9 Best Meat Substitutes That Will Help You Stick To A Plant-Based Diet

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Eating a plant-based diet is becoming more and more popular, especially among athletes who want to feel healthier and thrive in their sport. But those who are new to plant-based eating or want to reduce their meat consumption struggle to find ways to replace the meat in their diet. 

They often worry that they won’t be able to eat enough protein to build muscle or get enough calories to sustain energy levels during their sport. But that’s not the case! Plant-based foods have plenty of nutrients to keep you full and energized and fuel your fitness. 

I’m so passionate about plant-based eating for active individuals that I wrote a cookbook with all meat-free recipes, called Planted Performance. The recipes in the book contain many plant-based alternatives for meat, such as beans, tofu, lentils, mushrooms, cauliflower and more.

These are just some of the nine meat substitutes that are good for you and will make you feel great! 

1. Brown Lentils

Lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients. They have a slightly chewy texture that makes them the ideal ingredient for replacing meat in certain dishes, such as tacos, veggie burgers, and “meatballs”. 

lentils in a bowl with sun dried tomatoes, kale, feta and cucumbers
Lentil Salad with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Kale, Cucumber and Feta

Nutritionally, lentils are a powerhouse for plant-based eaters. They are high in protein and iron, two nutrients that are abundant in meat, but harder to come by in plants. Protein is necessary for muscle building, and iron is crucial for energy.

Planted Performance has a vegan lentil meatball recipe that is to-die-for, and here is a vegetarian version!  Not to mention that lentils are inexpensive and versatile, and they can be seasoned with different herbs and spices, making them a flavorful and satisfying meat substitute.

Here are some lentil recipes you will love:

2. Tofu

You may be thinking that tofu doesn’t resemble the taste or texture of meat, but tofu’s versatility makes it a great substitute for animal products. It’s incredibly neutral in flavor and can be cooked in a variety of ways. 

Crumbled tofu is an excellent substitute for scrambled eggs. Try this simple breakfast bowl with Crumbled Tofu & Roasted Potatoes.

Scrambled Tofu, Roasted Potatoes & Kale

Shredded tofu is great for marinating and adding to tacos or stir fries, and the texture is similar to shredded chicken. And silken tofu is a soft and creamy product that can be used in dressings and smoothies, and it’s a great replacement for dairy products.  

Plus, tofu has calcium and iron, two nutrients that are essential on a plant-based diet. 

Here are some tofu recipes you’ll devour:

3. Tempeh

Tempeh is another soy-based meat substitute that has a slightly nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It can be used in a variety of dishes, such as sandwiches, burgers, and stir-fries. Tempeh is also a good source of protein, fiber, and other essential nutrients. 

tempeh stir fry with brown rice on a white plate with black fork
Tempeh Stir Fry

I like to use tempeh to replace the meat in sandwiches, since it holds its texture and has a nice bite. Crumbled tempeh resembles the texture of ground beef, so it’s great in a taco! Or, for a quick weeknight dinner, slice tempeh, cook with a simple BBQ sauce and serve with a healthy grain bowl. 

Tempeh is a fermented soybean that contains good-for-your-gut probiotics. Plus, it’s loaded with protein and fiber. 

4. Seitan

Seitan is made from wheat gluten, and the look and texture is incredibly similar to meat. It’s often used in faux meat items, like plant-based bacon. Seitain is very high in protein, with 16 grams per 3-ounce serving, making it a great way to get plenty of plant-based protein.

Seitan usually comes in pieces, so it can be added to stir fries, pasta, casseroles, burritos or anything similar. 

5. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are known for their chewy texture and umami (savory) flavor, both of which mimic the “meatiness” of animal foods. Mushrooms have often been used as the filling for veggie burgers or tacos, but they are much more versatile than that. 

Throw them in a morning burrito with veggies and beans or blend them into a plant-based burger or meatball. Or top a rice bowl with sauteed mushrooms and some miso dressing for a flavorful and simple bowl. 

Mushroom Freezer Breakfast Burrito

Mushrooms are one of the only plant-based sources of Vitamin D, a nutrient that most Americans fall short of. Vitamin D is necessary for maintaining healthy bones.  

6. Cauliflower

Cauliflower has a “meaty” texture because it’s a bit chewy when cooked. As a matter of fact, cauliflower is often used as an alternative to meat in tacos, “wings” and other meat-centric dishes. 

We love using cauliflower in this plant-based shawarma recipe. It’s also one of our favorite things to stuff in tacos or enchiladas. 

cauliflower grain bowl
Cauliflower Shawarma Bowl

Cauliflower is rich with fiber and antioxidants, which promote digestive regularity and reduce inflammation. 

Here are some ways to use cauliflower:

7. Eggplant

Eggplant is another vegetable with a meaty texture. It’s a bit chewy when cooked the right way and can be utilized in everything from burgers to bolognese. Eggplant is perfect for grilling or broiling and it can even be turned into a plant-based “bacon”.  

But be careful not to overcook eggplant, as it can get mushy. 

8. Jackfruit

Jackfruit is a fruit that is grown on trees in tropical climates. We saw it growing on trees everywhere in Bali (on our honeymoon)! When pulled apart, it resembles pulled pork or shredded chicken. The only downside to jackfruit is that it doesn’t have much protein. 

Still, if you have a hankering for a pulled pork sandwich, jackfruit makes a great substitute. You can buy it pre-marinated in most supermarkets and add it to a quick weeknight dinner. 

9. Black Beans

Black beans are my favorite varietal of beans because they have a great texture and mild flavor. Beans are known as one of the best sources of plant-based protein. They go well in basically any type of meal, including soups, tacos, burgers, grain bowls, salads and more. 

Black beans are rich in iron, fiber and protein. 

The bottom line

In conclusion, there are several simple ways to replace the meat in your diet, without sacrificing flavor or nutrients. Legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and vegetables are all nutritious and flavorful meat substitutes that can be used in a variety of dishes.

By incorporating these alternatives into your diet, you can enjoy the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle while still enjoying delicious and satisfying meals.


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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