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Dont' have a cow: the best meatless burgers, chicken patties, and more.

They're not just for vegetarians anymore. Veggie burgers have gone mainstream.

If you're trying to minimize saturated fat, don't want to think about E. coli, or are hovering somewhere between less meat and meatless, you may have walked straight past the ground beef to the veggie burger section of the freezer or refrigerator aisle.

They're ready to roll when you want something to throw on the grill, into your lunch bag, or onto your dinner plate. They pack some of the nutrients of meat--and a few of their own--without loading down your arteries with saturated fat. And they come in dozens of flavors, so you can switch from Tex Mex to Thai and from Garlic Portabella to Philly Cheese Steak without missing a bite.

Our 5-step guide will help you find the best burgers, patties, meatballs, nuggets, tenders, strips, and ground "meat" that never saw the inside of a barn. (For our rating of veggie hot dogs and sausages, see "The Best of the Wurst," Dec. 2005, p. 11.)

1. BAD FAT

Don't worry about it. Few veggie meats have more than 2 grams of saturated fat in a serving (a McDonald's Quarter Pounder has 7 grams). Many have none. And the partially hydrogenated oil we found in a few products wasn't enough to give a serving even half a gram of trans fat. (Exception: Vegelicious burgers and meatballs deliver 1 grain of trans.) That leaves room for you to worry about protein, taste, and, if you're not careful, sodium.

2. SODIUM

Veggie burgers have more sodium than hamburgers (assuming the ground beef isn't dolled up with seasoned bread crumbs or other salty additions). Sodium levels typically start at around 250 mg and end close to 500 mg. Add a bun and you get another 250 mg, not counting any mustard, ketchup, or pickle.

The good news is that you can find delicious veggie burgers that stay under our sodium limit for Best Bites (300 mg) or Honorable Mentions (480 mg). Some--like Boca Burgers Roasted Onion, Morningstar Farms Tomato & Basil Pizza, and Gardenburger Black Bean Chipotle--were delightful at just 250 mg to 300 mg of sodium.

It's tougher to find good-tasting veggie chicken nuggets and patties that don't harbor a mean dose of sodium in their breading. Morningstar Farms Parmesan Ranch Chik Patties, for example, have 680 mg each. Boca Hot & Spicy Chik'n Wings have 700 mg in each four-wing serving.

While some (mostly unbreaded) chicken patties and fillets manage to keep the sodium down in the 300 to 400 mg range, they didn't win any taste awards. Our chick pick: Boca Original (not Spicy) Chik'n Patties. With 430 mg of sodium and crispy breading, they're a good compromise. If you want unbreaded, try Gardenburger's Chik'n Grill (360 mg of sodium).

3. PROTEIN

You may not need protein in your veggie meat if you get enough from the other foods you eat. But for many people, a meatless burger is replacing a hamburger, which has some 20 grams of protein. (That's for a "quarter pounder," which weighs three ounces after cooking.)

Most veggie burgers and veggie chicken patties are made with soy protein concentrate, which gives them roughly 10 to 15 grams of protein. Some veggie meatballs and ground meats and strips are closer to 20 grams, mostly because their serving size (3 ounces) is slightly larger than that of most veggie burgers (2 1/2 ounces).

Burgers, patties, nuggets, etc., that aren't made with soy have much less protein. Some Gardenburgers--The Original, Sun-Dried Tomato Basil, Portabella, and Black Bean Chipotle, for example--have only 5 grams of protein. They're made largely of brown rice and vegetables. (In contrast, the two soy-based Gardenburgers--Flame Grilled and The Classic--have 11 or 12 grams of protein.)

Just don't assume that a veggie burger has to look or taste like meat to supply a nice shot of protein. Morningstar Farms squeezes 10 grams of protein into its Garden Veggie Patties and Thai Burgers, 11 grams into its Veggie Medley Burgers, and 12 grams into its Zesty Tomato Basil and Spicy Black Bean Burgers. Other than the shape, none have any resemblance to a hamburger. Ditto for Boca's Grilled Vegetable Burgers (12 grams of protein) and Garden Vegetable Burgers with Organic Soy (15 grams).

Although most veggie meats pack protein, they may not supply the same levels of vitamins (B-12, niacin) and minerals (iron, zinc) that you'd get from meat. On the other hand, most veggie burgers, chicken patties, etc., are good sources of fiber, which you can't get from meat. Expect 2 to 5 grams of fiber per serving.

4. QUORN

While most veggie meats are made with soy, Quorn cutlets, nuggets, etc., are composed largely of "mycoprotein," which comes from a single-celled fungus grown in large fermentation vats.

People assume that Quorn's faux meats are safe because they're typically sold in natural food stores. But researchers have found a protein in Quorn that causes allergic reactions in some people. And the more than 1,000 adverse-reaction reports received by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter) include severe anaphylactic reactions as well as hives and vomiting.

That's why we disqualified the entire Quorn brand from earning Best Bites or Honorable Mentions and didn't include it in our chart. (CSPI has sued the maker of Quorn and the Whole Foods Market chain for not disclosing to consumers that Quorn may cause severe allergic reactions. If you have gotten sick after eating Quorn, you can file a report at www.QuornComplaints.org.)

5. TASTE

The Nutrition Action staff tasted roughly 60 Best Bites and Honorable Mentions for this article. While individual differences could be stark (one person's "mushy" was another person's "moist," one person's "meaty" was another's "gristly"), the more successful brands tended to rise to the top (see photos).

Opinions were especially divided, however, when it came to veggie meats that weren't trying to imitate meat or chicken. At least the imitators have a well-known target. There's no frame of reference for a mushroom or veggie patty. You either like it or you don't.

Differences in taste buds notwithstanding, here are some rules of thumb:

* Shop by brand. Overall, we thought that Amy's, Boca, Gardenburger, and (especially) Morningstar Farms are a better bet than Vegelicious, Lightlife, Veggie Patch, and Yves. But there are plenty of exceptions. So don't give up if you find a dud. Even our favorite brands had a few.

* Don't forget the fixin's, We tried each veggie meat unadorned. Once you put them on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and onion, even so-so burgers go down easy. A little ketchup, mustard, or barbecue sauce can do wonders for ho-hum veggie nuggets. And you can wake up not-ready-for-prime-time veggie meatballs by nestling them in a warm pita bread with lettuce, tomato, sliced onion, and a drizzle of Greek dressing.

* Eat 'em hot. Hot off the grill is the best way to eat a veggie burger. Just keep in mind that some brands taste less meaty (and get tougher) as they cool. For our taste tests, we sauteed most items in a pan with cooking spray (we baked a few others). If you want a meal in a minute, try the microwave.

The information for this article was compiled by Danielle Weinberg.
The Meatless Market

Best Bites and Honorable Mentions have no more than 2 grams
of saturated fat and less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. Bets Bites
have up to 300 milligrams of sodium; Honorable Mentions have
up to 480 mg. Products are ranked from least to most sodium,
then calories, then most to least protein, then fiber.

 Burgers (1 patty--about 2.5 ounces) Protein
 10 grams of protein or more Calories (grams)

[check] Gardenburger GardenVegan 100 10
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Tomato & Basil
[check] Pizza 110 10
[check] Morningstar Farms Veggie Medley 120 11
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Grillers
[check] Original 130 15
[check] Veggie Patch Garlic Portabella * 100 12
[check]
[check] Boca Burgers Original Vegan 70 13
[check]
[check] Boca Burgers All American Flame
[check] Grilled 90 14
[check] Morningstar Farms Vegan Grillers 100 12
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Zesty Tomato
[check] Basil 130 12
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Onion 70 11
[check]
[check] Boca Burgers Grilled Vegetable 80 12
[check]
[check] Veggie Patch Bistro * 130 12
[check] Worthington FriPats 130 15
[check] Morningstar Farms Classic 150 14
[check] Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie 100 10
[check] Amy's Texas Veggie 120 12
[check] Boca Burgers Cheeseburger 100 12
[check] Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime 170 17
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Garlic 70 12
[check] Morningstar Farms Thai 100 10
[check] Gardenburger The Classic 110 12
[check] Amy's All American Veggie 120 10
[check] Amy's Chicago Veggie 160 10
[check] Morningstar Farms Philly Cheese
 Steak 120 10
[check] Boca Burgers Garden Vegetable
 (Organic Soy) 130 15
[check] Lightlife Smart Menu 100 13
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Onion
 (Organic Soy) 130 15
[check] Trader Joe's Burger Nouveau
 (3.5 oz.) 140 21
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Veggie
 Authentic * 120 11
[check] Morningstar Farms Vegan 100 13
[check] Gardenburger Flame Grilled 90 11
[check] Boca Burgers Vegan (Organic Soy) 100 13
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Veggie
 Original * 110 12
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Garlic
 (Organic Soy) 130 16
[check] Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean 140 12
[check] Morningstar Farms Cheddar 150 13
 Boca Burgers All American Classic
 (Organic Soy) 140 15
 Boca Burgers Cheeseburger
 (Organic Soy) 120 15

 Less than 10 grams of protein

 Vegelicious Vegetable (1) 150 5
[check] Morningstar Farms Mushroom Lover's 110 7
[check]
[check] Gardenburger Black Bean Chipotle 80 5
[check]
[check] Trader Joe's Nirvana Vegetable
[check] (3.4 oz) 130 7
[check] Veggie Patch Wholesome Veggie * 100 8
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Fajita 130 8
[check]
[check] Gardenburger Sun-Dried Tomato
 Basil 100 5
[check] Morningstar Farms Tex Mex 120 9
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Savory
 Veggie * 150 6
[check] Gardenburger Original or
 Portabella (2) 100 5
[check] Amy's California Veggie 140 6
[check] Gardenburger Veggie Medley 90 5

 Chicken Patties & Cutlets (1 patty--about 2.5 ounces)

[check] Morningstar Farms Okara Pattie 120 12
[check]
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Veggie
 Chicken * 100 15
[check] Veggie Patch Garlic Herb Chick'n
 Fillets * 90 10
[check] Gardenburger Chik'n Grill 100 13
[check] Morningstar Farms Roasted Herb
 Chik'n 110 13
[check] Boca Chik'n Patties, Original 160 11
[check] Gardenburger Herb Crusted Cutlet 150 10
[check] Veggie Patch Chick'n Cutlets * 160 9
 Worthington Crispy Chik Patties 150 9
 Boca Chik'n Patties, Spicy 160 11
 Morningstar Farms Chik Patties (1) 160 10

 Chicken Nuggets & Tenders (number closest to 3 ounces)

 Morningstar Farms Chik'n
 Nuggets (4) 190 12
 Worthington Loma Linda
 Chik-Nuggets (5) 250 13
 Boca Chik'n Nuggets, Original (4) 180 14
 Morningstar Farms Original Chik'n
 Tenders (2) 190 12
 Morningstar Farms Buffalo
 Wings (5) 200 12
 Boca Chik'n Wings, Hot & Spicy (4) 160 14

 Meatballs (number closest to 3 ounces)

 Vegelicious Meatless Meatballs (6) 180 18
[check] Gardenburger Mama Mia
 Meatballs (6) 110 12
[check] Veggie Patch Meatballs (4) * 130 16
[check] Nate's Meatless Meatballs, Savory
 Mushroom (6) 200 16
 Yves The Good Meatballs, Veggie
 Original (1) * 160 23
 Lightlife Smart Menu Meatless
 Meatballs (5) 160 19

 Ground & Strips (serving closest to 3 ounces)

[check] Lightlife Smart Tex Mex
[check] (1/3 cup) * 70 9
[check] Lightlife Smart Ground,
 Taco/Burrito (1/2 cup) * 110 18
[check] Morningstar Farms Meal Starters
 Recipe Crumbles, Grillers
 (1 cup) 120 15
[check] Yves The Good Ground, Veggie
 Original (1/2 cup) * 90 15
[check] Lightlife Gimme Lean, Ground Beef
 Style (1/3 cup) * 80 12
[check] Boca Ground Burger (3/4 cup) (1) 90 20
[check] Yves The Good Ground, Veggie
 Mexican (1/2 cup) * 140 17
 Lightlife Smart Ground, Original
 (1/2 cup) * 110 19
 Lightlife Smart Strips, Chick'n
 or Steak-Style (1/2 cup) (2) * 80 15
 Lightlife Smart BBQ, shredded
 (1/3 cup) * 100 9
 Morningstar Farms Meal Starters
 Recipe Crumbles, Sausage-Style
 (1 cup) 140 17
 Morningstar Farms Meal Starters
 Strips, Chik'N or Steak (12) (2) 140 22

 Loaves, Riblets, etc.
 (serving closest to 3 ounces, unless noted)

[check] Morningstar Farms Veggie Loaf
 (1" slice) (1) 160 8
[check] Worthington Stakelets (1) 150 14
 Veggie Patch BBQ Riblets
 (5 oz. with sauce) * 230 12
 Gardenburger BBQ Riblets
 (5 oz. with sauce) 230 16

 Burgers (1 patty--about 2.5 ounces) Fiber Sodium
 10 grams of protein or more (grams) (milligrams)

[check] Gardenburger GardenVegan 3 230
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Tomato & Basil
[check] Pizza 3 260
[check] Morningstar Farms Veggie Medley 1 260
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Grillers
[check] Original 2 260
[check] Veggie Patch Garlic Portabella * 4 270
[check]
[check] Boca Burgers Original Vegan 4 280
[check]
[check] Boca Burgers All American Flame
[check] Grilled 3 280
[check] Morningstar Farms Vegan Grillers 4 280
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Zesty Tomato
[check] Basil 4 290
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Onion 4 300
[check]
[check] Boca Burgers Grilled Vegetable 4 300
[check]
[check] Veggie Patch Bistro * 4 310
[check] Worthington FriPats 3 320
[check] Morningstar Farms Classic 3 340
[check] Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie 4 350
[check] Amy's Texas Veggie 3 350
[check] Boca Burgers Cheeseburger 3 360
[check] Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime 2 360
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Garlic 4 370
[check] Morningstar Farms Thai 3 380
[check] Gardenburger The Classic 4 380
[check] Amy's All American Veggie 3 390
[check] Amy's Chicago Veggie 3 390
[check] Morningstar Farms Philly Cheese
 Steak 3 400
[check] Boca Burgers Garden Vegetable
 (Organic Soy) 4 400
[check] Lightlife Smart Menu 4 420
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Onion
 (Organic Soy) 4 420
[check] Trader Joe's Burger Nouveau
 (3.5 oz.) 5 430
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Veggie
 Authentic * 7 450
[check] Morningstar Farms Vegan 5 460
[check] Gardenburger Flame Grilled 4 470
[check] Boca Burgers Vegan (Organic Soy) 4 470
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Veggie
 Original * 3 470
[check] Boca Burgers Roasted Garlic
 (Organic Soy) 4 470
[check] Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean 3 470
[check] Morningstar Farms Cheddar 3 480
 Boca Burgers All American Classic
 (Organic Soy) 4 500
 Boca Burgers Cheeseburger
 (Organic Soy) 3 650

 Less than 10 grams of protein

 Vegelicious Vegetable (1) 4 190
[check] Morningstar Farms Mushroom Lover's 1 220
[check]
[check] Gardenburger Black Bean Chipotle 5 250
[check]
[check] Trader Joe's Nirvana Vegetable
[check] (3.4 oz) 4 260
[check] Veggie Patch Wholesome Veggie * 4 290
[check]
[check] Morningstar Farms Fajita 3 290
[check]
[check] Gardenburger Sun-Dried Tomato
 Basil 5 310
[check] Morningstar Farms Tex Mex 2 330
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Savory
 Veggie * 4 350
[check] Gardenburger Original or
 Portabella (2) 5 390
[check] Amy's California Veggie 4 430
[check] Gardenburger Veggie Medley 5 440

 Chicken Patties & Cutlets (1 patty--about 2.5 ounces)

[check] Morningstar Farms Okara Pattie 3 300
[check]
[check] Yves The Good Burger, Veggie
 Chicken * 2 350
[check] Veggie Patch Garlic Herb Chick'n
 Fillets * 3 360
[check] Gardenburger Chik'n Grill 5 360
[check] Morningstar Farms Roasted Herb
 Chik'n 2 380
[check] Boca Chik'n Patties, Original 2 430
[check] Gardenburger Herb Crusted Cutlet 3 460
[check] Veggie Patch Chick'n Cutlets * 2 470
 Worthington Crispy Chik Patties 2 540
 Boca Chik'n Patties, Spicy 2 560
 Morningstar Farms Chik Patties (1) 2 610

 Chicken Nuggets & Tenders (number closest to 3 ounces)

 Morningstar Farms Chik'n
 Nuggets (4) 2 490
 Worthington Loma Linda
 Chik-Nuggets (5) 2 490
 Boca Chik'n Nuggets, Original (4) 3 500
 Morningstar Farms Original Chik'n
 Tenders (2) 3 580
 Morningstar Farms Buffalo
 Wings (5) 3 630
 Boca Chik'n Wings, Hot & Spicy (4) 3 700

 Meatballs (number closest to 3 ounces)

 Vegelicious Meatless Meatballs (6) 4 390
[check] Gardenburger Mama Mia
 Meatballs (6) 4 400
[check] Veggie Patch Meatballs (4) * 3 460
[check] Nate's Meatless Meatballs, Savory
 Mushroom (6) 4 460
 Yves The Good Meatballs, Veggie
 Original (1) * 4 600
 Lightlife Smart Menu Meatless
 Meatballs (5) 2 730

 Ground & Strips (serving closest to 3 ounces)

[check] Lightlife Smart Tex Mex
[check] (1/3 cup) * 3 250
[check] Lightlife Smart Ground,
 Taco/Burrito (1/2 cup) * 5 340
[check] Morningstar Farms Meal Starters
 Recipe Crumbles, Grillers
 (1 cup) 3 360
[check] Yves The Good Ground, Veggie
 Original (1/2 cup) * 5 390
[check] Lightlife Gimme Lean, Ground Beef
 Style (1/3 cup) * 3 400
[check] Boca Ground Burger (3/4 cup) (1) 5 410
[check] Yves The Good Ground, Veggie
 Mexican (1/2 cup) * 5 450
 Lightlife Smart Ground, Original
 (1/2 cup) * 5 490
 Lightlife Smart Strips, Chick'n
 or Steak-Style (1/2 cup) (2) * 4 550
 Lightlife Smart BBQ, shredded
 (1/3 cup) * 2 560
 Morningstar Farms Meal Starters
 Recipe Crumbles, Sausage-Style
 (1 cup) 2 660
 Morningstar Farms Meal Starters
 Strips, Chik'N or Steak (12) (2) 1 700

 Loaves, Riblets, etc.
 (serving closest to 3 ounces, unless noted)

[check] Morningstar Farms Veggie Loaf
 (1" slice) (1) 4 340
[check] Worthington Stakelets (1) 2 480
 Veggie Patch BBQ Riblets
 (5 oz. with sauce) * 6 740
 Gardenburger BBQ Riblets
 (5 oz. with sauce) 4 990

[check][check] Best Bite.

[check] Honorable Mention.

(1) Average of the entire line.

(2) Average of the products listed.

* Refrigerated (in the produce section).

Daily Limits (for a 2,000-calorie diet): Saturated+Trans Fat: 20
grams. Fiber: at least 25 grams. Sodium: 1,500 milligrams. Note: we
didn't include products from Dr. Praeger's because they're being
reformulated.

Source: company information.

The use of information from this article for commercial purposes
is strictly prohibited without written permission from CSPI.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Buyers guide
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:2898
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