While red meat is rich in certain nutrients like protein, zinc, phosphorous, and B-vitamins, it also contains saturated fat and cholesterol -- which can increase your heart disease risks when eaten in excess. A review published in 2014 in Obesity Reviews found that eating red meat is associated with a higher body mass index, waist circumference, and risk of obesity. Some vegetarian foods are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals like red meat, making these plant-based foods excellent substitutes when you want to avoid meat.
Seitan, made from wheat gluten, is comparable to the amount of protein found in red meat. A 3-ounce portion of 93-percent lean ground beef contains about 25 grams of protein, and a 1/3-cup portion of seitan provides 21 grams of protein. Like red meat, seitan is also a good source of iron and phosphorous. To make seitan comparable in taste to red meat, season it the same way to give it a meatier flavor. Or, replace steak with seitan in a stir fry.
While legumes, such as black beans, pinto beans and lentils, don't taste like red meat, they contain many of the same nutrients. Legumes are a vegan source of protein, and are rich in iron, zinc, and phosphorous just like red meat. Furthermore, legumes are also a source of carbohydrates, including heart-healthy fiber -- which helps reduce your risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. Add legumes to burritos, salads, egg-white omelets, and soups.
Many commercial veggie burgers taste similar to hamburgers, but without the cholesterol and saturated fat. These burgers may contain soy protein, wheat gluten, rice protein, pea protein, cheese, egg whites, legumes, mycoprotein (proteins derived from fungi), or combinations of these protein-rich vegetarian foods. If you're following a vegan diet and shopping for veggie burgers, check the ingredient list to make sure your burger is free from eggs and milk products.
Tempeh is a protein-rich meat substitute made from fermented soybeans, and is an excellent vegetarian substitute for red meat. Like meat, tempeh is a good source of protein, iron, zinc, phosphorous, and B vitamins. Because tempeh is made from soy beans, it's also rich in fiber and heart-healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Top salads with strips of tempeh, season tempeh like you would red meat, use tempeh in a stir fry, or make Reuben sandwiches with tempeh instead of beef.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.