Is vegetarian always better? To find out, we tried some major brands, then asked Jeff Hampl, PH.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at Arizona State, for his expert opinion.
BOCA MEATLESS CHEESEBURGERS
per patty: 100 calories, 13 g protein, 6 g carbs, 4.5 g fat
A good burger should be tender and moist—but not juicy enough to slide off your fork. If that wasn't enough to turn us off, the fake "cheese" aroma definitely would have been.
What Our Expert Said: "Even though they're high in sodium, these patties aren't too salty and have a decent amount of protein. But if it comes in an inedible package, why bother?"
GARDENBURGER VEGGIE MEDLEY VEGGIE BURGERS
per patty: 90 calories, 5 g protein, 15 g carbs, 3 g fat
The "fiesta" of vegetables lets you know that this patty ain't no pretender. Just don't plan on the taste of beef. This burger is more potent carrot and onion than bovine.
What Our Expert Said: "Brown rice, broccoli, and carrots highlight a list of all-natural ingredients, without the additives. Even better: One serving has 20% of your daily fiber needs."
VEGGIE PATCH MEATLESS BUFFALO WINGS
per 4 wings: 200 calories, 11 g protein, 23 g carbs, 8 g fat
"It tastes as if it's been sitting in the freezer for weeks," one taster complained. The light spice in the nuggets' breading didn't do anything to cover up the eau de freezer burn, either.
What Our Expert Said: "There's no point going meat-free just to eat something packed with sodium, fat, and calories."
AMY'S COUNTRY DINNER VEGETARIAN SALISBURY STEAK
per meal: 390 calories, 11 g protein, 60 g carbs, 12 g fat
Amy's is a mixed bag. The Salisbury "steak" was mushy and lumpy. "Despite good sides, the steak tastes just like dog food," one taster griped. Not that we've tried it...
What Our Expert Said: "An impressive 15 all-organic items, and for just 390 calories, you get a medley of fruit, vegetables, and nuts, plus a hefty dose of fiber and vitamins A and C."
DR. PRAEGER'S TEX MEX VEGGIE BURGERS
per patty: 110 calories, 6 g protein, 13 g carbs, 4.5 g fat
It's as if someone went all Close Encounters, mashing leftover Chinese food and baby food into one massive patty. Worse, the "burger" is protein deficient and has a bad spinach aftertaste.
What Our Expert Said: "These veggie burgers aren't oozing with sodium, but there are definitely better ways out there to get more protein in your diet."
MORNINGSTAR VEGGIE BACON STRIPS
per 2 strips: 60 calories, 2 g protein, 2 g carbs, 4.5 g fat
Though these strips look like a freakish combination of Fruit Roll-Up and Play-Doh, tasters somewhat reluctantly praised the faux pork's "smoky" flavor and likeness to true bacon.
What Our Experts Say: "One serving provides just 60 calories, so no one's going to get fat eating these strips. But at the same time, you're not getting any real nutrients, either."