10 Healthy Meat Substitutes for Vegetarians

By:    Published: February 1, 2012

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One of the downsides to a vegetarian diet is the lack of nutrients you would regularly receive from different types of beef, fish or poultry. For example, omega 3 is a healthy, fatty acid typically obtained from commonly eaten fish like salmon or tuna. Of course, there is also the lack of protein and iron one would normally get from lean beef or chicken. Lost health benefits and nutrients are enough reason to make vegetarians want to search for healthy meat substitutes.

Then, there's taste, texture and the overall dining experience. Whether you've been a vegetarian all your life, or you became one after experiencing the taste and texture of beef, fish or poultry, you're probably looking for vegetarian-friendly substitutes to fill your meaty void.

Whatever the case may be, if you've been searching for healthy meat substitutes for vegetarians, then look no further. Here are 10 foods you can try to satisfy your...meat-tooth? Oh, you get the idea.

1. Nuts

Walnuts, peanuts, iron and almonds are all examples of nuts that can be eaten for an omega 3 filled substitute for fish. They are also good for their high protein and fiber content, which are also important to a vegetarian diet. Think of mixing nuts into dishes that usually contain bits of meat like vegetable stir-fry or salad sandwiches. Just be mindful of the high calorie content, and avoid the kinds that are covered in too much salt or chocolate coated.

2. Soy

Soy burgers, soy turkey, soy bacon, soy chicken, soy hot dogs - everywhere you look, you're starting to notice more and more vegetarian-friendly soy foods as meat substitutes. There are numerous health benefits to eating soy. For starters, it's got loads of protein, low in fat and cholesterol, and has cancer fighting properties, especially for colon, prostate and breast cancer.

3. Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur is a form of whole wheat that is considered to be whole grain, for the most part. While it is typically used as a sort of rice, the right recipe and preparation make it a great substitute for meatloaf and sausages. Next time you prepare breakfast, try making a couple of bulgur wheat sausages with a side of scrambled tofu. By the way, bulgur wheat is a fibrous, low glycemic index food and a good source of protein, potassium and iron. In case you were wondering about its awesome health benefits.

4. Eggplant

If you're looking for a meat substitute for some of your favorite Italian dishes, then look no further than eggplants. This meaty, purple vegetable is commonly used for meatless lasagnas and pastas. Want a substitute for chicken parmesan? How about an eggplant parmesan instead? Another great thing about eggplant is its nutrition value. Eggplants are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins and potassium.

5. Tofu

This bean curd made from coagulated soy milk is typically known for being a soft, gelatinous, white block with almost no taste. Doesn't sound very appetizing, does it? However, with a little frying or grilling, and the right kind of seasoning, this vegetarian-friendly food is an excellent substitute for chicken and beef. Packed with protein, tofu works well in a stir-fry and has an amazing likeness to scrambled eggs. Looking for a meat substitute for a chicken or beef kebob? Try putting some blocks of tofu on a skewer with vegetables and start grilling.

6. Portobello Mushrooms

Portobello mushroom steaks make an excellent substitute for beef steaks and other types of grilled meat. They are thick, juicy and have a meaty texture that makes them seem just as tender and delicious as a real cut of beef. With the right seasoning and some grill marks, you'll get the same smoky and flavorful taste as an actual steak. Another great thing about using a Portobello mushroom as a meat substitute is they are low in cholesterol and fat, and contain a significant amount of protein and other nutrients.

7. Legumes

Beans, peas and lentils are all part of the legume family, and make for great meat substitutes with their high protein, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium content.

8. Tempeh

Tempeh is a soy product, derived from Indonesia, and is made from cooked and fermented soybean that is molded into patties. Whether it's baked, steamed, deep-fried or sautéed, tempeh makes a great substitute for meat and fish dishes. Tempeh is also a good source for iron, calcium, protein and vitamin B12.

9. Seitan

The easiest way to describe seitan is to call it a wheat meat. It is basically wheat gluten, commonly used to substitute meat dishes due to its similar texture. It is an alternate meat substitute to common, soy-based meat substitute foods, and is known for its high protein content, comparable to real meat.

10. Hummus

While hummus is not exactly a meat substitute, it can act as a substitute for mayonnaise spread, which is commonly used for meat sandwiches. For vegans or vegetarians who do not eat food derived from animals, mayonnaise is not allowed because of the egg content. However, hummus is an excellent substitute with its creaminess and delicious flavor. Hummus can also be used as a substitute source of iron that you would normally get from meat, and it's also a good source for vitamin C, protein and fiber.

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