During the last few years it has become increasingly common to incorporate more vegan and vegetarian options into our diets. As a result, the supply of vegetarian and vegan processed meat alternatives such as sausages, burgers and mince has exploded and it’s become a little tricky to distinguish the nutritious products from the less healthy alternatives. 

There are both pros and cons with these meat alternatives and there is a large variation in nutritional value. Labels such as “meat free”, “plant based” and “green” can be confusing and send out a message that these products are a more nutritious option than the meat equivalent. In many cases they are but although reducing our meat intake holds many benefits on both the climate, our health and not least animal welfare we must be conscious about what meat substitutes we choose.

Processed meat free alternatives are convenient since they usually are quick and easy to prepare, they taste familiar and they provide a good alternative if you wish to transition to a more vegetarian or plant based diet. However processed foods contain fewer vitamins and minerals and in many cases additives are added to give the product the right consistency and taste. 

Key nutrients

Before choosing which meat alternative to opt for there are some things you should consider from the list of ingredients. These are:

Salt: About 0.3 grams per 100 grams is regarded as low. Aim for a maximum of 1.5 grams per 100 grams

Sugar: Preferably a maximum 5 grams per 100 grams

Fat: Saturated fat is of main interest for health reasons. Ideally a maximum of 5 grams per 100 grams.

Additives:  Additives are used to give the right texture and taste. Not all additives are necessarily bad but choose products with as short tables of contents as possible.


To help you navigate the various options here is a list of some of the most common alternatives. I´ve chosen to compare the amount of protein, fat, salt, sugars and fibre. 


Product: Plant Power Original Tempeh Block
Ingredients: Soybeans, Soy Flour, Fungal Culture (Rhizopus Oligosporus)
Per 100 gram:
Protein: 19 gram
Fat: 9,7 gram
Of which saturates: 1,9 gram
Salt: 0,01 gram
Sugars: 0.5g
Fibre: 6,5  gram

Pros: One of the least processed soy-based protein sources. Fermented (promotes a healthy gut bacteria). High in protein and low in salt and sugars. 

Cons: Requires a little work from you to acquire a good taste.


Product: So organic super firm tofu 
Ingredients: Water, Soya Beans (34%), Firming Agent: Magnesium Chloride.

Per 100 gram
Protein: 11,9 gram
Fat: 6,8 gram
Of which saturates: 1,1 gram
Salt: 0,03 gram
Sugars: <0.5g
Fibre: 1,1 gram

Pros: One of the least processed soy-based protein sources. Low in salt and sugars.
Cons: Requires a little work from you to acquire a good taste. Low in fibre.

Soy based mince

Product: Meatless Farm Plant-Based Mince

Ingredients: Water, Soya Protein Concentrate (24%), Rapeseed Oil, Soya Protein Isolate (5%), Preservative (E326), Potato Starch, Thickener (E461), Natural Flavouring, Beetroot Extract, Caramelised Carrot Concentrate, Rice Protein, Carrot Concentrate, Yeast Extract, Salt, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin)

Protein: 23,5 gram
Fat: 9,3 gram
Of which saturates: 0,8 gram
Salt: 0,63 gram
Sugars: 1,1 gram
Fibre: 2,2 gram

Pros: Versatile product. High in protein. 
Cons: Low in fibre. Contains a few additives to give it the right consistency.


Product: Quorn Vegan Pieces

Ingredients: Mycoprotein (89%), Potato Protein, Pea Protein, Firming Agents: Calcium Chloride, Calcium Acetate, Natural Flavouring, Wheat Gluten, Pea Fibre, Stabilisers: Carrageenan, Sodium Alginate

Per 100 gram:
Protein: 15 gram
Fat: 1,4 gram
Of which saturates: 0,5 gram
Salt: 0,03 gram
Sugars: 0 gram
Fibre: 6,9 gram

Pros: Low in fat, salt and sugar. 
Cons: Contains a few additives to give it the right consistency.

Meat free burger

Product: Plant Pioneers No Beef Burger

Ingredients: Rehydrated Textured Soya Protein (56%), Water, Onion (7%), Onion Purée (6%), Rapeseed Oil, SoyaProtein Concentrate, Yeast Extract, Chickpea Flour, Stabiliser: Methyl Cellulose; Tomato Purée, Garlic Purée, Parsley, Onion Powder, Malted Barley Extract, Maltodextrin, Garlic Powder, Salt, Dextrose, Black Pepper, White Pepper, Tomato Powder, Flavouring.

Per 100 gram:
Protein: 19,1 gram
Fat: 4 gram
Of which saturates: 0,3 gram
Salt: 1,16 gram
Sugars: 1,4 gram
Fibre: 5,6 gram

Pros: An easy to prepare and familiar product. Good amount of protein.
Cons: Quite a long list of ingredients and additives. Higher in salt compared to the other products. 

Meat free bacon

Product: Richmond Meat Free Vegan Smoked Bacon Rashers

Ingredients: Water, Rehydrated Textured Soya and Wheat Protein (22%)(Water, Soya Protein, Wheat Protein, Salt, Soya Bean Oil, Natural Flavouring), Rapeseed Oil, Stabilisers: Carrageenan, Guar Gum, Methyl Cellulose, Wheat Protein, Soya Protein, Salt, Dextrose, Natural Flavourings, Colouring Foods: Blackcurrant, Radish, Apple, Starch, Natural Smoke Flavouring, Chicory Root Fibre, Acid: Citric Acid

Per 100 gram:
Protein: 12 gram
Fat: 11 gram
Of which saturates: 1 gram
Salt: 2,4 gram
Sugars: 1,6 gram
Fibre: 5,4 gram

Pros: Versatile and familiar product. 
Cons: Less protein than most other products and well above the recommended amount of salt, a fairly long list of ingredients and additives. 

Meat free chicken nuggets

Product: Fry’s Vegan Meat Free Chicken-Style Nuggets 

Ingredients: Crumb: Wheat (Gluten) Flour, Yeast, Improving Agent (Vitamin C), Vegetable Oil (Sunflower Seed), Nugget: Vegetable Protein (11%) (Soy, Wheat (Gluten)), Wheat (Gluten) Flour, Flavourings, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Plant Fibre, Thickener (Methyl Cellulose), Salt, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Mustard Seeds, Anti-Caking Agent (E551), Garlic

Per 100 gram
Protein: 10,5 gram
Fat: 10,9 gram
Of which saturates: 1,3 gram
Salt: 1,84 gram
Sugars: 0.5g
Fibre: 5 gram

Pros: A familiar product that is quick and easy to prepare. 
Cons: High in salt. A longer list of ingredients and additives.

A few words on soy

As you can see many of the meat alternatives and vegetarian protein sources are based on soy. Soy receives bad press both in terms of its healthiness and its cultivation, however soy is rich in protein and is a good source of other nutrients such as iron, calcium and zinc. When you opt for a soy-based product choose the least processed alternative such as tofu or tempeh and when available choose organic and GMO-free to support healthy agriculture.   


We need to reduce our meat consumption and include more vegetables, grains, root vegetables and legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils to our diets. 

If you are new to incorporating meat free options then products such as vegetarian sausages, burgers and mince is a good first step. The more comfortable you become the more you should try to move towards less processed foods. 

If you are fully plant based or vegetarian aim for a variation of meat alternatives throughout the week. It is fine to include a plant-based burger or sausage here and there, but the bulk of your protein sources should be minimally processed or unprocessed foods such as legumes, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, nuts, seeds and grains.