Meat substitutes

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

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. 



Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments