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What Are the Best Meat Substitutes? Plants.

Before the meat shortage has you reaching for the faux alternatives, consider just eating some more goddamn vegetables

It’s never been “easier” to be vegetarian, insofar as most any meat-based foods you might crave are now easily accessible in faux form. And right now, as meat shortages impact grocery stores across the country, people are increasingly seeking ways to fill the void of their usual meat-filled diets with these meatless alternatives. But we’re all fooling ourselves: We really should just eat some more damn vegetables. 

Look, I eat Beyond or Impossible meat products at least once per week, and solidly plan my grocery shopping around whatever Gardein, Morning Star or Quorn products are on sale. These are staples of my diet, just as chicken breast or ground beef might be staples for others. When push comes to shove, though, we can both do without. 

In fact, it’s healthier if we do. 

Most realistic fake meats achieve their tastiness by being heavily processed and filled with fat. Health-wise, you’re not doing yourself that much better eating a Beyond burger compared to a real one. Beyond animal welfare, the benefit is environmental, but even that is debated among agriculture experts. So if you actually want to improve your diet and benefit the planet and animal welfare, the better choice is just to eat more plants

Getting your daily protein and micronutrients from plants is way more attainable than you think — edamame, lentils, chickpeas and other beans should be able to provide you with adequate protein throughout the day. Few plant-based proteins contain a complete amino acid profile, which means you’ll need to pair them with other foods, but odds are, you were going to do that anyway. Rice and beans, for example, deliver complete proteins when paired together, as does peanut butter on whole-wheat bread. Even with the fat in peanut butter, this diet puts you at far less of a risk for cardiovascular disease than a meat-based one. 

While tofu, tempeh and seitan might seem primitive at this point, they’re still some of the best vegetarian proteins around, offering a complete protein without the extreme processing or fat of some of the newer fake meats on the market. Because soy contains a compound similar to estrogen, there have been theories that eating too many soy-based products like tofu could have feminizing effects, however, this has never been found to be true. Meanwhile, red and processed meats have numerous proven health risks, including intestinal cancer and heart disease

If you’re the type to eat a burger once a week and want to purchase the faux-variety as a replacement during this meat shortage, no biggie. Like the real version, Beyond or Impossible burgers are just fine in moderation. But if you’ve been eating meat every day, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by replacing them with the lab-developed variety. Tofu might be a far cry from a steak dinner, but maybe this shortage is a good time to figure out some healthy vegetarian recipes you can actually stomach. Not to mention, you’ll almost definitely save some money. 

I also promise that you won’t leave quarantine with soy-induced man boobs.