Gardein is one of the leading brands of so-called “fake meat” on the market today. They have a wide range of products, including plant-based jerky (!), along with veggies burgers, “meatless chick’n strips,” and more. But are Gardein meat alternatives actually healthy?
Gardein products are generally considered healthier than meat due to their low saturated fat and cholesterol content. However, most Gardein products contain processed flour, refined oil, and a moderate to high amount of sodium. Therefore, Gardein is less healthy than whole plant foods such as beans, vegetables, and fruit.
Below, I’ll dig into the sodium content and protein content of various Gardein products. I’ll look at whether Gardein counts as “processed food” and why. And I’ll end by looking at whether or not Gardein is good for weight loss specifically!
What Is Gardein Made Of?
First, we need to start with the basic facts: What do Gardein products actually contain? Let’s look at some Gardein ingredients.
Gardein makes dozens of different products, so I can’t include the full ingredients for all of them here. But let’s look at 3 different products, to get a sampling of what Gardein is made of.
Let’s start with one of Gardein’s most famous products, which has been around for years. These are their “Crispy Tenders” (basically vegan chicken fingers):
Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders Ingredients: “Water, Enriched Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Soy Protein Isolate, Canola Oil, Vital Wheat Gluten, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Rice Flour, Oat Bran, Methylcellulose, Salt, Oats, Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Ancient Grain Flour (Khorasan Wheat), Spices, Quinoa Flour, Amaranth Flour, Millet Flour, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Cream Of Tartar), Yeast Extract, Titanium Dioxide (Color), Yeast, Extractive Of Paprika (Color), Lactic Acid.” (source)
We’ll also be looking at a full Gardein “meal”—specifically, the Orange Beefless Bowl. This dish includes rice, veggies, and sauce along with the actual fake meat:
Gardein Orange Beefless Bowl Ingredients: “Cooked Rice, Water, Red Bell Peppers, Cauliflower, Water Chestnuts, Edamame Organic Tamari Sauce (Water, Organic Soybeans, Salt, Organic Vinegar), Cane Sugar, Vital Wheat Gluten, Contains 2% or Less of: Soy Protein Isolate, Fruit Puree (Water, Mandarin Orange Juice Concentrate, Tangerine Juice Concentrate), Chili Garlic Sauce (Salted Chili Peppers [Chili Peppers, Salt], Sugar, Water, Rice Vinegar, Dehydrated Garlic, Salt, Corn Starch), Light Brown Sugar, Onions, Canola Oil, Corn Starch, Ginger Puree, Yeast Extract, Garlic, Methylcellulose, Rice Vinegar, Malt Extract (Malted Barley, Water), Organic Distilled Vinegar, Onion Powder, Annatto (Color), Garlic Powder, Organic Ancient Grain Flour (Khorasan Wheat, Amaranth, Millet, Quinoa), Natural Flavors, Potato Starch, Salt, Organic Cane Sugar, Oleoresin Paprika (Color), Orange Zest (Chopped Orange Peels, Cane Sugar, Natural Orange Flavor), Spices, Sea Salt, Pea Protein, Spice Extract.” (source)
Lastly, we’ll be looking at Gardein’s plant-based jerky, which is a relatively new product. Here’s the ingredients:
Gardein Ultimate Plant-Based Jerky (Original) Ingredients: “Water, Vital Wheat Gluten, Soy Protein Isolate, Brown Sugar, Soy Sauce (Water, Soybeans, Wheat, Salt), Yeast Extract, Salt, Sugar, Garlic Powder, less than 2% of: Spices, Onion Powder, Barley Malt Extract, Pineapple Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavors, Cultured Celery Powder (Celery Powder, Sea Salt), Canola Oil, White Distilled Vinegar, Beet Juice (Color), Citric Acid, Gum Arabic, Pea Protein, Ascorbic Acid.” (source)
Before we move onto analyzing these ingredients, we’ll also take a look at the rest of the Nutrition Facts label for these products. That will give us a sense of just how much sugar, sodium, protein, and other nutrients are included.
Gardein Nutrition Facts
Below is a table with the nutrition facts for those same three Gardein products. You’ll notice that the serving sizes are quite different. (The Bowl serving is much larger than the other two.)
But our main goal is not to compare these products to each other. We’re just looking to get a sampling of what Gardein products look like nutritionally. So this works for our purposes:
|Product||Seven Grain Crispy Tenders||Orange Beefless Bowl||Ultimate Plant-Based Jerky|
Alright, now that we’ve gotten a bird’s eye view of the ingredients and nutrition facts for three different Gardein products, we’re ready to start evaluating them!
Are Gardein Products Healthy?
At first glance, many people might assume that Gardein is quite healthy. After all, Gardein products tend to have very low (or zero) saturated fat and trans fat content. This is a big improvement over most meat.
Organizations like the American Heart Association emphasize that it’s important to limit saturated fat and trans fat. This helps to keep your blood cholesterol levels low and reduce heart disease risk.
However, there’s a lot more to it than that. Foods exists on a broad spectrum between “very unhealthy” and “very healthy.” So—is Gardein good for you or bad for you?
Well, it’s not necessarily at either extreme. It has some pros and cons.
So let’s look at a few different questions to get a broad view of whether Gardein is healthy. And let’s start with this question of whether Gardein counts as “processed.”
Is Gardein Processed Food?
Gardein is processed food. It is mainly made of processed flour, isolated protein, and refined oil, with added salt. Some Gardein products also contain added sugar.
To dig into the details of why Gardein counts as processed food, let’s look at the main ingredients in the Seven Grain Crispy Tenders: Enriched wheat flour, soy protein isolate, canola oil, and vital wheat gluten.
Here’s how we know these are all refined foods, not whole foods:
- Notice you don’t see the words “whole grain” before “wheat flour.” That means this is processed, white flour.
- Notice the word “isolate” for the soy protein. This means the fiber and other parts of the soybeans have been removed.
- Notice that you see “canola oil,” not whole canola seeds.
Further on in the ingredients list (after “Contains less than 2% of”), there are “Oats,” which would count as a whole food… but by far, most of the ingredients in these Crispy Tenders are processed.
Now, this doesn’t mean Gardein is as bad as Twinkies or fast food. Not all processed food is equally bad! These Crispy Tenders contain no added sugar, for instance. There’s also no trans fat, and the amount of sodium is pretty moderate at 220mg per serving.
So, Gardein’s Seven Grain Crispy Tenders are definitely processed food—but they’re not the worst processed food out there. Mainly, you’re getting a lot of processed flour and protein.
How about the other two products? Well, they both count as processed, too. Some factors to consider:
- The Orange Beefless Bowl does contain some whole vegetables. Those aren’t processed.
- Both the Bowl and the Jerky contain quite a lot of sodium, at 820mg and 600mg per serving, respectively.
- These other products also contain added sugars—13g in the case of the Bowl. This is not a crazy amount of sugar, but it does make the meal less healthy on balance.
Is Gardein High in Sodium?
Most Gardein products are moderate or somewhat high in sodium, with around 200mg to 400mg of sodium per serving. A few Gardein products, including the soups and the plant-based jerky, contain much higher sodium levels yet.
I wanted to get a larger sample size to look at the amount of sodium found in Gardein products. So here are ten different Gardein products, with serving size and sodium:
|Gardein Product||Serving Size||Sodium Per Serving|
|Seven Grain Crispy Tenders||51g||230mg|
|Orange Beefless Bowl||241g||820mg|
|Ultimate Plant-Based Jerky||28g||600mg|
|Mini Crabless Cakes||75g||220mg|
|Plant-Based Chick’n Noodl’ Soup||425g||1,050mg|
|Ultimate Beefless Burger||85g||340mg|
|Chipotle Black Bean Sliders||83g||390mg|
|Classic Meatless Meatballs||90g||370mg|
|Meatless Chick’n Strips||82g||280mg|
|BBQ Porkless Pocket Meal||100g||490mg|
Most of these are about what you’d expect for fake meats and other processed but somewhat health-oriented foods. They’re a bit high if you’re trying to limit your sodium, but most are not outrageous compared to other similar products on the market.
That said, I would point out two Gardein products that are outliers and have quite high sodium: the plant-based jerky and the soup:
- The Plant-Based Jerky contains 600mg of sodium in just 90 calories worth of jerky. That means it would only take 2.5 servings (just 225 calories) worth of jerky to reach 1,500mg of sodium, which is the recommended daily upper limit for many populations.
- The Plant-Based Chick’n Noodl’ Soup has 1,050mg of sodium in just 200 calories of soup. High sodium is common for soup, but many brands offer a “Low Sodium” version, too. I don’t see any Low Sodium soups from Gardein at this time.
I would certainly limit how much I ate of either of these foods, and try to only consume them in balance with a diet that is lower in sodium overall.
Is Gardein High in Protein?
Gardein products have relatively low amounts of protein compared to other meat alternatives. Out of five Gardein products I checked, the Plant-Based Jerky had the most protein, at 15 grams per 100 calories. The Fishless Filets had the least protein, at 4.5 grams per 100 calories.
Not everyone needs a huge amount of protein in their diet. In fact, most vegans and vegetarians do just fine with the amount of protein they currently consume. So the following data is not that important for most of you.
That said, if you’re trying to build or maintain muscle mass while in a calorie deficit, I have personally found that high amounts of protein are useful. And for those and similar purposes, I’ve found it helpful to check the “protein density” of various foods.
Here is a list showing how Gardein compares to other meat replacements for protein per 100 calories:
- Gardein Fishless Filets have ~4.5 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Gardein Chick’n Nuggets have ~7.4 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Beyond Burgers have ~7.4 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Gardein Crispy Tenders have ~7.8 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Impossible Burgers have ~7.9 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Butler Soy Curls have ~9.2 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Tofu has ~10.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Gardein Beefless Burgers have ~10.8 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Tempeh has ~11.3 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Boca All American Veggie Burgers have ~13.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- TVP has ~15.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Gardein Plant-Based Jerky has ~15.0 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Boca Original Vegan Burgers have ~18.6 grams of protein per 100 calories.
- Seitan has ~20.2 grams of protein per 100 calories.
And if you’re actually trying to put together a high protein vegan meal plan, there’s another problem you might bump into with Gardein…
Here’s the issue: Gardein’s jerky seems to have the most protein of all their products—but it also contains very high levels of sodium, as I covered above. This means you probably don’t want to load up with multiple servings on a regular basis.
So even though Gardein’s jerky has a solid amount of protein, you can’t really rely on it to be a staple source of a big chunk of your daily protein intake. If you did, you’d just consume way too much sodium in the process.
Is Gardein Good for Weight Loss?
Gardein is okay for weight loss, but it’s not as good as whole plant foods. Gardein products tend to be lower in fiber, higher in sodium, and higher in caloric density than vegetables, fruits, or beans. This means you will likely eat more calories of Gardein before feeling “full.”
Here are three factors that may make Gardein less-than-ideal for weight loss, when compared to whole plant foods:
- 1. Most Gardein products are low in fiber. So they may be less filling than whole foods like beans and whole grains, and they may not keep you full for as long. (Similarly, they also contain less water than fresh fruits and veggies.)
- 2. Most Gardein products are moderate to high in sodium. So they may stimulate you to eat more than a natural, less-salty food like fresh fruits or vegetables.
- 3. Most Gardein products contain oil, and some have added sugars. These ingredients have a high caloric density, which means you’ll eat more calories before getting “full.”
So, when compared to natural, whole plant foods, Gardein doesn’t look great for weight loss. The processed ingredients will typically stimulate you to eat more calories before you feel full.
However, there are two big caveats I should mention:
- If you compare Gardein to real meat, rather than whole plant foods, it holds up better. Meat tends to be very calorically dense. Meat has no fiber, and it usually has plenty of sodium added, too. So Gardein may indeed be a “lighter” option when compared alongside real meat.
- If you’re counting calories or limiting portions, you can still lose weight eating Gardein. It’s not like anything in Gardein is going to prevent you from losing weight. The most important factor for weight loss is just total calorie balance. And you can achieve that while eating Gardein. Read more about this in my guide “How to Get Six-Pack Abs on a Vegan Diet.”
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