including mince, sausages and schnitzels, Quron, which claims to be the "world's favourite meat-free, soy-free food", is a protein rich in amino acids and dietary fibre and low in cholesterol and fat.

 

The base ingredient to Quorn products is mycoprotein, which is derived from Fusarium venenatum, a mould belonging to the fungi family and is used throughout the meat-free range. Quorn products have only been available in Australia since 2010; however have been consumed in the United Kingdom since 1985 and the United States since 2001.

In a letter to the Australian food regulator, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), in September 2010, CSPI's executive director, Michael Jacobson, argued that mycoprotein in Quorn foods is a "powerful allergen", and at the time CSPI had received more than 1500 adverse reports. Symptoms include nausea, violent vomiting, hives and potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions, though so far no fatalities have been identified; Jacobson estimated hundreds more consumers have been sick for every report received.

Quorn products were first sold in the UK in 1985, where more than 500,000 Quorn meals are now eaten daily. In Australia, FSANZ says two consumers have contacted them reporting possible Quorn-related gastric upsets; the regulator will be taking appropriate risk-management measures, such as labelling as necessary.

 

Because Quorn mycoprotein is relatively new to the Australians' diets, people wont know if they're allergic to it until they try it. Allergy and intolerance experts suggest that reactions to Quorn may be linked to those with pre-existing asthma or reaction to respiratory moulds rather than a food allergy itself.

If you believe you've reacted adversely to a Quorn product, seek medical advice and notify your health authority. 
 

 

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