So you want to eat a more plant-based diet, but you can't imagine sitting down to a meal that doesn't include meat. Now you don't have to. Instead of taking meat out of the equation completely, replace it with faux meat, which luckily, tastes nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, but is better for the environment and healthier for you.

Think of fake meat as the gateway food to eating a more plant-based diet. Adding meatless meat into your meals will help you realize you don't need the real thing as much as you may have thought. Skeptical about trying it out? Confused about all the different types and want to know which one is healthier for you? Here is everything you need to know about the best meat alternatives on the market.

So what exactly is fake meat made of?

Every fake meat brand has its own signature formula that uses plant-based protein, derived from peas, soy, beans, rice or wheat (yes all those contain protein which gets extracted and reformulated to create the meatless meat). Popular brand Beyond Meat uses a blend of pea, rice and mung bean protein whereas Impossible Foods opts for soy protein. These are just two brands that are leading the way, but the fake meat category is expanding every day, and the crowded freezer aisle showcases products from Gardein, Boca, Quorn and many more. Look at the label for the largest ingredient to see which protein your faux meat is using.

Ever wonder how fake meat looks and smells like the real thing? Monk fruit, pomegranate and beet juice are just some of the plant-based ingredients that mimic the reddish color of real meat. Impossible Foods uses heme protein which mimics the iron from blood to create a life-like taste.

Do plant-based meats have the same amount of protein as the real thing?

You might think fake meat doesn't stack up to the real thing when it comes to the protein content, but in fact, it does. Compare a four-ounce Beyond Burger patty to an 80% lean beef patty and the nutrition facts will match up:

A Beyond Burger has 250 calories. 20 grams of protein and 18 grams of fat.

A Beef patty has 280 calories, 20 grams of protein, and 22 grams of fat.

You will get the same amount of protein eating a plant-based burger as a beef burger, but with fewer calories and fat. Note: If you are a stickler for sodium, plant-based burgers are slightly higher than meat.

For a full comparison of plant-based versus real beef, brands check out this chart.

Burger PattiesCaloriesFatSat FatSodiumCarbsProtein
Impossible Burger24014g8g370mg9g19g
Beyond Burger25018g6g390mg3g20g
BK Whopper (without cheese)66040g2g980mg49g28g
BK Impossible Whopper (without cheese)63034g11g1080mg58g25g
Bubba Beef Burger (5.3 ounces of original chuck, cooked)42035g15g85mg025g
Bubba Turkey Burger (4 ounces of all-natural turkey, cooked)19011g2.5g280mg022g
Dr. Praeger's California Veggie Burger (2.5 ounces, cooked)1205g0.5g240mg14g5g
Gardein Chipotle Black Bean Burgers (almost 3 ounces)1406g0410mg18g6g
Source: USDA and the brands own labels

What's really in all the fake meat and is it unhealthy and over-processed?

The biggest critic of fake meats is the Center for Consumer Freedom which referred to the alternatives as "ultra-processed" and chemical in nature in a Super Bowl ad this past February. While doctors and researchers concede that a whole food plant-based diet is optimal, the meat alternatives are considered helpful in weening the public off of animal protein because these foods are generally delicious and satisfy the craving of the taste of meat.

And since a diet high in saturated fat is linked with a higher risk of heart disease, any movement away from eating animal protein is considered a step in the right direction. So while plant-based is better for the environment and marginally healthier than real beef doctors, dieticians and scientists see these meat alternatives as opening the door to individuals' liking plant-based foods enough to continue seeking out more plant-based choices which will lead them to a healthier diet overall.

Meat factories have taken a hit during COVID-19, reminding the public that their food comes from slaughterhouses and processing plants that can become hotbeds of disease. Major meat factories, like Tyson, were forced to close several times after workers fell ill with COVID-19. Doctors warned consumers that meat could potentially transmit COVID-19, although so far this has not happened, the idea of it made the public reach for meatless meat and sales of the alternatives shot up 35 percent. As the supply chain became less secure, the country experienced meat shortages, leading more people to reach for plant-based alternatives that were readily available.

The meat shortage has led to the price of meat increasing when typically fake meat is the more expensive option. Companies like Beyond Meat are decreasing prices to become more competitive and able to keep up with consumer demand.

Fake meat cooks just like the real thing. 

You don't have to be a culinary expert to cook the plant-based alternatives. Fake meat cooks just like the real thing, but without the accumulation of unhealthy fats. In fact, when grilled these patties end up with the same grill marks that will please everyone at your BBQ. For every meat craving, you can find a plant-based alternative. Love pork? Here are 6 pork alternatives for anyone who craves a pulled pork sandwich or bacon on the BLT.

For great ideas of how to cook up plant-based chicken check out our favorite recipes using Quorn and if you are craving a burger, then take a look at the Meat-Free Grilling Guide for what to buy before your next BBQ.

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