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Nov. 23 2009 12:00 AM

Along with football games and Friday mornings at the mall, a holiday dinner is a huge part of the Thanksgiving celebration. But we’ve come a long way from the first Thanksgiving meal, which was likely made up of corn meal, fish and wild turkeys. In fact, due to the growing numbers of people adopting vegetarian or vegan diets, some holiday dinners might not involve any meat at all, according to the American Dietetic Association.
“It’s customary to have an array of dishes from green bean casserole to pumpkin pie and a large baked turkey as the centerpiece,” says registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Keri Gans. “But there is no reason for vegetarians to be stuck picking at the side dishes all afternoon. There are a number of meat replacement options for a holiday meal, though not all are created nutritionally equal.”
Gans examined nutrition facts of six popular meatless holiday roasts and found advantages and disadvantages alike, compared to turkey (see chart at

  • Nutritional advantages of meatless roasts: “All the meatless turkey products were very low in saturated fat, ranging from 0 grams to 1.5 grams per serving, and all but one product contain no cholesterol,” says Gans. In addition, she says many are good sources of fiber, providing 1 gram to 6 grams per serving. “All meatless turkey products are excellent sources of protein, ranging from 13 grams to 34 grams per serving.”
  • Nutritional disadvantages of meatless roasts: “There is one major nutritional disadvantage to the meatless turkey roasts—all are high in sodium,” says Gans. Sodium content ranged from 450 milligrams to 710 mg per serving, more than 13 times the amount of sodium in real turkey breast without the skin.
  • Common allergens in meatless roasts: Of the meatless roasts Gans reviewed, all contained one or more common food allergens, most prominently wheat and soy. In addition, two products contained milk and eggs, making them not good choices for some vegetarians or all vegans, as well as those with food allergies.
  • Less cooking time: “Meatless turkeys and roasts will not take as long to cook as a real bird. Some can be cooked from a frozen state, taking at least three hours to roast,” Gans says. “Read the label for cooking instructions and follow closely.”

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at