Are vegetarian sausages healthier than meat sausages?
March 22, 2012 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Veggie sausages vs. meat sausages: Which is healthier?

I've been making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of meat that I eat over the past several months. The idea isn't necessarily to go vegetarian (though, I am starting to lean toward pescatarianism), but simply to reduce the amount of meat that I consume.

I tend not to buy meat analogues, but the last few times that I've been shopping, I've contemplated picking up some veggie sausages (not veggie dogs, which tend to taste terrible; just sausages). I've always put them back on the shelf because I worry that they are so highly processed that they're actually less healthy than meat sausages.

I realize that sausages, as a rule, aren't a particularly healthy food choice. With that in mind, which is the healthier option: meat or mock meat?

I can find plenty of information online about the supposed health benefits of soy and gluten-based "sausages." I can find plenty of information about the negative qualities of meat-based sausages. But I can't find any accurate comparison of the two. Recognizing that both options are unhealthy, which of the two is the healthier choice?
posted by asnider to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Saying "sausage" is like saying "meat." There's so much variety that the fact that two products come in a similar casing means next to nothing. Where and what sort of meat sausages are you buying? There's really no way to generalize about the quality of a sausage without knowing where it came from. A supermarket-brand sausage is a completely different animal than a sausage from a local farm. The animals are treated differently, fed differently, killed differently, the meat is processed differently, and so on. I assume it's the same with veggie dogs; the actual processing can be vastly different in terms of what additives they're using, where the raw material came from, etc. etc.

And what sort of "health" are you going for? If you're eating good sausages, the protein, fat and so on in them is perfectly good for you as long as you're doing it in moderation.
posted by griphus at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

A supermarket-brand sausage is a completely different animal than a sausage from a local farm.

This was meant figuratively.
posted by griphus at 1:50 PM on March 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Well - most veggie sausages are made with Soy.. for example, here's what's in Gimme Lean sausage (which I like):
Water, soy protein isolate, soybean oil, egg white powder, brown sugar, sea salt, less than 2% of: carrageenan, potassium chloride, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, spices, garlic powder, onion powder, potato starch, paprika extract (color), wheat gluten, natural flavor (from plant sources), yeast extract, cellulose gum, salt, sugar, palm oil, fermented rice flour, barley malt extract, minced onions, soy sauce (water, wheat, soybeans, salt), lactic acid.

There's not too much mystery in there.

Here's what's not in there (and is in the sausage):
- Cholesterol
- Antibiotics
- "Animal based Filler"
- Fat content is much higher in real sausage

IMHO Real Sausage is about as unhealthy as it gets food-wise. Aside from being slightly high in sodium and fat, I don't see why veggie sausage would be objectionable. Would love to hear from others or see a real comparison as you say.
posted by machinecraig at 1:53 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

It really depends on the particular products you're comparing. For example, I know people who work for a small local sausage making company, and as a result, I know those sausages (high grade meat and poultry, real veggies and spices, only citric acid as preservative, no fillers or added chemicals like MSG or nitrates) are much better for me than grocery store meat sausages or soy-based veggie sausages (I don't need the estrogen boost from soy).
posted by notashroom at 1:55 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For the purposes of this discussion, let's ignore the high-quality sausages that I might source directly from a farmer selling at the farmers' market.

Meat sausage = mass market "meat in a tube" sold at a grocery store, probably has lots of salt and nitrates. Probably made from pork, though not necessarily.

Veggie sausage = pretty much the above, but made from soy and/or gluten; Yves is the brand that I'd be most likely to buy, since it is the most commonly available in my area.
posted by asnider at 1:55 PM on March 22, 2012

I think you have to define what you mean by healthy. So for instance you could compare how much, for a portion, you receive the % daily recommended amount of things such as salt, various kinds of fats, etc. I'm assuming that veggie comes out ahead, maybe followed by chicken sausages? But you'd really have to read the labels to find out.

You imply that more processed = less healthy (because 'good stuff' is removed?). I've never thought if veggie sausages as being a good source of vegetables, more like sausage-shaped lumps of flavoured soy protein. I don't think that there are really 'unhealthy' veggie sausages that have overcooked veggies in them.
posted by carter at 1:56 PM on March 22, 2012

I think either way it will depend on the ingredients--the more "whole foods" that are in that casing, the better.

For example, I bought some vegan sausages at my local co-op that contained nothing but actual food: no soy derivatives, just potato and fruit and seasonings. They were extraordinarily expensive, but they were good and they were super-healthy. They were basically something I could have made myself from raw ingredients.

That's where I'd classify a healthy meat sausage, too. Can I make it myself from scratch without having to figure out where to buy some chemical additive or another? The sausage I buy at the butcher's counter fits this profile, but the ones in the freezer section don't, and most of the ones in the cold case won't either.

In my personal experience a "healthy meat sausage" is easier to find than a meat-free sausage product that contains nothing but real food, but if I had one of those great vegan sausages in front of me, and a good butcher shop pork sausage, I'd be hard pressed to pick one. I guess I'd always lean in favor of more protein though and since I don't do soy, vegetarian sausage loses points.
posted by padraigin at 1:57 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

TBH, I think it is going to depend on the specifics of the sausages. Who makes them, how they are made, what ingredients that are used, etc.

As a baseline, on average I would hazard a guess that generic non-meat sausage would be healthier than meat based just based on a moderate understanding of sausage-in-general, but there certainly would be exceptions to that rule.

In your question you raise the possibility of over-processing being part of the problem of non-meat sausage, but I tell you general meat sausage is plenty processed in of themselves, so I don't think one is worse than the other in this regard. So taking that off the table it would just be actual ingredients, and while the over consumption of soy (like the over consumption of anything) may be problematic I think being wary of industry grade sausage meat trumps that concern

Now, I do not eat commercial red meat, and try and limit general meat consumption, but eating local sourced high quality chicken sausage upon occasion is both tasty and healthy. i imagine the same could be said for good quality beef or bison as well. Day to day run of the mill stuff I'd stick to non-meat though.
posted by edgeways at 1:58 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

So here is a link to an Yves' nutrition label: here.

It seems a bit off that one sausage gives you 35% of your sodium, so a 4 pack = 140% of your daily sodium. I'd avoid these ...
posted by carter at 2:00 PM on March 22, 2012

Response by poster: OK, one more blast of information that I obviously overlooked before I stop thread-sitting:

In terms of "healthy," I'm most concerned with:

- Sodium
- Nitrates
- Cholesterol
- Fat

Keeping all of those things low, while keeping protein (and flavour) fairly high would be what I'm thinking of when I talk about "healthiness." I have a suspicion that the sodium levels in veggie sausages are going to be much higher in an effort to try and improve the flavour, but I haven't actually compared labels so I might be wrong.
posted by asnider at 2:01 PM on March 22, 2012

This is pretty much what nutrition labels are made for. Look at the packages together and compare the amount of salt, fat, protein, calories, and so forth, and choose accordingly.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:01 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In general, supermarket meat sausage vs supermarket vegetable sausage, the vege will be way ahead unless you're really getting into some abstract anti-soy stuff.

Supermarket sausages are *full* of saturated fat, salt, and nitrates; vege sausages will have far less of all three of those things, and they could very well have more protein to boot (disappointingly large amount of wheat in lots of supermarket sausies). This is not as confusing as it's made out above. Supermarket sausages are basically one of the most unhealthy things in the world to eat. Vege sausages do not have to be the acme of nutrition to "beat" them.
posted by smoke at 2:02 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regular supermarket-brand sausages have a lot of crap in them so on that front the veggie sausage would win in almost all aspects except sodium. However, depending on your supermarket, you may have a number of brands to pick from. A good rule of thumb is if a sausage is not sold in a natural casing, it's probably not good sausage. Also, a frozen sausage is a bad sausage.

Depending on your location, there may also be a dedicated meat store/butcher shop, or health food store that carries meat, or upscale supermarket or something along those lines where you can get good sausage.
posted by griphus at 2:04 PM on March 22, 2012

It's also going to depend on how much of your diet is made up of sausage. If you're eating a couple of sausages once a week, then I can't imagine that either will make a noticeable difference. Once a day is a different matter.
posted by rtha at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2012

In fact you could use this page and then go to the nutrition labels and put everything in a spreadsheet (e.g. mg sodium/g sausage). That should give you a good idea. Let us know!
posted by carter at 2:12 PM on March 22, 2012

Best answer: asnider: “Yves is the brand that I'd be most likely to buy, since it is the most commonly available in my area... In terms of 'healthy,' I'm most concerned with: Sodium, Nitrates, Cholesterol, Fat”

If you're interested in Yves brand, you may wish to peruse this handy comparison page which looks at the nutritional differences between ordinary meat products and some Yves brand products like hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, and burgers. No, sausage is not listed here, but the fact is that generally sausages are in fact higher in cholesterol and fat than other meats. Sodium nitrate in particular is much more heavily used in meat hot dogs and meat sausages than any other meat I know of. However, I have never seen a vegetarian sausage or hot dog (or fake meat in general) that has sodium nitrate, although of course you're welcome to look at the labels and prove me wrong. Also, note that none of Yves' fake-meat products have any cholesterol at all, so you'd be dodging that bullet completely.

The short version is that meatless sausages and hot dogs are almost invariably going to be much healthier than meat sausages and hot dogs, particularly where it concerns the four things you list that you're worried about: meat-free products will almost always have no cholesterol, no nitrates, lower sodium, and much lower fat.
posted by koeselitz at 2:12 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Field Roast veggie sausages are really good and are pretty minimally processed. They're not too expensive either. The Apple Sage are my favorite.

The Yves and LightLife and that sort of mainstream thing tends to be more processed and higher in sodium, but they're still going to be better for you than processed meat sausages. If you can find sausages that are made locally in small batches that will be your best bet for meat sausage.
posted by Slinga at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Recognizing that both options are unhealthy, which of the two is the healthier choice?

Veggie Sausage.

And no, I have no information other than my 30 years of cooking enjoyment to back that opinion up with.

And if I may, I'd like to recommend Field Roast brand "Smoked Apple Sage" veggie sausages. They taste great.
posted by gyusan at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I honestly wouldn't call vegetarian/vegan sausages unhealthy. You can prepare them in unhealthy ways, but that's a separate issue.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:49 PM on March 22, 2012

That depends so much on your own health issues!

For me, the Field Roast "sausages" are by far the least healthy, because of the migraine trigger they contain (naturally flavored yeast extract). If I ate that, I'd have a three-day migraine, starting the following day. Also, the safflower oil they contain is full of the omega-6 fatty acids that seem to aggravate my autoimmune eye disease. A good meat sausage that won't give me a headache or make my eyes hurt is MUCH healthier for me. These things are not significant if you're not prone to migraines or inflammatory type disease, though.

For someone who has celiac disease, the wheat gluten's a huge health issue. Not at all important for those who don't.

You can't make a blanket judgment that applies to everyone. One type of sausage is better for one person. A different type is better for another.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:59 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nitrates have been linked to cancer pretty conclusively.

Unless the veggie sausage you eat contains nitrates, that's one huge factor in favor of veggie sausage.
posted by devymetal at 3:13 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the sodium issue, I checked the calorie counter I used for nutrition info and it looks like Yves sausage has roughly the same amount of sodium as meat-based sausage.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:19 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: After your clarifications, I would like to point out that there is a current controversy in nutrition between the more traditional camp that said not to eat foods with fat or cholesterol in them, and the group following the low-carb/Paleo etc. trend, who suggest that foods with fat and cholesterol in them are not the problem and that you can actually eat things like butter and eggs without adversely affecting your health. The links are to Mark's Daily Apple.

However, I don't think that controversy matters, because even these Paleo folks think you should definitely avoid eating sausage. Because of the nitrites, as many have mentioned above. Nitrites and nitrates have been equivocal in human studies on the link to cancer, but I certainly would personally rather avoid them than chance it, since they are proven carcinogens in other animals. But another good reason is because all red meat has recently been found to raise your risk of premature death. And processed meats were found in that study to raise your risk of premature death even more, by 20%. See the link for caveats on that study.

The fake sausages are made of soy. Soy has been linked to a reduced incidence of breast cancer and prostate cancer, as well as other cancers.

So regardless of where you fall on the fat = good or cholesterol = bad debate, I think we can agree that fake sausages that may prevent cancer are better than real sausages that may cause cancer and also generally premature death.

As for sodium, we all agree that's bad, and Yves sausages have 680mg (24% of your DV), turkey sausage has 28% and pork sausage has 31%. All numbers were obtained from LiveStrong's nutrition information articles.

I hope that answers your question and helps convert you to pescatarianism! Very topical question for World Water Day (go vegetarian, save water!)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:44 PM on March 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you live in an area with a high Muslim population (this might also be true in Jewish areas), you can get beef and chicken sausages, which are lower in fat than pork as a general rule.

I do know Quorn (mycoprotein) sausages are much lower in fat than the standard pork variety too.
posted by mippy at 7:23 AM on March 23, 2012

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