Smart Swaps for Meat

People are changing their diets—they’re eating less meat. Whether to improve health, the environment, or the economy, movements aimed to reduce meat intake, such as Meatless Monday and flexitarianism are gaining traction. More of us are interested in limiting or eliminating meat from our diets. With today’s multitude of meat alternative possibilities, from “Harmless Ham” and “Benevolent Bacon” to “Chick’n,” it’s easy to find a plant-based meat replacement to satisfy almost any taste. But how do they stack up nutritionally? Are they on par for protein? Can their calories, saturated fat, and sodium fit into a healthy eating plan?

When planning meatless meals, be sure to choose meat alternatives that don’t skimp on protein. Not only is protein an essential nutrient required for a variety of bodily functions, it also satisfies hunger and keeps you feeling satisfied for longer. Fiber also helps fill you up. Many meat alternatives are made with soy, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and veggies—all good sources of fiber. Fortunately, many meat replacements’ nutritional profile of calorie, saturated fat, and sodium content can quite easily be included in a healthy, balanced diet.

Helpful Hints. Keep these tips in mind when swapping your meat for meat alternatives.

Size It Up. While many serving sizes are reasonable, some are on the small side, so you might be doubling up on portions. Be aware of how many servings you’re eating so that you know how much of each nutrient you’re actually taking in.

Protein Power. To provide the nutrients you need and to keep hunger at bay, aim for meat alternatives with at least 8 grams (g) of protein per serving.

Increase Awareness. Check the saturated fat and sodium content. While most products contain acceptable amounts, some contain upwards of 7 g of saturated fat and 600 milligrams of sodium per serving.

—Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD

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