You Ask, I Answer: Healthy Soy Burger Substitutes

A few days ago, in response to my post on soy protein versus hemp/rice protein, I received the following question from reader Jocelyn. Echoing a few other curious readers, she asked,

Your food blog sparked my interest when you guest posted on The Fitnessista’s blog a while back. I find your blog to be EXTREMELY informative but I’m still having some problems with my eating habits. I have cut out all meat for about two months now but unfortunately have not yet been able to stop eating fish. However, I’ve been reading on your blog and many others that soy protein is highly processed. I eat A LOT of soy protein, Amy’s veggie burgers and other soy products almost everyday in my salads for lunch. I’m wondering if you could recommend some substitutes. I enjoy huge salads/Ezekiel veggie wraps for lunch but feel that without a soy product I might not satisfy my hunger since I’m still relatively new to meatless meals and I exercise a lot.

Thanks for all of the helpful blogging!”

Great question, Jocelyn! It’s very important that you get adequate protein and satiety, especially to support your active lifestyle! That said, you have a lot of options.Ah, soy substitutes. I have such a love/hate relationship with them. On the one hand, I’m not a fan of processed soy, for reasons that I’ve discussed a few times on this site. But I can’t bash them, either, for three major reasons:

  • From a dietetic perspective, I believe that most soy substitutes are at least slightly superior to the animal products they’re aiming to replace
  • From an ethical perspective, I believe they’re most definitely superior
  • Soy substitutes are very important tools in the transition to veganism! Boca burgers and soymilk and soy yogurt — no matter how ambivalent I feel about them now — were truly helpful to me as I was going vegan. I didn’t intend to rely on them forever, and I didn’t need them for long (since I’d never really liked most animal proteins, it seemed sort of silly to be eating simulacra of them). But they were very comforting to me, and they gave me a boost of confidence as I began to transition into a cleaner, plant-based diet. So while they may not be nutritionally ideal, they’re a valuable tool for people who are trying to kick start healthier diets overall.
That said, it’s not at all hard to replace them, guys! Or at least to focus on different foods instead. Here are five soy substitute substitutes you may want to try:1) Hemp or brown rice protein for soy protein

100% plant based, all natural, and high quality protein powder. ‘Nuff said.

2)Sunshine burgers for Boca Burgers or Morningstar Farms patties.

Sunshine burgers feature this short little list of ingredients: Ground raw sun-flower seeds, brown rice, carrots, herbs, and sea salt. Pretty impressive, no? Compared to the soy protein concentrate, wheat gluten, methylcellulose, salt, caramel color, yeast extract, hydrolyzed wheat protein, natural and artificial flavor, disodium guanylate, and disodium inosinate in a Boca burger, this is good news! And the best news of all is that Sunshine Burgers are exceptionally delicious–I frequently recommend them to my clients with taste-tested approval.

3) Almond milk or hemp milk for soy milk

Most conventional soymilk undergoes heavy processing before it hits the grocery aisle. So give your tummy a break, and try organic almond or hemp milk. The latter is very high in protein, and both are fantastic, tasty, and easy-to-digest alternatives with your morning meal. If you’re feeling super creative, give my recipe for almond milk a try. It’s delicious!

4) Bean Burgers for Morningstar Farms Breakfast Patties

Scrumptious beans and rice vs. textured soy protein and oils? Is this really even a toss up?

5) So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt for Soy Yogurt

Nothing could have made me happier than seeing this product trickle into health food stores and Whole Foods a year or two ago! For one thing, I’ve always thought that most soy yogurt tasted pretty darn awful. For another, coconut milk is infinitely more digestible than soy milk — and it has the added bonus of being non-estrogenic (different people feel differently about the estrogenic properties of soy, but I’m generally not in the positive camp). These yogurts are still slightly more processed than I’d like, but they’re still purer than their soy counterparts. Enjoy!

And of course, Jocelyn, the best thing you can do is to start adjusting to sources of protein and satiety that don’t mimic traditional animal proteins at all. Whole grains–especially quinoa–are terrific protein sources. So are beans! Beans and legumes are a crucial component of vegan nutrition. You can eat these sprouted or cooked; I prefer my beans cooked, but either method is fine. Turn them into burgers, croquettes, hummus or spreads, or throw them into vegan soups for a protein boost. They’ll not only help your satiety, but they’ll also add calcium, iron, and countless other vitamins and minerals to your diet as well.

Finally, don’t forget your healthy fats. Avocados, coconuts, and nuts are all important sources of satiety; nut butters can, in particular, help give a protein and calorie boost to vegan meals, minus the artificial additives.

I hope this helps you all to understand that, while soy protein and soy substitutes have a really important place in the vegan transition, they aren’t your only options. Explore the wonderful world of high-quality, whole grains and legumes. Over time, I’d wager you’ll begin to feel sated and fueled without the soy — and prouder of your dietary choices, too!

Before, I go, I’d like to encourage you all, please, to donate what you can to Haiti.

Night all.


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  1. Hi I was reading about the alternative to boca burger, the sunshine burger. The only problem I am facing is that this sunshine burger is 100 calories more and I am really trying to lose weight. I actually have been since eating the boca, but I am not really loving the processed soy! Does anyone have an alternative that is close to 100 calories and a good filling lunch that is quick?

  2. I just found the Sunshine burgers and gave them a try. Really yummy! And filling – they kept me satiated through the workday.

  3. After reading your post about soy protein isolates (thank you for that!), I decided to check my labels and was horrified to discover that so many of my meatless meat products contain it. Ugh! A reader of mine tipped me off to products, which are vegan and soy-free. I bought several of their products, but haven’t tried them yet. The ingredients list is entirely wholesome though, so I am glad I found replacements so quickly!

    I agree about Sunshine burgers, they are delish!


  4. SUCH a great post and could not agree more. As I transitioned to become a vegetarian, most of my friends/family assumed I’d become a tofu nut! Instead, I have chosen to get a large amount of my protein from beans & nuts along with milk and eggs (although I know the milk/eggs would not work for a vegan). Love love bean burgers! Happy Sunday

  5. I love Sunshine burgers! I try to limit the amount of soy I consume as well, though it does find a place in my vegan diet. I drink almond milk instead of soy milk and use coconut milk coffee creamer. I also like to make my own black bean burgers.

  6. thank you so much for this! while i’m not vegan, i don’t believe in frankenmeats! so nice to see your stance on the processed soy argument. this site has been so informative in me transitioning to eating less meat yet retaining all the nutrients i need for a healthy body!

  7. excellent post! Have never even ventured into vegan patty land but now I know where to get my suggestions when I want to! Thanks for this, Gena.

  8. AWESOME TIPS! I love soy, but love variety in my diet too!

    and ya…….still haven’t tried sunshine burgers! Dunno what is wrong with me!!


  9. Thanks for the suggestions! I love brown rice protein but I’m a little confused as to how they incorporate all the essential AAs. I thought grains were missing a couple?
    I’ve tried liking hemp protein…… 😕 yeah, couldn’t do it

  10. I love your blog Gena! It’s a great inspiration on foods that I eat, and I cut out most forms of soy except edamame, tempeh, and miso after reading your blog and about how overly processed it was – especially since there are many great alternatives to soy, some of which you listed are my favorites. Sunshine burgers are one of my favorite products, as is the So Delicious brand of coconut milk products.
    Thanks for the great post 🙂

  11. i love, love, love me some sunshine burgers. wish we carried them in valdosta- i always have to stock up when we’re in orlando
    this is an excellent list of healthy swap outs.. couldn’t agree more
    hope you’re having a happy friday!

  12. With my diet being mostly fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds, I use a lot of those for my protein sources. With healthy fats, I am always satisfied. I think a lot of people are afraid of those healthy fats, but in a raw vegan lifestyle, those unprocessed forms of protein and fats are a staple and irreplaceable! LOVE them!

    Great post!

  13. This is such a great list Gena – I can definitely see myself referring back to this post time and time again. Thank you!

  14. Great info Gina. Eating lots of processed soy products, isolated soy or anything thats too processed is definitely not so good for you. I think that organic Tofu/Tempeh/soy milk products have a place as long as you aren’t eating them all day long. There is actually a sprouted tofu from Wildwood that’s available now. Anyways, so many wonderful replacements like you mentioned. There is a wonderful veggie/nut burger that i’ve been making that tastes better than boca and gardenburgers. I think nuts in the burgers give them a real nice flavor.

  15. Oooh, simulacra – nice use of an SAT word! High five.

    I’m feeling kind of done with stuff with processed soy in it anyway. I think it’s probably half mental, but nowadays if I find myself eating a Boca-ish product it makes me slightly queasy. Both digestively and at the thought of it not being so great for me. Still, I continue to be proud of choosing that over the conventional beef hamburgers that were my other option (which smelled really good too, btw) at the 4th of July BBQ I attended, so you are right on all fronts regarding soy being a step on a transitional pyramid.

    Bon weekend my darling.

  16. This is a wonderful post! Thanks very much.

    I have a follow up question: How do we know that hemp/almond milks are less processed than soy milks? Don’t they have to go through a somewhat similar processing to get from seed/nut to milk?

    Thanks again.

  17. Terrific post! I too, have cut way back on processed soy products. I no longer consume anything that has isolated soy protein in it. To that end, all of the coconut milk products by Turtle Mountain have made living dairy-free a whole lot easier and more delicious. I love So Delicious coconut milk beverages, yogurt, and kefir, and Purely Decadent coconut milk ice cream is crazy delicious!

  18. I love soy burgers and soy everything! But I do try to vary my diet so that I’m not eating soy for breakfast, soy for lunch, and soy for dinner. If I have a piece of soy sausage for breakfast, I’ll try to have beans or seitan later in the day. That being said, some days I eat a crap ton of soy in one day. I do LOVE the coconut yogurts and Blue Diamond almond milk though!

  19. Hey Gena! I have a question about homemade almond milk…after you strain it, could you put the almond pulp in the food processor to make almond butter? Or would that not work because the liquid is gone? I love both almond milk and almond butter, so I’d love to be able to make both at the same time. 🙂 Thanks!

  20. I’m going to sound like a broken record, here, but this is why I adore you. As you know, a lot of my eating history has been wrapped up in guilt…guilt for eating too much, guilt for not eating enough, guilt for eating the “wrong” foods, guilt for not eating “raw enough.”

    While I know that processed soy isn’t the best thing in the world for me, I also know that as a young mom with a family just transitioning (it’s been a year for me, about 7 months for the rest of the fam), it’s okay to moderately eat some of these foods while I come up with my own whole food alternatives.

    I really appreciate and hope to emulate your compassion to others regarding their diet and transitioning from animal products. Thank you, again!

  21. Great suggestions for the sunshine burgers! I’ve never been a big soy-substituter; I don’t really like the stuff, and am loving hemp and quinoa. But sometimes I do crave an ‘oomf’ to my salads. I’m going to try those!

  22. I love a good burger and you’ve really given some great advice here, Gena. When I was a new vegan I found that I relied on processed foods like soy meats/cheeses/etc quite a bit because I kept trying to mimic all the old foods I was used too. Now I consider them a rare, fun snack. Thanks for offering us healthier alternatives!

  23. Huge fan of Sunshine burgers! Haven’t had one in awhile, thanks, think I’ll pick um up this weekend! 🙂

  24. Thank you SO much! I’ve been trying to limit the soy in my life…but it seems like I’m noticing more and more how much soy I actually eat! If I could limit it in the process foods (milk, burgers, etc.) then I wouldn’t feel as worried about the tofu, tempeh, etc. Thanks Gena!

  25. Thanks so much for all the really useful information you have been posting lately on vegan sources of protein – this has been so helpful to me.

  26. I am a fan of Sunshine Burgers myself. They’re extra good with my Raw vegan Cheezy Hemp Nacho Sauce spread on top. 🙂 I’ve even crumbled them on top of salad for my husband when he wants some extra oompf to his meal.


  27. The obligatory edit comment: I think you meant to phrase #3 as almond or hemp instead of soy!
    I love all these options… especially love hazelnut milk, chocolate hemp milk, and sunshine burgers. I also sometimes buy Trader Joes masala burgers which are veggies, spices, and bread crumbs- not as pure as sunshine burgers, but amazing taste. I rarely eat beans but I think I might try making some bean burgers of my own- I recently discovered how good they can be!

  28. Once again, lovely post, Gena! I love these short-n-sweet (well, it’s not short on useful, concise info!) posts that get straight to the point. Bravo!

    I dont do soy on account of 1. food sensitivity 2. it ain’t great in it’s processed (read: readily & commonly available) form. That said, I am not 100% soyfree but I also don’t seek it out, either.

    I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t love to crunch into some edamame, though. I know in your other post you said you definitely don’t partake personally in tofu…and although I havent in years, part of me wants to try it again. Not so much tofu, but edamame. Oh that would be good. What do you think of edamame in extreme moderation?

  29. I don’t generally eat much soy. When I first went vegetarian/vegan, I didn’t know that soy was unhealthy. I’ve tried quite a few soy products but I much prefer to eat cleaner foods. I’m a huge fan of almond milk and plant-based protein powders. And I recently tried the raspberry Coconut Milk yogurt flavor – it has a really light consistency and is different than regular yogurt, but I still liked it. I’m glad to hear that you approve of it (though I do agree its pretty processed), I think it’s great that coconut milk products are becoming more popular as they’re a great alternative to soy and dairy.

  30. Great post. I occasionally indulge in a soy protect during the transition, but will look into these alternatives on my next Whole Foods trip.

  31. This was extremely helpful, thank you! It seems crazy to me that Boca Burgers contain so many horrible ingredients. I mean, most people eating them chose the diet they are on to live cleaner… but those are not what I consider a “clean” food!

  32. I was the same way – when transitioning to vegetarianism, I depended heavily on soy “chickens” and “burgers”, but now they gross me out. A home-made bean burger is a delicious alternative! I use a half cup of beans, and a binder like flour or flax. The seasoning possibilities are endless (Mexican, Indian, Italian) and it isn’t processed and nasty!

  33. I feel rather ignorant… are expeller-pressed oils bad? Just when you think you know everything to steer clear of…

    • Hey Elise,

      Don’t worry! There’s nothing so insidious about expeller pressed oils (though those patties contain three different varieties of oil). My point was that beans and whole grains are a preferable food base to soy protein and oil — less processed and more nutrient rich!


  34. Hey Gena,

    This is a great post. Now that I am high raw I feel so much better not relying on so much processed food. But, I wonder about beans. I would love to able to eat raw beans. I’ve made raw hummus out of sprouted chickpeas, but I wonder about other beans and if they could be sprouted. Have you ever tried sprouting beans? Do you have any suggestions and/or recipes for raw beans?

    • Hey Katie!

      Honestly? Strict raw foodists would hang me for this, but I really believe that beans are more digestible when soaked and cooked. Call me crazy. I also find the taste infinitely preferable, so it’s always how I eat them. But if you’re really interested, there are tons of sprouting how-tos available online.


  35. I love Sunshine Burgers, glad to see they are Gena approved. 🙂 No really, they are so much more hearty and tasty than other veggie burgers.

  36. Great non-soy suggestions! I’m working through a hemp protein container now and plan to experiment with rice protein powder next!