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Why replace meat (especially red meat) with plants? It’s good for the planet and for your health. But some plant meats are healthier than others...or healthier than they used to be. Here’s our guide to the best—and the best-tasting.

1. Prioritize protein.

A veggie burger, “chick’n” patty, etc., will typically replace a meal’s protein-rich main event. That’s why our Best Bites have at least 10 grams of protein per serving. Getting your protein elsewhere? Our Honorable Mentions have no protein minimum.

Heads up: Breakfast meat Best Bites have a 5-gram protein minimum—and lower saturated fat and sodium cut-offs—because their servings are smaller.

2. Don’t confuse burgers with beans.

Most plant meats are “ultra-processed.” Eating unprocessed beans or tofu is better. On the other hand, researchers have just begun to look at which ultra-processed foods are linked to disease; not all are. Plus, plant meats create fewer greenhouse gases than beef.

3. Check the saturated fat.

Beef-like heavy hitters contain enough coconut oil to reach 6 grams of sat fat per burger (Impossible), 9 grams (Gardein Ultimate), or 17 grams (Impossible Indulgent).

Whew. That last one is nearly a day’s max (20 grams), and it dwarfs a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder beef patty (7 grams).

The good news: The latest Beyond Burger—and Beyond Beef ground—swap the coconut oil for avocado oil, cutting the sat fat from 5 grams to 2. (Check labels. It’s new, so you may still find coconut-oil Beyond for sale.)

And Impossible Beef Lite ground has mostly sunflower oil, so it cuts the sat fat to 1 gram. Both are Best Bites. Nice!

package of Impossible Beef Lite and Beyond Steak Seared- tips
Impossible Beef Lite and Beyond Steak: meaty-tasting plant meats that keep the saturated fat to a mere 1 gram. Mmm.
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

4. Give ground a chance.

Impossible Beef Lite is only sold as ground (not patties), so if you want a better Impossible Burger, buy a pack of Lite and shape your own. Other pluses: Most brands’ grounds will save you a few bucks per pound. And they’re flexible: make your serving smaller or larger, patties or meatballs.

Tip: Try mixing in 4 oz. of minced raw mushrooms per pound to stretch the ground “meat.” Freeze the shroom patties or meatballs for 15 minutes, then cook on the stovetop, not the grill (so they don’t fall apart).

5. Minimize sodium.

It’s not easy to make plants taste like meat, so manufacturers lean on salt...but some use more than others. Our Best Bites and Honorable Mentions have no more than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.

6. Meatless or vegan?

Most veggie meats get their protein from soy, wheat, peas, and/or beans. But some (like MorningStar Grillers) also add egg white, so they’re vegetarian but not vegan. If that matters to you, check the ingredients.

7. Check ingredients.

We didn’t give Best Bites or Honorable Mentions to products that had color additives we rate as “avoid” because they pose a cancer risk.

The two we found:

Titanium dioxide

The whitener is in some “chik’n,” “f’sh,” etc. Its nanoparticles may damage DNA, one way chemicals can cause cancer.

Red 3

The dye—recently banned by California—is in MorningStar’s bacon.

8. Watch Quorn.

Products made from Quorn’s “mycoprotein” have been sold in the U.S. for decades. But a minority of people report reactions like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and occasionally hives or difficulty breathing. With so many other options, we didn’t consider Quorn for Best Bites or Honorable Mentions.

“Veggie” burgers

box of Actual Veggies Black bean burger
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

“Ready to try the best veggie burger you’ll ever have?” asks Actual Veggies’ website.

We’re listening.

Nowadays, plant-based beef wannabes dominate alt-meat shelves. But if you’re in search of a burger that looks and tastes nothing like meat, try Actual Veggies. They feature hearty, flavorful pieces of vegetables and beans, plus quinoa, oats, and seeds you can see and taste. It all adds up to an impressive 6 grams of intact plant fiber per patty. The tradeoff: Honorable Mention, not Best Bite, levels of protein. For more protein, try MorningStar Garden Veggie.

Beefy burgers

Pack of Morningstar farms Grillers Prime
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

Tastewise, it’s hard to come closer to beef than Impossible. But that may have a downside.

Like beef, the Impossible Burger and (ground) Impossible Lite contain meaty-tasting heme, but from a plant source. Heme can help form carcinogenic compounds in the gut, which could help explain why frequent red-meat eaters have a higher colorectal cancer risk.

Impossible fan? Mix it up with an occasional (heme-free) Best Bite like the new Beyond Burger or a MorningStar Grillers Prime.

Breaded chik’n

pack of Impossible chicken patties
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

The upside of breaded “chik’n”: its taste is so realistic, it could fool an omnivore.

The downside: Beyond Meat and Gardein add titanium dioxide  to their chik’n (and f’sh, etc.).

Instead, try a Best Bite or Honorable Mention like Impossible Chicken Patties, 365 Chicken-Style Plant-Based Breaded Patties, or MorningStar Original Chik’n Patties.

Since patties are breaded in white flour, have one on a salad (sliced into strips) instead of a white-flour bun.

Bare chik’n

package of Sweet Earth Mindful Chik'n
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

It’s harder to find yummy unbreaded “chik’n” than breaded, but two Best Bites stand out:

Sweet Earth Mindful Chik’n. The protein-rich pieces have less sodium per serving (250 milligrams) than most, so start here if you’re adding your chik’n to a sauce or recipe.

Daring Original. When sautéed in oil, the pieces get nicely crisp on the outside and pleasantly chewy on the inside. They’re salty enough to go sauce-less.

Porkless sausage

pack of Morningstar farms Original sausage Patties
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

Why replace processed breakfast meats like pork sausage and bacon? For a start, people who eat red and processed meats have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Veggie sausages from Impossible and Beyond taste, well, impossibly close to pork. But they also come with more saturated fat than our Best Bites and Honorable Mentions.

So slash the sat fat with an oldie-but-goodie: MorningStar Original Sausage Patties. Each savory sausage has a mere 80 calories, zero sat fat, and 230 mg of sodium, plus 9 grams of soy-and-wheat protein.

Almost bacon

Pack of Tofurkey treehouse Tempeh
Marlena Koch - CSPI.

You can almost close your eyes and pick burgers, patties, nuggets, and sau­sages that actually mimic meat or chicken.

Bacon? Not so much.

MorningStar Veggie Bacon comes close, but its risky Red 3 food dye disqualifies it from an Honorable Mention.

So we’re sticking with tempeh (cultured soybean) “bacon.” You won’t confuse tempeh bacon with bacon bacon, but you will get a nice smoky hit of flavor. Make your own (online recipes abound) or try Tofurky Smoky Maple Bacon Treehouse Tempeh, a tasty Honorable Mention.


The best plant-based meats & more

Best Bites (✔✔) have at least 10 grams of protein. Honorable Mentions (✔) have no protein minimum. Both have no more than 400 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of saturated fat, and are free of risky additives (•) like Red 3 and titanium dioxide.

Breakfast sausages and bacon have at least 5 grams of protein (Best Bites) and no more than 250 mg of sodium and 1 gram of sat fat (Best Bites and Honorable Mentions).

Note: We adjusted some serving sizes for consistency, so numbers may not match packages.

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