Soy meat alternatives, also called "meat analogs", are comparable to real meat on many fronts and are widely consumed by vegans and vegetarians. While soy may fall short in certain aspects when compared to real meat, it could also be more advantageous in others, making it a solid protein option to add into any diet.
Made primarily from soy proteins, soy meat products also contain varying amounts of wheat gluten and may contain carbohydrates. Flavors and spices are typically added to improve sensory qualities, and some soy products also contain eggs or dairy ingredients. Soy meat alternatives are made specifically with meat products in mind, with the aim to resemble the taste, texture, color and form of these products. New and improved soy products continue to hit the shelves, making this protein-alternative available in many different forms and many different locations.
Nutrition of Soy Meat vs. Real Meat
Meat alternatives made with soy protein will provide a great source of high quality protein comparable to regular meat. Soy products contain all of the essential amino acids needed for growth. These alternatives are also generally very low in total fat and saturated fat, making them subsequently lower in calories. However, it's important to note that certain fillers or additives added to these products can be high in carbohydrates, making the caloric content of soy alternatives vary between products.
In addition to providing a high quality protein source, soy meats also provide good amounts of B vitamins and iron. There are several options out on the market which are fortified with B12, a vitamin typically lacking in vegetarian and vegan diets as it is primarily found in animal products. Additionally, while both meat and soy are good sources of dietary iron, the iron in real meat is found in a form called heme iron. This form tends to be better absorbed by the body than the non-heme form of iron found in soy and other plant-based foods. Consuming these non-heme containing products along with meat, fish and poultry or vitamin-C rich foods will help to boost iron absorption.
The consistency and texture of soy meat is similar to real meat, however, the natural flavors are often thought to be bland in comparison. Because of this, many spices or other flavors are often used to help boost the flavor profile of these products. In addition, as the popularity of these protein-alternatives continues to grow within the market, the cost of some varieties remains quite high. However, some soy foods on the market are pound-for-pound less expensive than their real meat counterparts. So, overall, while soy meat may not go completely toe-to-toe with its real meat counterparts, it still offers an adequate source of protein and an easy alternative to incorporate into any healthy diet.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.