These days, those of us who decide to go meat-free have countless options at just about every grocery store. While many vegetarian meals focus on veggies (of course), sometimes a meat alternative can spice up your supper by providing nutrients along with new tastes and textures. If you're new to the land of tofu and seitan, start your search with this guide to my go-to alternatives to my former favorite meats.
Popular in Asian fare and a long-time staple of vegetarian diets, tofu is a versatile choice. This soy-based product can be used in place of chicken or beef in a stir-fry since it takes on the flavors of your favored seasonings. Crumbled tofu is ideal for tacos, chili and lasagna. Shop for different textures, including firm, extra-firm and soft. You'll learn which you like best for different purposes as you experiment with tofu.
A 4-oz serving of tofu has just 60 calories but contains multitudes. You'll get your full recommended daily dose of vitamin B12 along with lots of iron and calcium.
When I decided to limit my meat intake, I truly missed pulled pork barbecue. Now that I found jackfruit, I'll never go back. You'll be shocked at how close this shredded, pulpy fruit mimics the texture of long-smoked pork. Pile it on a bun with your go-to barbecue sauce for an unforgettable meal.
A cup of jackfruit provides most of the major vitamins and minerals, including but not limited to potassium, vitamin C and protein. Each serving is also packed with healthy fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants.
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Another soy-based choice, tempeh provides a "meatier" experience than tofu without sacrificing the nutrients. It can stand up to flavorful marinades and sauces and features a firm texture that works well sliced in a sandwich, salad or wrap. Some varieties incorporate other healthy beans and grains to enhance flavor and texture.
This protein-rich product is free of cholesterol and sodium. You'll get the benefit of B vitamins, calcium and iron.
If you eat gluten, consider this wheat-based meat substitute. Seitan has a chewy texture that swaps out seamlessly for beef or chicken in soups, stews, stir-fries and just about any other recipe. I love throwing this so-called "wheat meat" on the grill instead of a traditional veggie burger. The earthy flavor will be a win for mushroom fans.
A 3-oz serving of this selection has just over 100 calories. Seitan is also a low-carb choice that will give you a boost of protein and iron.
Texturized Vegetable Protein
Commonly called TVP, this soy flour product is the cornerstone of all those frozen veggie "chicken" nuggets and other processed options. You can also purchase dehydrated TVP for home use, especially if you want to enhance the protein content in your diet. You can add a scoop to just about any recipe.
Speaking of mushrooms, these fungi provide a classic crowd-pleasing alternative to meat. Try grilling a portobello instead of a burger or slicing smaller mushroom varieties to give your salad a nutritional punch. This low-cal, high-fiber fare is a smart choice if you're trying to lose weight since mushrooms keep you feeling full.
Science supports the benefits of reducing meat intake. Vegetarians tend to have lower obesity rates, lower risk for heart disease and cancer, and lower cholesterol. Eating less meat is also associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
With all these delicious meat alternatives (and so many more I don't have space to cover), it might be time to give a meat-free diet a try. If you're new to the veggie game, try starting with one meatless meal each week.