When modifying a diet to replace meat of animal origin with more plant-based foods, it's common for people to start out with meat substitutes like tofu, seitan, tempeh, and various other processed/prepared foods (eg. the Beyond Burger). But as people adopt these foods, they may have concerns that meat substitutes offer inferior nutrition compared to meat of animal origin.

Among these plant-based (no eggs or dairy) food products that simulate meat, which has the nutritional profile that is closest to meat of animal origin?

  • 1
    When I switched to being vegetarian long ago, people around me could not believe that I could get enough protein without meat. I was probably getting rather less than them but most of us in developed countries are getting far more protein than we need. Less than too much can easily still be enough. 40 years later, I am still alive and more healthy and active than many of those meat eaters who doubted that I could live without meat.
    – badjohn
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 9:48

1 Answer 1


This Wikipedia article is worth reading Complete protein. In particular, this quote:

"In fact, the highest PDCAAS scores are not given to commonly eaten meat products, but rather to animal-derived vegetarian foods like milk and eggs and the vegan food soy protein isolate."

So, there is one answer for you: Soy protein isolate.

Another point is that many plant based protein sources may be low in some essential amino acids and hence not good meat substitutes by themselves but certain combinations may be much better. A real case of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This is discussed in this Wikipedia article Protein combining.

It used to be recommended to do this combining within a meal but that recommendation is now relaxed. That article does not give an alternative guideline. I thought that I had seen a day. I will try to find and add a reference.

The protein combining article gives an example that rice alone as a protein source may lead to a protein deficiency but combining it with a legume can solve that. Convenient for me as rice and beans is a favourite meal.

Finally, a measure that I have only just noticed and deserves some more research is protein per calorie. Some plant sources are better in this sense than meat. I will try to find and add some references.

  • Soy protein isolate doesn't sound very edible on its own. Could you list some foods that are made from soy protein isolate?
    – Nic
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 17:29
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    PDCAAS isn't a great tool for answering this specific question. Seitan (wheat gluten) scores only 0.25 while chickpeas score 0.78, so you might get duped into thinking that chickpeas are more similar to beef (0.92) than seitan. However, for an equal sized serving (either by calories or grams) seitan has much more protein (and more of every amino acid including lysine) than do chickpeas. As you noted in your last paragraph, the "protein per calorie" measure is very important.
    – Nic
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 17:44
  • @Nic Please post an answer with better data. Woops, I just noticed that it was your question. Well, I'll watch with interest to see if someone posts a better answer.
    – badjohn
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 19:32
  • Maybe TVP but I cannot quickly verify it so I haven't posted it. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textured_vegetable_protein#/search
    – badjohn
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 19:35
  • If one protein is not complete, you have three options, 1) eat more of the lower quality protein, and you will eventually get enough of the amino acids you need, 2) eat food that "compliments" the lower quality protein in the same meal, or 3) eat foods that compliments the lower quality protein at another time, as the blood will pool those amino acids to use at a later time. Therefore, just eat whole foods. Even better is to eat traditional foods; our ancestors innately knew what to eat... ie. rice and beans..
    – trilogy
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 16:14

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