Is Tofurky Actually Worse Than the Real Thing?

By Perry Santanachote, Life by Daily Burn

One of the biggest meat-eating vacations is upon us: Thanksgiving. A time when even the most steadfast vegetarians crave a centerpiece to carve; when steely will and tasty side dishes alone wont cut it.

Many imitation turkey products, including Tofurky, are available this time of year to cater to the 7 percent of Americans that consider themselves vegetariansespecially those who still miss their meat. Dr. Brian Wansink, a food psychologist at Cornell University and author of Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, says, People who are attracted to meat-shaped veggie foods are vegetarian for health reasons , not animal-rights reasons, and theyre the biggest growing part of that market.

A Mintel report shows that indeed 36 percentage of consumers( including non-vegetarians) are buying meat alternatives to be healthier. But are these products genuinely any better for us? Sure, cutting back on meat( especially red meat) going to be able to prevent heart disease and cancer in some cases, but replacing it with processed meat substitutes comes with a price of its own.

Most meat substitutes are highly processed and full of artificial fillersnot unlike the hot dogs we might have already sworn off. Many are made from soy protein isolate, wheat gluten and other textured vegetable proteins, but also questionable ingredients that help gel and mold them into meat-like shapes.

Rachel Berman, R.D ., author of Boosting Your Metabolism for Dummies and health editor at, says to read the box before buying. Be wary of a long ingredient list, she says. The more it has, the more likely there are additives and preservatives in there to stabilize the food, add flavor, or change its consistency.

Related: 6 Everyday Habits That Are Attaining You Bloated

Some of these additives put into processed foods include unhealthy amounts of extra salt, fat and sugar and those are the ingredients we can pronounce! Other artificial additives have been shown to have side effects that include nausea, dizziness, weight gain, decreased absorption of minerals and vitamins, and even cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a list of additives to avoids and their potential side effects.

Most ingredients in imitation turkeys still do seem better than processed meat, and better than many other meat substitutes in the frozen food section, too. But not all are created equal.

For those vegetarians buying a fake turkey this year, Berman recommends opting for an all-natural option like Gardeins Savory Stuffed Turky. Theyre making an effort to use all-natural ingredients , nothing genetically engineered and largely things that youre able to pronounce, she says. Plus, they contain no chemicals or genetically modified soy, which most others use.

Products like Quorns Turky Roast, which employs mycoprotein, a processed mold, gets a big thumbs down for Berman. There have been many reports of this stuff causing gastrointestinal distress and no research saying this is something that is healthy, she says. Its entirely artificial and basically a fungus constructed in a test tube.

Like many processed foods, fake meat is also high in sodium, but it doesnt have as much saturated fat as the real stuff. Most of them, however, match real turkey gram for gram when it comes to protein, plus they include fiber, which is a bonus. So, treating yourself to a faux turkey one day out of the year isnt going to kill you, but its not exactly health food, either. I dont really like to label any one food good or bad because its really about the sum of what youre eating in a day, says Berman. If youre going to eat an imitation food, only make sure the rest of your snack is coming from the earth.

Related: Are Artificial Sweeteners Wrecking Your Diet ?

So why not only opt for Thanksgiving tofu and green beans instead? Many vegetarians find its hard to shake tradition on this holiday. Its not just about food, but its also rituals and visuals, says Wansink. Theres a lot of fluctuation with other holiday dinners, but not with Thanksgiving. Theres the traditional five dishes, and if you stray too far, people will think youre robbing them of an experience.

Its not the goal of Thanksgiving to be the healthiest snack of the year anyway, adds Wansink. Its objective is to be gleeful and thankful.

Whats Really in Tofurky and Other Vegetarian Turkey

Here are some of the more common imitations roasts available during the course of its holiday season, ranked in order from best to worst by Rachel Berman.

1. Gardein Savory Stuffed Turky
Serving Size: 1 piece( 150 g)
Calories: 280, 110 calories from fat
Fat: 12 g( 1g sat. fat)
Sodium: 590 mg
Carbohydrates: 21 g
Protein: 23 g
Dietary Fiber: 3 g

Ingredients :
water, soy protein isolate *, vital wheat gluten *, expeller pressed/ canola petroleum, organic ancient grain flour( kamut, amaranth, millet, quinoa ), natural flavors( from plant sources ), modified vegetable gum, yeast extract, ocean salt, potato starch, organic cane sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, pea protein, carrot fiber, beetroot fiber, extractives of paprika and turmeric. stuffing: water, stuffing crumbs( wheat flour *, natural cane sugar, yeast, ocean salt, canola petroleum ), onions, celery, cranberries, canola petroleum, natural flavors( from plant sources ), yeast extract. breading: wheat flour *, water, sugar, wheat gluten *, spices, salt, paprika, leavening( baking soda, cream of tartar ), yeast, onion powder, extractives of paprika. * non-genetically engineered soy and wheat

2. Tofurky Roast
Serving Size: 1/6 roast( 147 g)
Calories: 300, Calories from Fat 60
Fat: 7 g,( 0 g sat. fat)
Sodium: 620 mg
Carbohydrates: 16 g
Protein: 42 g
Dietary Fiber: 3 g

Ingredients :
ROAST: Water, vital wheat gluten, organic tofu( filtered water, organic whole soybeans, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride ), expeller pressed non-genetically engineered canola petroleum, natural vegetarian flavors, shoyu soy sauce( water , non-genetically engineered soybeans, wheat, salt, culture ), non-genetically engineered corn starch, white bean flour, garbanzo bean flour, lemon juice from concentrate, onion, carrots, celery, salt, calcium lactate from beets.

STUFFING: Organic brown rice, whole wheat bread cubes( whole wheat, filtered water, unbleached wheat flour, organic evaporated cane juice, organic palm petroleum, ocean salt, yeast, natural enzymes, ascorbic acid ), onion, celery, expeller pressed non-genetically engineered canola petroleum, organic wild rice, natural vegetarian flavouring, granulated garlic, herbs and spices.

Related: How Much Workout It Takes to Burn Off Thanksgiving Dinner

3. Field Roast Celebration Roast
Serving Size: 4 ounces( 114 g)
Calories: 280, 90 calories from fat
Fat: 10 g (. 5g sat. fat)
Sodium: 710 mg
Carbohydrates: 16 g
Protein: 31 g
Dietary Fiber: 6 g

Ingredients :
Filtered water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed safflower petroleum, naturally avored yeast extract, barley malted, whole wheat flour, granulated garlic, butternut squash, organic wheat akes, onion powder, apples, garlic, mushrooms, yellow pea our, lentils, lemon juice, irish moss( ocean veggie) extract, ocean salt, red wine, tomato paste, black pepper, rubbed sage, rosemary, paprika, spices, natural liquid smoke and carrots.

4. Five Star Foodies Vegetarian Harvest Roast
Serving Size: 1 roll( 170 g)
Calories: 290, 110 calories from fat
Fat: 12 g
Sodium: 830 mg
Carbohydrates: 16 g
Protein: 30 g
Dietary Fiber: 1 g

Ingredients :
Seitan( water, wheat gluten, whole wheat flour ), unbleached white, oat, rye, soy flour, millet, poppy& sesame seeds, soy sauce( water, wheat, soybeans, salt ), vegetable flavouring, yuba( soybeans, water ), organic sugar, salt, olive oil, spices, yeast

5. VegeUSA Vegan Whole Turkey
Serving Size: 2.5 ounces
Calories: 160
Fat: 9 g
Sodium: 450 mg
Sugar: 3 g
Protein: 13 g
Dietary Fiber: 1 g

Ingredients :
Soybean fiber, soybean protein, vegetable protein, raw cane sugar, starch, soybean petroleum, natural vegan flavor, ocean salt, cinnamon powder, tofu skin

6. Quorn Turky Roast
Serving Size: 90 g
Calories: 100, 40 calories from fat
Fat: 4.5 g( 1g sat. fat)
Sodium: 540 mg
Carbohydrates: 3 g
Protein: 13 g
Dietary Fiber: 4 g

Ingredients :
Mycoprotein( 59% ), Water, Onion, Natural Flavors From Non-Meat Sources, Refined Rapeseed Oil, Rehydrated Egg White, Milk Proteins. Contains 2% or less of Potato Maltodextrin, Salt, Tapioca Dextrin, Yeast Extract, Onion Powder, Sage Extract, Garlic Powder, Gum Arabic; Sunflower, Coconut and Palm Kernel Oil.

For comparison: Roasted Turkey Meat with Skin
Serving Size: 3 ounces
Calories: 165
Fat: 6 grams
Sodium: 54 milligrams
Sugar: 0 grams
Protein: 26 grams
Dietary Fiber: 0 grams

Originally posted on November 2013. Updated November 2015.

Read more:

About the Author

Leave a Comment: