Ground Beef Alternatives: 12 Healthy Substitutes

Ground beef is one of the most versatile ingredients for cooking. However, too much isn’t the healthiest. For this reason many of my health coaching clients will ask about substitutes during our sessions. Therefore, what are ground beef alternatives?

The following are ground beef alternatives:

  1. Ground turkey
  2. Ground chicken
  3. Tofu
  4. Portabella mushrooms
  5. Tempeh
  6. Textured vegetable protein
  7. Beans
  8. Cauliflower
  9. Beets
  10. Bulgur
  11. Seitan
  12. Pre-packaged ground beef substitutes

This article will list each one and compare their nutrients, tastes and textures. In addition, I include a summary of why each one is a good choice.

In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and used the alternatives in this article prior to, during and most times after writing this article.

Ground Beef Alternatives

1. Ground Turkey

Ground turkey is a much leaner alternative. That difference alone should be enough to convince you to grab it the next time you’re in the supermarket.

However, not only is ground turkey leaner, it also tastes surprisingly similar to ground beef in most recipes. After all, it is ground meat.

Since it is very lean, it can have a drier texture. Although it’s not an issue in sauce recipes.

I probably use this alternative more than any other one on the list.

Ground turkey and ground beef in a frying pan
Ground turkey on the left Ground beef on the right

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Ground turkey, raw (4 ounces)

85% lean

Calories 287 203
Protein 19.4 g 19.1 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 3.9 g
Total fat 23 g 14.1 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 0 g
Fiber 0 g 0 g

Nutrient Resources 1 2

  • Ground turkey contains 84 less calories per 4 ounces.
  • Ground turkey contains a similar amount of protein.
  • Ground beef contains over double the saturated fat.
  • Ground turkey contains 8.9 grams less of total fat.

Why ground turkey is a good replacement:

  • It is leaner.
  • It contains a similar amount of protein.
  • Ground turkey can taste similar in many recipes.
  • It’s great in meat sauce recipes which camouflage its drier texture.

The first time I tried ground turkey I wasn’t a huge fan due to its dryness. The 2nd time I used it in a different dish, a traditional lasagna with tomato sauce. I almost couldn’t tell the difference as the taste was camouflaged by the other ingredients. In addition, with the sauce dryness wasn’t an issue.

2. Ground Chicken Meat

Ground chicken is a fantastic addition to this list. It contains less calories and saturated fat than the previous choice.

Ground chicken has a texture similar to ground beef, but it may be a bit bland. However, if you add some spices or add it to a sauce, you can trick almost anyone into thinking they’re eating the real thing.

It contains about the same amount of protein. It’s also an excellent source of several vitamins and minerals.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Ground chicken, raw (4 ounces)
Calories 287 162
Protein 19.4 g 19.7 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 2.6 g
Total fat 23 g 9.1 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 0.4 g
Fiber 0 g 0 g

Nutrient Resources 3

  • Ground chicken contains 125 less calories per 4 ounces.
  • Ground chicken contains a similar amount of protein.
  • It contains over 3 times fewer saturated fat.
  • Ground chicken contains 13.9 grams less of total fat.

Why ground chicken is a good beef substitute:

  • Ground chicken is leaner.
  • It can taste similar in many recipes using spices and sauce.
  • Ground chicken is great in meat sauce recipes which camouflage its drier texture.

If ground turkey is unavailable or doesn’t look good to me, I’ll most often purchase and use the ground chicken instead.

Ground chicken with white rice
Ground chicken with white rice

3. Firm Tofu

Firm tofu is one of the best vegetarian substitutes in general. It is made from soy protein, so it has a high protein content.

Unfortunately, tofu doesn’t have much flavor on its own. However, it does absorb spices and aromas beautifully, so this shouldn’t be an issue in most recipes. 

If you get a block of tofu and then crumble and bake it, you’ll get something looking like ground beef. Aside from the look, the texture is shockingly similar, so you can use it as a replacement in any recipe calling for it.

It’s also a vegetarian and vegan-friendly option, so it’s perfect if you’re hosting a meal including non-meat eaters. It is often used as one of the main dishes.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Tofu, raw (4 ounces)
Calories 287 93
Protein 19.4 g 9.3 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0.6 g
Total fat 23 g 5.3 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 2.6 g
Fiber 0 g 2.6 g

Nutrient Resources 4

  • Tofu contains 194 less calories per 4 ounces.
  • Tofu contains a good amount of protein.
  • Tofu contains 14 times fewer saturated fat.
  • Tofu contains 17.7 grams less of total fat.

Why tofu is a good replacement:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It’s high in protein for a non meat option.
  • Tofu will last long in the refrigerator sealed in the package.
  • It contains less calories and fat.
  • The texture is similar.
  • Contain fiber.

The video below describes how to make crumbled tofu.

4. Portabella Mushrooms

Mushrooms, especially the portabella variety, are one of the best, tastiest alternatives. You can easily mince them with a knife or food processor to get to any consistency you want.

They work especially well in recipes calling for frying, like meatballs, burgers and stir-frys. They’ll soak up any sauce you throw at them.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Portabella mushrooms, raw (1 cup)
Calories 287 19
Protein 19.4 g 1.8 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0 g
Total fat 23 g 0.3 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 3.3 g
Fiber 0 g 1.1 g
Kevin Garce's photo of the mushroom section of his local supermarket.
Photo I took of the mushroom section of my local supermarket

Nutrient Resources 5

  • Portabella mushrooms contain 268 less calories per serving.
  • Portabella contains much less protein.
  • Ground beef contains saturated fat, and mushrooms don’t.
  • Portabella mushrooms contain 22.7 grams less total fat.

Why portabella mushrooms are a good option:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It’s good if you’re counting calories.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • It’s great for meatballs, burgers or stir fry.

The video below informs you how to make portabella steaks.

For me, cutting up the mushroom was a lot of work when I first tried it. The food processor is much easier and is what I use every time of make it.

5. Tempeh

Tempeh is a favorite with vegetarians. Versatile tempeh is fermented soybeans in block form. To use as a substitute, break it up into your hands and brown it with avocado or olive oil.

Tempeh is great to use when making sloppy joes, tacos, soups, sauces and chili.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Tempeh, raw (1 cup)
Calories 287 319
Protein 19.4 g 33.7 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 4.2 g
Total fat 23 g 17.9 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 12.7 g
Fiber 0 g 0 g

Nutrient Resources 6

  • Tempeh contains more calories. If counting calories is a concern then consider another food in this article.
  • Tempeh contains more protein.
  • It contains half the amount of saturated fat.
  • Tempeh contains 5.1 grams less total fat.

Why tempeh is good to use:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.

The video below shows you how to make five different ground beef alternatives.

6. Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP or Soy Protein)

Textured vegetable protein, also known as soya chunks, is a phenomenal option. It’s mostly made from soy protein, but it tastes nothing like tofu.

TVP can come in any shape, size or form. It’s often sold as something resembling ground beef. Since TVP has next to no moisture, it works best in stews or meat sauce recipes.

TVP needs to reconstitute by letting it absorb hot liquids if you’re looking for a similar texture. Additionally, TVP has little flavor, therefore take that into account when deciding which recipes to add it to.

TVP is also a great choice when it comes to nutrition.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Textured Vegetable Protein, dry (1/2 cup)
Calories 287 111
Protein 19.4 g 17.5 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0 g
Total fat 23 g 0.4 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 11.5 g
Fiber 0 g 5.96 g

Nutrient Resources 7

  • Textured vegetable protein contains 176 less calories per serving.
  • TVP contains 1.9 fewer grams of protein.
  • TVP doesn’t contain saturated fat.
  • TVP contains 22.6 grams less total fat.

Why textured vegetable protein is a good choice:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It’s good if you’re counting calories.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • TVP contains a similar amount of protein.
  • TVP contains fiber.
Textured vegetable protein TVP in a pan
Textured vegetable protein TVP in a pan

7. Beans

Beans don’t just make for a hearty meal, they’re also a super versatile ingredient. Although I wouldn’t make Pasta Bolognese with them, they’ll taste amazing in any stew or baked dish.

There’s an endless list of bean varieties that you can use, like:

  • Black beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans

Keep in mind the nutrition content varies a lot between the varieties. However, beans are typically very high in protein, complex carbs, fiber, low in fat and packed with vitamins and minerals.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces) Lentils, raw (1/2 cup)
Calories 287 338
Protein 19.4 g 23.6 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0.1 g
Total fat 23 g 4.08 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 244 g
Fiber 0 g 41 g

Nutrient Resources 8

  • Lentils contain more protein.
  • They contain almost zero saturated fat.
  • Lentils contain 18.9 grams less total fat.

Why beans are a good replacement:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • Beans contain more protein.
  • Beans contain fiber.

I love using beans because of their taste, fiber and nutrients.

8. Cauliflower

Vegans and vegetarians love substituting with cauliflower, and for a good reason. Cauliflower stays firm after cooking and will soak up spicy rubs and marinades.

Cauliflower can replace meat in literally any recipe. It has a mild, sweet flavor and a firm, crunchy texture. It’s great for baking, frying, steaming and boiling.

More than that, cauliflower is one of the healthiest veggies out there. It’s mostly water, so it’s very filling. Furthermore, it’s very low in calories, high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Kevin Garce checking organic cauliflower at his local supermarket
Checking organic cauliflower at my local supermarket

To use cauliflower, you will first have to finely chop it or blitz it in a food processor or a blender like a vitamix. I have a vitamix blender at home which I reviewed in my article, Vitamix Venturist V1200 Blender Review.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80% lean

Cauliflower, raw (1 cup)
Calories 287 27
Protein 19.4 g 2.0 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0 g
Total fat 23 g 0.3 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 5.3 g
Fiber 0 g 2.1 g

Nutrient Resources 9

  • Cauliflower contains 260 less calories per serving.
  • Cauliflower contains much less protein.
  • There is no saturated fat in cauliflower.
  • Cauliflower contains 22.7 grams less total fat.

Why cauliflower is a good choice:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It’s good if you’re counting calories.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • Cauliflower contains fiber.

The video below describes how to use cauliflower for a ground beef recipe.

9. Beets

If you want to make steak tartare, I recommend making it with finely chopped beets. You can eat them raw or boil them before serving.

Their high fiber content is what gives beets their fleshy, firm texture. Although the flavor is very earthy, it tastes wonderful when combined with sweet ingredients like onions, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

Most importantly, beets are way healthier. They are high in fiber, potassium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin B9 and manganese.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80%

Beets, raw (1 cup)
Calories 287 59
Protein 19.4 g 2.2 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0 g
Total fat 23 g 0.2 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 13 g
Fiber 0 g 3.8 g

Nutrient Resources 10

  • Beets contain 228 less calories per serving.
  • Beets contain much less protein.
  • Ground beef contains saturated fat, and beets don’t.
  • Beets contain 22.8 grams less total fat.

Why beets are a good option in recipes:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It’s good if you’re counting calories.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • Beets contain fiber.

10. Bulgur

Bulgur is made from cracked parboiled groats of several wheat species. Partially cooked whole-wheat may seem like an odd choice. However, it works well in many recipes like:

  • Meat pies
  • Tacos
  • Sauces
  • Chili

Most people will substitute one cup of bulgur for one pound of ground beef. Once the bulgur is cooked, it can be used the same in a recipe.

How I Cook Red Bulgur

Bulgur is partially cooked and for that reason most types take less than 15 minutes to cook. Different types require different cooking times, therefore always check the instructions on your package.

  • Bring 2 cups of water and 1 cup of bulgur to a boil in a pot.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until tender. About 12 minutes.
  • Drain off any remaining water, fluff with a fork and serve.
Cooked bulgur with vegetables
Cooked bulgur with vegetables

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80%

Bulgur, cooked (1 cup)
Calories 287 151
Protein 19.4 g 5.6 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0.1 g
Total fat 23 g 0.4 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 33.9 g
Fiber 0 g 8.1 g

Nutrient Resources 11

  • Bulgur contains less calories per serving.
  • Bulgur contains fewer protein.
  • Bulgur contains 22.6 grams less total fat.

Why bulgur is a good choice:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans.
  • It’s good if you’re counting calories.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • Bulgur contains fiber.

If you’re on a low-carb diet bulgur wouldn’t be a good choice for you. Choose one of the other foods lower in carbs on the list in this article.

11. Seitan

Seitan is a food made from gluten, the main protein of wheat. Wheat gluten is often used instead of meat in Asia. Seitan is a good substitute in the following dishes:

  • Meatloaf
  • Meatballs
  • Burgers
  • Sauces
  • Casseroles
  • Tacos

It has little flavor on its own so it pairs well with most seasonings. Seitan is a good option for those who don’t want beef or soy.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces)

80%

Seitan (4 ounces)
Calories 287 160
Protein 19.4 g 21.3 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 0.3 g
Total fat 23 g 2.7 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 13.3 g
Fiber 0 g 1.3 g

Nutrient Resources 12

  • Seitan contains less calories per serving.
  • Seitan contains more protein.
  • Seitan contains 20.3 grams less total fat.

Why seitan a good ground meat alternative:

  • It’s good for vegetarians and vegans who don’t want soy.
  • It’s good if you’re counting calories.
  • It contains less saturated and total fat.
  • Seitan contains fiber.

If you’re on a low-carb diet seitan may not be a good choice for you. Choose one of the other foods on the list in this article.

Cooked seitan in a bowl
Cooked seitan in a bowl

12. Pre-packaged “vegan meat” ground beef alternatives

New products designed to taste like meat are now being marketed to not only vegetarians, but meat eaters. Two popular brands are Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger.

Both brands recommend their products as nutritious alternatives to animal protein. Some people call them vegan meat or plant-based meat.

For taste, I bought one in a Burger King and tried it out. I have to admit, it tasted closer to ground meat than I thought it would but I wasn’t impressed and never tried one again.

These plant based burgers provide a good amount of protein and add vitamins and minerals to the burgers. If you decide to use these burgers or meat, be aware they are processed, contain saturated fat and sodium to improve their taste.

Therefore, they may be not the best option on this list but they are choices which can be used in moderation.

Nutrient comparison

The following table is a side-by-side comparison of some nutrients contained in 4 ounces.

Ground beef, raw (4 ounces) Beyond Burger (4 ounces) Impossible Burger (4 ounces)
Calories 287 230 240
Protein 19.4 g 20 g 19 g
Saturated fat 8.6 g 5 g 8 g
Total fat 23 g 18 g 14 g
Carbohydrates 0 g 7 g 9 g
Fiber 0 g 2 g 3 g
Sodium 80 mg 390 mg 370 mg

Nutrient Resources 12

  • Contain less calories per serving.
  • They contain a similar amount of protein.
  • Contain a similar amount of saturated fat.
  • Contain less total fat.
  • Provide a little fiber.
  • Contain much more sodium.

Ground Beef Poll

To conduct some original research and get the opinions of real people like you, I polled my readers, clients and members of some food groups. I asked them what was the best ground beef alternative?

  • 41% said the best one was ground turkey which was the winner of the poll.
  • 18% said ground chicken which came in 2nd place.
  • 16% said tofu which came in 3rd place.

If you have any questions about this ground meat substitute article don’t hesitate to email us. You can find an email on our contact page.

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Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. USDA: Beef, ground, 80% lean meat / 20% fat, raw[]
  2. USDA: Turkey, ground, 85% lean, 15% fat, raw[]
  3. USDA: Chicken, ground, raw[]
  4. USDA: Tofu, raw, regular, prepared with calcium sulfate[]
  5. USDA: Mushroom, portabella[]
  6. USDA: Tempeh[]
  7. USDA: Textured vegetable protein, dry[]
  8. USDA: Lentils, raw[]
  9. USDA: Cauliflower, raw[]
  10. USDA: Beets, raw[]
  11. USDA: Bulgur, cooked[]
  12. Nutrition Value: Seitan[][]

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