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vegetarian food and meat substitutes – a long thread 

So whether or not you're vegetarian or vegan, cutting down on your meat intake is a good idea for various reasons – high among them being environmental concerns and overuse of antibiotics on farms. It would be foolish to think otherwise.

The thing is, some cultures have been using meat substitutes in food for centuries. Either for religious reasons, like some schools of Buddhism, or among people who don't always have access to meat. So it can be worth following their example.

Humans are not evolved to be herbivores, and I really don't like all the people who say "go vegan" without also telling people exactly what that means. So in case anyone finds it useful, here's a little thread about meat substitutes to include in your diet, and nutrients to make sure you're getting enough of!

meat substitutes: tofu 

By now, I think everyone knows about tofu. It's basically what you get if you try to make cheese from soy milk. It's low in calories and makes a good meat substitute because it's rich in protein and iron. It also has very little flavour of its own, so you can make it into pretty much anything.

Raw tofu is available in various consistencies from silken to extra firm, and is traditionally prepared for eating in all kinds of ways, from pickling to deep frying. Using it as a direct substitute for meat doesn't always work well though (which may be why so many people say they don't like it). It's best if you learn

✅ Pros: Full of protein and highly nutritious. Extremely versatile

❌ Cons: May need to learn to cook it properly. Made from soy, so some people may be allergic

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meat substitutes: seitan 

Seitan is essentially just gluten extracted from wheat, and it has a long history of use as a meat substitute in East Asia, having been used since the 6th century. It's traditionally been especially among Buddhists, and arguably the most famous food made from wheat gluten is mock duck.

When made properly, seitan can have a texture very close to actual meat – Though this varies according to how it's made. I've eaten some which wasn't very meaty at all.

You can also make seitan yourself. It's a little time consuming, but the only basic ingredient is wheat flour (though I'd suggest adding a few other things for flavour). This makes it very accessible, given how cheap flour is.

✅ Pros: Nice texture, full of protein, and you can make it yourself

❌ Cons: It's literally just gluten, so avoid this if you have celiac disease or other gluten intolerances

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meat substitutes: TVP 

Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is made from soy flour. You can find it on sale dried, and it keeps for a long time. Just soak it for a while before cooking (like lentils). It's also quite cheap.

To be honest, I never much liked TVP. The texture isn't so good in the larger chunks IMO, though if you buy the more finely ground TVP, it can be a good addition to some foods (stews, chile sin carne, and so on).

✅ Pros: Rich in protein and iron, cheap, lasts a long time

❌ Cons: Bad texture, not very versatile, contains soy so unsuitable for people with allergies

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meat substitutes: Tempeh 

Tempeh is made from soybeans, like tofu. Unlike tofu it's made by fermentation into a kind of cake, and is made from whole beans so it has more fibre and vitamins than tofu, as well as a different texture. There are also a few different kinds of tempeh, which may include other ingredients like coconut, cassava or peanuts. At least one is made with leftovers from tofu production.

It's popular in Southeast Asia, where it's often fried (either with or without batter, or grilled on skewers. If you're trying tempeh, it's probably worth looking up some Javanese recipes to try.

✅ Pros: Nutritious and versatile. Keeps for a long time when cooked. A rare non-meat source of vitamin B12

❌ Cons: Made from soy and other things which may trigger allergies in some people

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meat substitutes: Jackfruit 

This one surprises some people. It's a fruit which grows across South to Southeast Asia, jackfruit is used in a lot of cuisines. It's been cultivated on the Indian subcontinent for up to 6000 years, and is the national fruit of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The ripe fruit has a strong, distinctive aroma, but the unripe fruit is quite mild, with a firm texture. It can make quite a good meat substitute, and has a texture similar to pulled pork when cooked. In some parts of India, unripe jackfruit are made into curry.

As well as in Asia, jackfruit are also grown in Africa and South America (become invasive in the latter), but may be difficult to find on sale in some places.

✅ Pros: Hypoallergenic and rich in vitamins B and C

❌ Cons: Low in protein and may be unavailable in places further North

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meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

One of my favourites. Protein from fungi can be a good subtitute for meat, particularly Fusarium venenatum (sold under the brand name of Quorn). This food originated in the UK where it's produced by fermentation and bound with potato starch (older formulations used egg white).

This fungus grows with filaments very similar in size to muscle fibres, giving it a very meaty texture (some vegetarian friends of mine don't like it because the texture feels *too* much like meat).

As well as being rich in protein, it's also full of fibre, and can help reduce cholesterol levels. Mycoprotein can even leave you satiated for longer than some meat-based meals.

✅ Pros: Excellent meat substitute, one of the most hypoallergenic options

❌ Cons: Poor availability – it's no longer patented, but almost no one actually makes it!

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meat substitutes & nutrients 

But the thing is, humans evolved to be omnivores, and there are several nutrients that can't be found in a purely plant-based diet. If you're quitting or reducing meat in your diet, it's important to make sure you still get enough of these. Otherwise health problems may ensue.

First, the big ones:

• Protein
Plants do contain protein, but they're incomplete protein sources. They don't contain all the amino acids you need. Yes, even soy protein. However, different plants contain different proteins. You can get a complete set of amino acids if you combine multiple plant sources (grain and lentils, for example), so be sure to keep your diet varied.

• Iron
Yes there are plant sources of iron (spinach, for instance), but it's not so easy for your body to absorb. Meat contains heme-iron (the same type your blood carries) which is more easily metabolised. Be sure to get enough in your diet, either way.

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meat substitutes & nutrients 

There are some other nutrients which are found almost exclusively in meat. Again, it's good to make sure you're getting enough of these in your diet.

Essential (your body doesn't make these):

• Vitamin B12
Only found in meat, tempeh, and nori.

• Vitamin D3
Animal sources are much more efficient than plant sources. Alternatively get more sunshine and you can create it in your skin.

• Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
An omega-3 acid mostly found in fish. Your body can make it if you eat flax seeds, chia seeds, or walnuts, but not very well. Consider taking supplements.

Non-essential (your body makes these in small amounts, but getting some from your diet is a good idea):

• Creatine
• Carnosine
• Taurine
(All of these are good for proper brain and muscle function).

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meat substitutes 

Well, that was quite a long thread. I've been meaning to find out all of this information for a while, so I thought I'd share. Hopefully someone will find it useful! 💚

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@InvaderXan Thanks for that great compilation. I'm #Vegan for a few years now and even I didn't know some of these yet.

I'd just like to add that the list of essential nutrients you should substitute to avoid deficiencies is much longer if you are on a typical western diet.

People often have the prejudice that vegans and even vegetarians can't have a balanced diet, because they are missing something, but what they don't get is that eating meat and animal fats every day is much less balanced.

@paulakreuzer
This is true, yes. The big irony is how many people eat nothing but meats and starches and end up with nutrient deficiencies that way instead. 😕

meat substitutes 

@InvaderXan
b12 is also coincidentally found in nutritional yeast, and I'm pretty sure it's not a fortified type deal there! but supplements for it are still good, of course

meat substitutes 

@ryanlittlefield
Oh, that's good to know, thanks!

meat substitutes 

@InvaderXan Thank you! I am trying to improve my diet and I'd rather add vegetarian/vegan habits than additional meat.

It struck me as a bit strange to see this discussion phrased as "meat substitutes" - valuable if you're trying to replace meat in an existing diet, but I've had a lot of wonderful vegetarian and vegan food that didn't have any direct analog to meat. Can an appropriate mix of, say, nuts, beans, and grains cover all the nutritional bases?

meat substitutes 

@anne
Oh, I think they probably can. As long as you're careful to get a complete set of proteins. It's best to do some checking and reading to be sure though. There's a lot of info out there.

As for meat substitutes vs pure vegetables, it's kind of a cultural thing. In some parts of the world (notably those parts where some of my family's from), mock meats are an old tradition...

tastecooking.com/buddhist-mock

meat substitutes 

@InvaderXan I was surprised - but I shouldn't have been - when I first found this out.

My first encounter with meat substitutes was friends who had gone vegetarian trying to persuade their parents that simply swapping in a veggie burger did not make for a healthy or interesting vegetarian meal. (Also, of course, veggie burgers from Canada's early days of vegetarian support were pretty dire.) Totally different cultural context.

meat substitutes 

@InvaderXan This is a God tier thread! thanks for this. It's a useful reference to go back to.

I'm embarrassed that I have only use 3 of these alternatives so far.

meat substitutes 

@RC
Happy to help! Oh, and don't feel embarrassed. That just means you have something new to try! 🙂

meat substitutes 

@InvaderXan thank you for the long thread!! As a longtime pescatarian who has been considering making the jump more plantward, this is helping me make the necessary considerations

meat substitutes 

@Proxy
Truthfully, I'm... I think the word is flexitarian? I do still eat meat but not all the time, and almost never when I'm at home.

In fairness, you're already in a good place because red meat is by far the worst of the meat-based options out there. But don't let that stop you. 🙂

meat substitutes 

@InvaderXan
Very good thread thanks a lot

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan you can get capsules of Omega 3 that comes from algae now (it’s supposedly where the fish get their Omega 3 from in the first place!)

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@dreadpirateyarr
I was reading about this, yes. I didn't know that's where the fish got it from though. That's interesting...

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan I've never eaten meat because I just don't like it, and I'm allergic to soy unfortunately, but I probably should pay more attention to these vitamins.

I've realized some of the foods I tend to crave to snack on are fortified with these though, especially cheerios, which is nice.

One of my professors said cravings can't actually tell us what nutrients we need, but I feel like my body's done pretty well so far

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan I do eat cheese though even though I'm lactose intolerant and I think that helps with some of the needed nutrients. Because of the rest of my diet I probably won't ever be able to cut it out completely, but I am trying to limit my intake.

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan B12 is also found in dairy, while nori isn't an adequate source and tempeh isn't known

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan oh and also marmite has it

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan I noticed a Beyond Meat (pea based faux meat) was on the breakfast menu at A&W this morning as a Sausage & Egger.
They already had a 'burger' of beyond meat at A&W.
I heard the meat industry is whining about them using the word 'meat' in their ads... Oh, well.

meat substitutes & nutrients (B12) 

@InvaderXan Can you dig up a citation for the B-12 in tempeh thing? As far as I am aware, B-12 is *only* produced in nature by gut bacteria, which means we can only get it from the milk and meat of ruminants (or by eating poop, but that's gonna be a no-go).

There's an algae-derived B-12 that you can find marketed some places, but last I checked, it was considered doubtful that it was actually a usable form.

meat substitutes & nutrients (B12) / 2 

@InvaderXan I mean, we can also synthesize it industrially, and there's nothing wrong with just taking B-12 supplements in pursuit of a low animal products diet.

Apparently, cows are sometimes *fed* B-12 supplements (or at least cobalt supplements, to support B-12 production) so it's not like eating industrial cow meat is any better than supplements on the B-12 front. :-/

re: meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan B12 is also found in marmite (my secret ingredient in my beefless beef casserole made with mushrooms, tomatoes and lentils (marmite adds an umami kick that really makes it taste beefy)

I'm trying to eat less meat... like for lunch tomorrow I've made pineapple and cashew nut fried rice

re: meat substitutes & nutrients 

@Shutsumon Oh marmite! Excellent tip, thanks!

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan Funnily enough if you cook with cast iron cookware in does add a bit of digestible iron in your food.

Cast iron skillets are a great for making veggie hashes, "steaks", stovetop to oven meals and quick sautes.

dietary iron 

@RC
Ohhh, that's right! In fact, here's a cool little thing...

So some people started making these lucky iron fish. It's just a little fish shaped chunk of iron which you can put into a pot when making stews, to boost your iron intake.

They were made to help people with food insecurity problems to avoid iron deficiency. Basically, if you buy one, the company uses the profits to donate them to people in impoverished areas.

luckyironfish.com/

dietary iron 

@InvaderXan @RC this is amazing, in all honesty

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@RC @InvaderXan Also, to maximize how much non-heme iron you actually absorb, eat things high in Vitamin C in the same meal.

(cf. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/694048 )

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@mcmoots @RC
Ahhh, good advice!

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan @mcmoots @RC that's why it's great to add tomatoes and bell peppers to your other vegetables. I have grape tomatoes with most meals.

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@mcmoots @InvaderXan There's the trade off then! Cause if you cook high acid foods in your cast iron cookware you need to clean it immediately to avoid breaking down the seasoning on the pan.

My biggest vote for a dish that would give you a ton of vitamin c and iron is shakshouka, it's normally veggitarian, but you can make it vegan by subbing or omitting the egg!

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@RC @InvaderXan Cooking high acid foods should leach more iron from the pan too, at least in theory, I think. IME, the seasoning is easily restored when you heat up oil for your next meal.

Or just have an orange for dessert.

My favorite is citrus or strawberries on a spinach salad, no pan needed :)

iron intake 

@mcmoots @RC
Same reason, incidentally, why plants which need lots of iron prefer to grow in acidic soil...

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan
Thanks for the thread, it's very useful!!!
However, that thing with plant protein being incomplete, and that we need to combine them, is actually a myth! The body can do that on its own 😊
(nutritionfacts.org/video/the-p)

meat substitutes & nutrients 

@InvaderXan thank you for mentioning this! Unfortunately a lot of vegans I come across have a "vegan diet is the natural way and will instantly improve your health" type of mindset which I found strange. I have problems with getting enough calories and iron so I don't think cutting out meat (especially with all the "healthy" low calorie vegan foods around) would be an easy thing to do. When I move out I plan on eating less meat, I really dislike steak and such so it would be easy, but I would keep eating liver for the iron content and maybe some other meats if it makes getting enough calories easier for me. Your list is helpful! It is nice to know what options are available.

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@InvaderXan Fungi have a nice umami flavor in general due to their closer ancestry to animals than plants (personally I think a lot of meat dishes taste better with mushrooms in them). I also found out recently that humans have specialized stomach enzymes for digesting chitin which consists of both the main structure of mushrooms and arthropod shells.

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@Guinevere
Yeah, I always thought that was interesting, about the chitin digestion. We really are adapted to eat a huge variety of different things!

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@InvaderXan
B-but I am only able to eat ham n cheese sammiches. Everything else is just gross!

meat substitutes, eating insects 

@InvaderXan @Guinevere When I first came to NL there was something of an effort to sell us all on eating insects. Supermarkets had barbecue-flavoured mealworms and the like. Let's say cultural factors are a challenge.

But I think there are also very important distinctions in terms of what animals we eat: if we must eat fish, bait fish (sardines, anchovies) are much easier on the ocean than bigger fish (tuna, salmon). Insects are the same deal on land.

meat substitutes, eating insects 

@anne @Guinevere
Insects are actually a dietary staple in many cultures. And properly prepared, I find them rather nice!

The mealworms were nicest with a dash of chilli powder...

chitin digestability 

@Guinevere @InvaderXan Just because we produce chitinase doesn't mean we produce enough to e.g. digest portobello mushrooms. It might just be for destroying pathogenic arthropods in our food.

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@InvaderXan Agreed! I’m very fond of Quorn’s escalopes - tasty, nice crumb, lovely sauce. Go nicely with an onion & lentil stew, or if I’m lazy, baked beans. =:)

I just wish they’d try to undercut meat prices! At least Ocado often runs a 6 for £10 offer on most of their range. Odd package sizes, sometimes - 300g often leaves me wishing for 400 or 500g packs.

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@porsupah
Yeah, that was always my complaint. It's too expensive, and I'm sure it can't cost that much to make.

FYI, those escalopes can also make a rather good katsu curry...

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@InvaderXan Oooh, now there’s an idea! I reserve the right to make the sauce spicier than might be considered authentic. =:) And a great justification for more than just rice - broccoli comes to mind especially.

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@porsupah
Chérie, I will never ever complain about spicy food ❤️

meat substitutes: Mycoprotein 

@InvaderXan o fuck yeah I love mushrooms

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