If you've been thinking about going vegetarian for health, environmental or animal rights reasons, you may wonder how you'll live without your carnivorous faves. With so many innovative plant-based meat substitutes on the market now, it's easier than ever to eat less or even no meat while still enjoying your go-to dishes. Consider this your guide to the bevy of faux meat options you'll find at your local grocery or health food store.
Depending on how you prepare it, tofu is an incredibly versatile plant-based meat option that can sub in for seafood, chicken, pork or even beef. This soybean product, which has long been used liberally in Asian cuisine, can soak up the savory flavors of your chosen marinades and spices. When you incorporate tofu in your diet, you'll also enjoy the benefit of calcium, protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and iron. In fact, tofu is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs for optimal function.
Even if you've tried tofu before and found it too tasteless or mushy, try purchasing an extra-firm variety and using lots of seasoning. You might be pleasantly surprised about how satisfying soy-based meat can be when you spice it up and throw it on the grill. Tofu also provides an excellent alternative to cheese and eggs if you plan to go completely vegan.
Although tempeh is also made from soy, the use of the whole soybean and the fermenting process create a product with a stronger flavor and an even greater nutritional value. Tempeh, which comes in small cakes or patties, is rich in vitamins, fiber and protein and offers benefits for your digestive health. You may also find tempeh products mixed with grains such as barley and quinoa.
The firm texture of this meat substitute works well in sandwiches, salads and stir-fries, or try a traditional pairing with Thai peanut sauce. Crumble it to use in place of ground beef in your favorite taco and chili recipes.
If you avoid soy, try seitan. This pure wheat gluten product is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. You can buy seitan in premade vegan versions of burgers, bacon and sausage, or purchase straight seitan and make your own meat alternatives. Seitan is easy to prepare and can be baked, stir-fried, grilled, sauteed and marinated to your heart's content. However, keep in mind that seitan is not an option for individuals with celiac disease or other forms of gluten sensitivity.
This new kid on the block is a tropical fruit with a mild taste and meat-like texture that make it an ideal substitute for pulled pork. The sweet taste pairs well with barbecue sauce and other spicy flavors. Just roast the jackfruit in the oven with your seasonings of choice for about 15 minutes for a chewy texture that will make your tacos, sandwiches and stews sing. Best of all, this fruit is rich in fiber, potassium and vitamin C. According to Medical News Today, studies show that jackfruit consumption in animals boosts "good" (HDL) cholesterol levels and decreases the levels of "bad" (LDL) cholesterol.
Fungi are another outstanding meat substitute if you prefer to eat whole foods rather than processed products. The naturally meaty flavor and texture of mushrooms make these veggies a natural for tacos, stir-fries and sandwiches. You'll also get a healthy dose of fiber and very few calories, which makes mushrooms a filling no-brainer if you're trying to achieve a healthy weight.
When you're experimenting with these meat substitutes, keep an open mind and an open spice cabinet. Refer to recipes that provide step-by-step instructions on how to prepare these unfamiliar ingredients to become an expert in no time.