It was once known as the diet of hippies and extreme animal lovers, but not anymore. Veganism is slowly becoming mainstream as professional bodybuilders and celebs from Mike Tyson to Bill Clinton — not to mention some normal folks — transition to the vegan lifestyle.
The vegan diet means eliminating all animal products on the plate. So most vegans steer clear of meat, dairy, eggs, and even honey. Some vegans are motivated by humanitarian concerns, but the vegan diet has some potential health benefits, too, like a reduced risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. Craig, W.J, Mangels, A.R., American Dietetic Association. Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009;109(7):1266-82.. Still scared to try the V-word? We’ve rounded up 21 delicious substitutions that can help ease the blow.
1. Tofu (firm or extra firm): One of the most common substitutes for meat, tofu has a light, fluffy texture. Half a cup packs 10 grams of protein, about half the quantity of protein in the same amount of chicken. (So make sure to add some nuts or sesame seeds when replacing meat with tofu.) Tofu stars in a range of recipes, from vegan lasagna to this summer salsa dish, but there are a few cooking tips to keep in mind to avoid a tasteless meal.
2. Seitan: Made from wheat gluten, seitan has almost as much protein and less fat than the same amount of ground beef. Even though seitan doesn't pick up flavors as well as tofu, the texture is more meat-like. It’s a great replacement for meat in beef and chicken main dishes — try this vegan teriyaki recipe.
3. Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP): TVP doesn’t exactly sound appealing: It’s basically defatted soy flour (meaning the oils were removed during processing) that comes in the form of granules. But a lot of people find TVP quite tasty — and nutritious. It’s not only a good source of protein, but it’s also rich in fiber, a key nutrient for digestive health. And no need to forgo tacos and chili — TVP’s a great substitute for ground beef or ground turkey!
4. Tempeh: Tempeh is made from whole soybeans, meaning it has a pretty bumpy texture. The meat substitute is packed with protein (about 15 grams per half-cup serving), fiber, and all sorts of antioxidants. The next time a BLT craving hits, skip the bacon and opt instead for a “TLT.” (That’s tempeh, lettuce, and tomato.)
5. Chickpeas: Also known as Garbanzo beans, chickpeas are rich in protein (12 grams per cup) and folate, important for red blood cell production and proper brain function. Some great vegan chickpea choices include falafel and "Tu-no," a vegan tuna recipe that may leave you free of the sea forever.
6. Nutritional Yeast: Another meat replacement that’s way more appetizing than it sounds, nutritional yeast is a good source of protein and vitamin B12. Plus it’s a good option for those watching their blood pressure, with about 9 mg of sodium per ounce compared to about 428 mg in the same amount of Parmesan cheese. Still dreaming of Parmesan-covered spaghetti? Sprinkle on some nutritional yeast for some cheesy flavor on pastas and in sauces, like mac and cheese!
7. Soy Cheese: For vegan cheese lovers, this food is almost like magic. Soy cheese melts, spreads and tastes like the real thing — without all the saturated fat! Use soy cheese in all traditional cheese dishes, like fancy fondue. But keep in mind soy cheese doesn’t usually provide as much protein or calcium as most types of milk cheese, so add some nuts or another protein source to a cheese-free meal. Abracadabra!
8. Soy Milk: One of the most common milk substitutes, soy milk is a nutritional superstar. Some brands pack protein, vitamin D, and 15 percent more calcium than skim milk. With its light taste, soy milk can replace cow's milk in almost any dish — even doughnuts!
9. Rice Milk: Made from the liquid of ground rice, rice milk is a light-tasting, low-cholesterol alternative to cow’s milk, with about the same amount of calcium. Try it chilly in this ice cream recipe.
10. Almond Milk: Compared to cow’s milk, almond milk is about equal in calories and even higher in healthy fats and antioxidants. This thick milk is great for baking goodies, like this marbled banana bread.
11. Hemp Milk: Yes, hemp milk is made from hemp seeds, marijuana's cousins. But the high we get from drinking this stuff is from the awesome nutrients. Hemp milk is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and improve brain function. (But bones, beware: Hemp milk doesn’t have as much calcium as whole milk, so be sure to get extra calcium from other non-dairy sources.) Pour it on cereal or in a mocha latte for a delicious milk-free delicacy.
12. Oat Milk: Surprised to hear there’s such a thing as milk made with oats? Don’t be. Oat milk can improve hair and skin health and provide a ton of fiber and iron. It’s lighter in taste than cow’s milk, can replace milk in a variety of recipes, and anyone can make it! Try the cashew version for an extra kick.
13. Coconut Milk: Go cuckoo for coconut milk. This low-calorie liquid packs protein plus vitamins and minerals like magnesium, which aids the muscular system. (The only downside is coconut milk doesn’t have quite as much calcium as cow’s milk.) Coconut milk is great in creamy sauces, especially curry sauces.
14. Tofu (silken or soft): Just like an egg, tofu is a great source of protein. (A half-cup serving of tofu has 10 grams of protein; one large egg has 6 grams.) Tofu tastes great in heavy egg dishes like quiche and omelets. Or scramble tofu with some veggies for a nutritious breakfast.
15. Apple Sauce: Using unsweetened apple sauce in vegan baked foods is not only a creative way to replace eggs, but also cuts down on cholesterol. Use ¼-cup applesauce for every egg the recipe calls for, like in raspberry truffle brownies.
16. Flax Seeds: When it comes to baking, flax seeds are a great, if unexpected, substitute for eggs. The seeds turn baked goods from sweet treats into awesome sources of Omega-3 fats and fiber. Remember to ground the flax seeds or buy flaxseed meal before baking. (If not, prepare to eat some chunky muffins.) Then give this gingerbread flax muffin recipe a try.
17. Mashed Bananas: An egg and a banana might look pretty different, but they’re both great binding agents (the stuff that holds all the ingredients together). Use mashed banana as an alternative binding agent in different baking recipes for some potassium-rich cakes or chocolate chip muffins.
18. Coconut Butter: A nutritious, delicious butter alternative, coconut butter has absolutely no cholesterol. (Regular butter has about 33 milligrams per tablespoon.) Coconut butter’s also packed with nutrients that aid in brain function, immunity, and weight loss. Craving chocolate? Try this mouthwatering fudge recipe.
19. Soy Margarine: This spread might as well be called, "I can't believe it's not dairy!" Soy margarine’s as versatile as regular butter and tastes strikingly similar. And unlike regular butter, soy margarine contains no whey, lactose, or casein (all animal products). These crepes require soy margarine or another vegan spread.
20. Agave Syrup: Even though it's made from the same plants responsible for tequila, agave syrup won’t give us that happy-hour buzz. Still, as a honey substitute, it doesn’t disappoint. Agave syrup is sweeter than sugar and thinner than honey — but it can also be filled with fructose and calories, so use it sparingly. Agave syrup’s a great sweetener for teas, juices, desserts, and dressings.
21. Maple Syrup: It’s the secret Aunt Jemimah’s kept for too long: Maple syrup is a great alternative to honey. It’s full of antioxidants, zinc, iron and potassium, nutrients that help boost heart health and the immune system. Plus it’s usually lower in sugar and calories than honey. And flapjacks won't be the only treat doused in sweet goodness: Maple syrup can also replace honey as an oatmeal topping and even sweeten up blueberry pie.
Did we miss any of your favorite vegan products? Let us know in the comments below!