More meatless alternatives to beef and chicken

The next time you’re ordering from a burger restaurant or looking for new recipes, you may notice that more meat substitutes are being featured. While veggie burgers have been around for just as long as traditional hamburgers, the selection of meatless alternatives — vegetable-based patties that taste like meat — has been growing steadily in the past few years. Today, some substitutes are even offered at fast-food restaurants.

Meatless burgers are often made with plant products like soybeans, vegetable oils and extracts from vegetables. Some meatless burgers are heavily processed, meaning they may have a lot of extra salt and other preservatives that regular beef patties wouldn’t have. They can also be high in saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and gum disease. Lower-fat options include burgers with higher percentages of black beans and less oils.

Meatless burgers provide key nutrients:

• They usually contain soy, peas and beans, giving them as much protein as traditional beef burgers. Foods rich in protein are a good source of phosphorus, which helps protect your tooth enamel.

• Eating beans provides your body with iron to keep your gums and tongue healthy, and zinc to help control plaque.

• Plant-based burgers also contain vitamin B12, which is important for the health of your teeth and bones.

Burgers may not be the only plant-based foods you’ll find on a menu. Nuggets and tenders made from plants instead of chicken are also becoming available at grocery stores and some fast-food chains. But these can also be high in preservatives, salt and fat. If you decide to try meatless nuggets, choose ones that have beans or legumes as the main ingredient. And pick grilled over breaded strips to avoid cavity-causing carbs.

Choosing not to eat meat and other animal products could improve your energy levels and lower your cholesterol. But there are some potential drawbacks. For example, a lack of calcium can increase your risk of gum disease and tooth decay. If you choose to go meatless, make sure you’re still getting the vitamins and minerals you need from other foods such as broccoli, leafy greens and soybeans.

The verdict: The growing availability of meatless burgers and nuggets offers more choices. But be aware that some plant-based options are healthier than others. To make your own meatless burger with wholesome ingredients, see our recipe for sweet potato burgers.