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?

Other posts you might like:

A Tofu Recipe For Tofu Haters

Snack Girl has a confession. She wants to like tofu, but she just can’t....


Better Than Real Eggs

Going vegan seems like a big trend right now as we look at our calorie intake and our environmental impact. I never thought eggs were such a big deal because nothing was slaughtered to get them....

Get Free Email Updates! Yes please!


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!

It really bothers me that a non-vegetarian/non-vegan puts up a post like that without really knowing the health/environmental impact (good and bad) of faux meat and having people respond that now they aren't even going to try it. Nice.

I need to correct one piece of information, we as humans, were not made to eat meat. A lion, an omnivore, has the digestive system for eating meat. Very short intestinal tract to excrete the waste within hours of eating the meat. Staying in the tract can be toxic. We have a very long intestinal tract, which causes the meat to stay in our digestive system for a couple of days and as it passes through it can lodge in "pockets" in the tract causing toxicity. As we evolved we moved from forest area and plant eating to open areas with less plants and meat was the food source available and we learned to use. Enough research has been done that our bodies are not made to eat meat and we need to return to a plant based diet to inhibit the diseases we are now susceptible to. There are many documentaries out there, Forks Over Knives, Food Matters, Gerson Miracle, etc. Check out some of them to gain more knowledge on what is best for us to eat and why.

Real foods will always trump any kind of fake food for me. If you don't want to eat chicken why would you want fake chicken?

And who knows what sort of processing is used- I wouldn't trust it at all. Fake foods like these are IMO for people that want to say they are eating healthy but don't want to actually take the time to do it. As far as I'm concerned if you can't (conceivably) go outside and grab xxx food it is not fit to eat.

If protein is an issue eat some hemp hearts over greek yogurt- it's the yummiest thing ever, even way better than ice cream.

And for vegans hemp hearts alone are a complete plant protein that can be used a multitude of ways.

I eat meat as in chicken breast, hotdogs and burgers. The rest I really just don't like and never had. The meat I do eat I eat in moderation for health reasons and because I just like them once in awhile. When I want a substitute for meat I use beans mostly dry beans. They fill you up they are grown naturally and are so healthy. I am always learning new ways to cook them. I've gotten comfortable enough to make my own recipes using them

I have eaten a few of their products..and the portions are not small if you're looking to lose weight. I use 1 tsp of canola oil to cook the chicken, use none of the sauce...and they get nice and crispy. I eat this over a bed of black rice and broccoli. It's delicious.

I like meat analogs a lot, but I seldom eat them any more for health reasons. They are really processed and not a whole food. I still think it's better than eating meat, due to the cruel existence most factory farmed animals endure. (I eat chicken and turkey sometimes, but that still doesn't mean I think it's right.) My kids LOVE Morningstar products and they hate meat. But Morningstar is owned by Kelloggs, who donated a lot of money to support the suppression of that Proposition Whatever in CA...meaning that foods with GMOs don't have to be labeled as such. So Kelloggs and Morningstar both get a boo and a thumbs down from me. I don't trust their foods any more.

I knew today was going to be contentious! Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I just want to be clear that I am not taking a stand against vegetarians or vegans. I simply did not like this product. I can see this type of product as a good way to transition off of meat if that has become a priority for you.

I haven't tried Gardein products, so contrary to another posted opinion, my 'faux' meat of choice is MorningStar for taste (it doesn't have a gross fake taste), price (it's been on sale at Safeway lately, or I wouldn't buy it at all), and low points (I'm down 50+ lbs on WW). I'd rather have fresh fish, shrimp, or chicken with my salads & stir-frys, but when I'm short on time, it's super quick, easy, & convenient to go to the freezer, grab a box, and toss a serving of MorningStar veggie crumbles into a stir-fry or make a satisfying fake burger with a MorningStar griller original or chick'n pattie. Both taste good, are filling (with veggies & 'bun'), and are only 2pts each (4pts total for the whole 'burger' on a 2-pt Eating Right sandwich slender laced with 0-pt honey mustard, loaded with 0-pt fresh veggies).

I don't believe in eating industrialized meat, for me this is an ethical decision. I do not believe our bodies were made to consume meat, especially red meat and many studies are finding this to be true. I could debate the virtues of a vegetarian or vegan diet all day and still most people would just stick to what they know. The bottom line is that you have to always read the package to determine if something is good for you and you have to trust the source of the packaging. I have found some very tasty "faux" meats and see new ones popping up on the market all the time. Unfortunately an increase in the popularity of meatless foods has also increased the the number of cash cow market crashers producing low quality cheap products to try to turn a quick buck with the trending foods. Buyer beware. As in all things you have to do your research but I have found deliscious and nutritious options in the meatless world. Also it seemed to me from your description that the sodium problem was with the sauce not the actual meatless product and I often find whether its high calories or sodium the culprit is often the sauce.

I was always leary about the fake meats, but I think they are alright for meatless Mondays when you kind of want it anyways, but these companies are not on the up and up and that makes me mad too. But I like black bean burgers and I can't remember what company made them, but they were pretty tasty.

I keep Gardein (not this particular variety) and Quorn in my freezer as back up food. I occasionally need to produce a meal quickly that will satisfy both me (near vegetarian) and my spouse (definitely not vegetarian) and these products on occasion with some frozen veggies do fill us up and satisfy us. We probably eat them once a month. They aren't the same as real meat and I would never try to pass them off as such but they make my husband feel as if he's eating meat and they are quick for me to prepare.

As a family that has transitioned to a plant based diet I find Gardein to have it's place. My husband was a HUGE meat eater.. 3 x a day.. and more if he could. Without Gardein, I don't know if he would have transitioned to where we are now. His bloodwork has improved immensely.. and that's while eating Gardein products on a regular basis. When we started, he was eating them 4-5 times a week (at least). Now, we use these products 1-2 times a week. We tend to use it as a condiment.. for example, we may use a whole package of the orange mandarin chicken (without the sauce) and cut it up smaller to make fried brown rice with veggies. We also don't spend that much per package (usually 3.50).

I'm sorry you didn't care for it. I have tried the one that looks like chicken fingers and they are delish! baked in the oven. Another alternative!

Soy protein is good for us and Gardien products are wonderful. I served it to my meat eating husband and he did not know that it was soy ! I put wing sauce of the breaded wings ! So good ..... !

Great column, as always, Snack Girl. My concern about your blog today, is that people will think ALL processed meat tastes bad and is unhealthy. This simply is not true. I ask you and your readers to check out a few links below - before passing judgement on planet sustainabilty and healthiness of animal vs non-animal based "meats." Personally, I love most of them and orange chicken is my least favorite.

Bottom line: Our planet cannot sustain the inefficencies created in the production of food at the expense of cows, pigs, chicken, turkeys, lambs, etc. From an environtmental viewpoint, it takes at least 100x more water and feed to make a burger than a boca burger.

I will admit, I'm a lazy eater and eat way too much of the processed mock meat. I eat Canadian Bacon from Yves, BeyondMeat Chicken which is indistinguisble from "animal" chicken when served in salads, and Chick'n strips from Trader Joes (which are actually Gardein).

Once I finally buy my Vitamix, I see myself tapering off these mock meats, which I'm sure will be around forever, as they're a great alternate to animal meat (and will help the planet survive), and eating a more healthy whole grain meal.

Links:, and (arguments made here - reduce hunger, reduce deaths - no cholesterol, etc.), - Bill Gates talks about the future of meat.

My husband and I have been vegetarian for over 15 years. In the beginning we relied heavily on fake meats. However, as we have learned more and more about the harmful effects of processed foods, GMO, and soy, we have become much more picky on how much and what kind of fake meat we eat. We now purchase the Quorn brand which is soy free, much tastier, and all recognizable ingredients, but we limit those items to 1 meal a week.

Pasture raised meat and poultry beat fake food any day of the week.

I've never tried gardein but am going to give it a try.I actually make my own analog meat as I used to use morning star until I realized it had non fat dry milk and dehydrated butter and cream in it.I know read the ingrients of eveything I buy.You can flavor anything, it's texture that makes somethig good or bad.I have no problem with people eating meat.Everything in life is a personal choice.So everybody let's get off our high horses and live and let live.I can't stand being told what to do ,what to think.... so lets treat each other the way we want to be treated.Bon appetite!

This is the first time I've tried Gardein meatless chicken and I love it. Deff easy for on the run and tastes great to mix with other healthy sides. I am a carnivore and I read an article stating eating meat more than a couple times a week can increase the risk of cancer so this is a perfect guilty pleasure for me.

I love the chick'n scallopini. They are great as a mail course with a green vegetable and sweet potato or sliced up to put on a salad. The hamburgers are great also. These products are better for my health than the alternatives so a few packets are always in my frig.

pretty sure most veggie burgers use hexane (petroleum) to 'wash' the soybeans - which are GMO. ugh!

In September of 2015(not even a year ago) I had a hysterectomy. Everything that I went through I have stage 4 Endometrious (plus had quite a few other things happen) that can turn too cancer. When I read that the FDA announced meat was carcinogenic.. I said, forget it...I can't go through this again. I was burger woman before(according to my husband) but this is a lifestyle change..not because of animals..not for the environment... but for my health...I just can't go through torture I want through again. I'm 38 ..and cancer runs so much in my family dad and uncle have it now. I don't miss meat.

Instead of cooking in oil, I use just a little bit of grape seed oil and then add diluted vegetable broth to keep it from drying out while cooking... and I don't just eat the fake meat, alone for my meals but include it to the vegetable medley usually made up of lots of fresh mushrooms, onions, an assortment of peppers, and sweet potatoes with garlic, fresh tomato and basic seasonings. I'm vegan because I refuse to support industries that abuse and exploit innocent, defenseless animals... it's not about health for me but rather trying to reduce the suffering of other species.

Add a comment:


(required, never published)

© 2024