Is Fake Meat A Healthy Alternative?

April 9, 2013   43 Comments

Snack Girl is a fan of eating less meat. Meatless Mondays, anyone?

Gardein Review

Perhaps the best way to eat less meat is to just eat more vegetables, whole grains, and beans. But, I have been asked about Gardein frozen meat fakes and I thought I would give them a try.

Disclosure: I do not like meat fakes.

Okay, so I bought this package and I must say I was impressed. While the ingredient list is long, I recognized all of them and they seem reasonable for a frozen meal. Also, the sodium at 260 mg per serving (11%) is very low for frozen food (WARNING: see below).

Did it look like the package?

I would say this is kinda like chicken. For one serving (three in package):

150 calories, 7 g fat, 0.0 g saturated fat, 6 g carbohydrates, 1.0 g sugar, 17 g protein, 1.0 g fiber, 260 mg sodium, 4 Points+

Right now, I have a problem. I was looking hard at the label, attempting to figure out how much oil you add to cook it (they just say add oil) and I found something in small print.

1 Tablespoon sauce adds 15 calories, 0 g fat, 65 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrate, 2 g sugar

Okayyy. How many calories and milligrams of sodium is in this? My other issue here is that one serving is mighty small. I would probably eat half the package for my meal.

Here is my new nutrition facts using 2 servings per package and including 2 tablespoons of sauce (which you are going to include, right?)

255 calories, 10.5 g fat, 0.0 g saturated fat, 15 g carbohydrates, 5.5 g sugar, 25.5 g protein, 1.5 g fiber, 520 mg sodium, 7 Points+

The sodium amount has changed quite a bit when you add in the sauce amounts. I am writing about this package, with it sitting in front of me, and I was deceived. What is the regular consumer to do?

Okay, back to square one. This would be okay with some asian stir fry vegetables and some brown rice as long as you don’t add any more salt. I think it tasted fine.

What doesn’t work?

  • The sodium is high (like all freezer meals).
  • It is highly processed and tastes like it.
  • Expensive - $4-$6 per package.
  • Deceptive nutrition facts that make me mad.

I say if you like mandarin orange crispy chicken then just eat that once in a while. I would use chicken breast (in moderation) any day of the year over this stuff and mix it in with my stir fry. My conclusion is that this chick'n may not be meat (zero grams of saturated fat), but it doesn't seem healthier than chicken breast (low in saturated fat and low in sodium).

If we want to talk about environmental impact, it does take a lot of energy to make a fake meat product. Does it take as much as growing a chicken? I don't know. Probably not.

What do you think of fake meat products?

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 43 )

I would much rather eat real food, even if it is supposedly bad for me. I like meat, we were designed to eat it and I'm going to eat it. The chemicals, not so much.

This is an interesting subject for me. Being vegetarian and now vegan, for years, I have definitely noticed an increase in popularity in these faux meats. When I first went vegetarian I was one of those people who went out and bought all the veggie burgers and chik'n I could find. Personally I now feel like a lot of these products are bad news; Lots of sodium, some contain gmo's, and a lot of MSG-like ingredients. A lot of them just don't really fill you up either (probably because they lack a lot of micronutrients and contain ingredients that are (debatably) addictive. I stick to cooking my own meals when I can, using things like organic tofu, beans, nuts, whole grains, and plenty of veggies or fruits. This is a lot more rewarding and a lot more cost-effective as well. Mock meats are expensive and don't even taste anywhere near as delicious as a home-cooked meal.

Many vegans and vegetarians don't eat meat for moral & ethical reasons, not health or health alone. There is definitely a place for fake meats, and some are healthier than others. There are also many "fake meats" that aren't processed, such as made with tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Fake meats not only allow vegans/vegetarians to get a semblance of the meat taste that they may have liked while eating meat, but is a great way for many people to transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet while learning to like less traditional plant-based foods. If you try a fake meat that you aren't happy with for quality, nutrition, price, try something else. There are many, many options. :)

Meat is not bad for you. Eat REAL food. Everything in moderation. We buy all our proteins (poultry, beef, pork, eggs) from local farmers who use humane methods and no hormones, steriods or antibiotics. Much better for you than any lab created fake food.

I eat vegan about 80% of the time and I don't see the point of fake meat. It doesn't taste very good, it's usually expensive, & most of it is highly processed. Why not just eat a mushroom steak, black bean burger, or a cauliflower steak? It tastes better & is healthier!

I am the mother of a teenaged vegetarian who despises traditional healthy vegetarian fare. As many fake meat products have as their one virtue high protein content for that I am grateful. I've found that the refrigerated brands generally have a way shorter ingredient list and taste better than their frozen counterparts.

If it's not chicken, then what is it?

Gardein is, to the best of my personal research, a solid company that uses good ingredients (and non-GMO soy) and that makes some of the tastiest fake meats I've ever had in my 20+ vegetarian years. (I can't say the same for a certain Star of the Morning at a Farm *ahem*). I don't specifically eat it for health reasons though, so I suppose my perspective is skewed. We like the product you've showcased with *different* sauces on it (the orange sauce has never quite done it for us) and we're much bigger fans of other products in the line. Also, I buy it on sale for $2-$3/package (less if I catch a great sale/coupon combo), so I don't find the price to be a problem. And my family eats very clean, so I don't have a problem with supplementing our whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with the occasional high-quality meat analogue.

Being a vegetarian, these fake meats offer me convenience and a way to be able to eat with my meat eating family and friends. Having a BBQ? I can eat a veggie burger (cooked first or separately). And not feel left out. But you don't have to use the sauce with the fake chicken if that's what bothers you. I add my own sauce or use it in a stirfry. I find a lot of sauces are high in sodium, sugar, etc.

I think keeping things as real and simple as possible is still best. It's just all so exhausting sometimes. Thank you for doing the legwork for us!

While I do love your posts, I have to go to bat for Gardein on this. I love their products. As one commentor above wrote, they do make the transition to vegetarian/vegan eating easier. I think they taste great and you can easily add vegetables/brown rice, etc to make a more complete meal out of it and use only the recommended serving size. Use or don't use the sauce, its up to you...there is room for personal customization here. Frozen meals are about convenience so, when short on time, a frozen meal such as this one that is definitely looking to decrease your meat consumption and keep GMOs off your plate, is a much better choice than a run to the chinese place for their serving of orange chicken--full of oils, sugars, chemicals and way too many calories!

As a vegetarian, I like some of the frozen options that are available but try to really treat myself to them once in a while. I do know many carnivores who eat the Morningstar or Boca breakfast sausages and burgers (and even prefer it)since these are a lot less fatty than the real meat counterpart. As far as chicken goes, as you pointed out - it really isn't bad for you anyway. However I have a real weakness for the Quorn brand breaded cutlets with gruyere.

Can you do a plain tofu review?

I agree with Kelly, Marla and Elizabeth completely so there is no reason to type this out. Please read their comments.

I just looked up the ingredients list on this product... fermented wheat protein? modified food starch? Do you know what those are? Just because you can pronounce them doesn't mean you should be eating them. This is a highly processed food, and that's before you even get into the soy protein isolate (the "meat"). Soy is terrible, across the board. But even if you're of the mind that some traditionally-prepared (aka fermented) soy is acceptable, soy protein isolate is NOT that.

Meatless Mondays? Love that idea!! Last night we had cream of asparagus (I made with 2% milk and Parm cheese) with garlic bread. My husband raved about it and even brought some to work today. My kid loved it too. I am on to "Meatless Mondays!" However, won't be buying fake meat for it, will go the veggie route. Thanks for your writings.

As a vegan, these meats are a good tool for transitioning and also for convincing meat-eaters that vegan food is recognizable, familiar, and tasty. The fewer chickens that die for gustitory pleasure, the better. Vegan diets mean more plants, in fact, JUST plants, which means goodness in my book! Of course whole foods are ideal, but these meat products are a nice transition food and a nice treat.

Glad you posted this, I was curious. I think after your review I'll stick to fresh chicken!! Thank you for sharing!

I agree that soy protein isolate is NOT good for us. Here is my take on "fake meat". I know people who eat double whoppers made of ground up animal body parts. If a food like gardein is used to help them get off pigs, cows and chickens that are pumped up with hormones and pesticides from the feed (which is also soy) then that is great. I use gardein burgers to introduce people to options other then ground up animals. Then I explain to them how I make my own veggie burgers with no gmo ingredients. It has to be easy for them. I've noticed that most people do not make changes unless they almost die and someone shows them it can fit in their budget and is easy. (I have worked with people who have almost died). So as a vegan of almost 5 years, I prefer fresh organic ingredients and made at home. But when I have a big group of people over for a beach party - I bring out the gardein burgers, veggie chili and beer.

I am curious about the cauliflower steak that @Julie mentioned... Sounds good! We love to grill our veggies alongside our meat. I think i need to find out more about that... thanks for the mention! Great review, SG, by the way. I'm a carnivore to the bitter end, but am also very open minded to all sorts of foods so I'm glad to know more about all the options out there!

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