Plant based burgers are the new craze. I’m sure you’ve noticed strolling through the frozen section of meats, the beyond meat and impossible burger products.
Fast food chains, restaurants, and super markets now sell and promote their meatless burgers as a healthy alternative to eating the traditional cattle raised beef products.
However are these burgers actually healthier for you? What does science say about these new impossible and beyond burgers?
In this post today we’ll go over some of the differences between plant based burgers and real burgers as well as make a determination as to how you should or shouldn’t use these new products.
What exactly is a plant-based burger?
So for most of us I think we can understand that a plant-based meat, or “fake meat” derives its nutrients from plant based products.
Trying to replicate animal protein with plant-based products is nothing new. If you’ve ever eaten tempeh or tofu, you are essentially eating a meatless product that attempts to replicate that animal protein taste and texture.
When we dive deeper into the new trend of impossible and beyond burgers, we can see that new technology has given food companies the ability to produce products that truly mimic the look, taste, and feel of real animal protein.
Take a look at the ingredients that are listed on the beyond meat website:
Beet Juice Extract
Historically vegetarian friendly meats have been produced with high levels of soybean to provide the protein and texture of real meat. It isn’t until recently that companies have found the missing links of how to make a plant based burger “bleed” (by the ingredient soy leghemoglobin).
Comparing plant-based meat to real meat
Let’s break down the nutrition facts to help get a better overall picture of what the differences of plant-based meat and real meat are.
In this comparison we will be using beef burgers, the impossible burger, beyond burger, and black bean burgers. What do the nutrition facts say?
These numbers are based on a standard patty size.
While looking over this image you might notice that firstly, the calorie count for each burger is about the same. Calories range from 110 (on the bean burger) up towards 250 calories for the beyond burger.
Take note: In this image the bean burger is only 67 grams which would actually bring the calorie count to 210 or so if it’s the same size as the other burgers.
Looking at the total fat content, again we see that almost all of the burgers have about the same fat content. Plant based burgers include coconut oil to recreate the “juiciness” of a burger.
It would make sense that the plant-based burgers have more carbohydrates, and therefore include some fiber in their patties. This is a real advantage over the animal based proteins because fiber is a nutrient that many people don’t get enough of. By including some fiber in these meat alternatives, you can in fact improve your fiber intake which is very important for digestion and satiation!
Protein content for all the burgers are comparable. Not much to discuss here other than the fact that the meatless burgers do give you a good amount of protein!
Lastly, sodium content ranges quite a bit. Sodium content for the beef burgers will rely on how the burgers are seasoned and cooked. (Burgers in restaurants normally have much more sodium than home cooked burgers!)
Whereas the plant based burgers have up to nearly 400mg of sodium per burger. (For those with high blood pressure / heart issues you’ll need to be mindful of this much sodium. The recommended amount of sodium per day is about 1500mg)
Overall, it appears that plant based burgers and beef burgers have things that are really good, and things that are not so good. The beef burger has some trans fat which is linked with increased levels of LDL cholesterol. Plant based burgers have increased amounts of sodium and include many ingredients because they are heavily processed.
But plant based options for nutrition alone aren’t the only reason for people switching over to meatless burgers...
The environmental impact of beef and meatless options
The vegetarianism and vegan movement grounds itself in the fact that there are better options for us as humans to feed ourselves without needing to kill billions of animals.
Regardless of your own personal belief system when it comes to eating meat, the impact on the environment is real and can be quantified.
Let’s talk about 2 major components : water use and greenhouse emissions.
According to the united states geological survey it takes 460 gallons of water to produce a quarter pound of beef. 460 gallons! This is downright crazy. However think about it...you need water to grow grain that feeds the cow. The cow also needs water to survive. Water is also needed to “service” the cow such as washing.
The plant based burgers on the other hand are said to use 75% less water than real beef. So to put a number to do that, it would take about 115 gallons of water to produce a quarter pound of the fake meat.
We can also look at the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced by raising cattle. It’s stated that raising cattle can produce about 9.9% of total emissions.
The plant-based versions of meat state that they reduce emissions by about 70%. This makes sense as growing crops produces less emissions than cattle does. (Cattle and livestock produce methane through their waste and digestive process. Great image here..)
Overall when it comes to the environmental impact, plant based foods are going to be less taxing on the Earth.
If this is a selling point for you - then a plant based meat might be a great option.
Is real meat or plant based meat healthier for you?
Here’s the reason you are probably still with me here! What option is a healthier product?
Well, if we look at it strictly from the nutrition facts alone I would rate them as about even with the plant-based options being slightly healthier for you. The reason I feel this way is the fact that plant-based options have increased fiber. This might be a good alternative for those who aren’t getting many vegetables into their diet.
One meal, one burger isn’t going to destroy your health and have your cholesterol increasing and arteries start clogging up. When it comes to health, it’s more about how your whole diet looks and not just the specifics.
Red meat/beef/plant based options should be eaten in moderation just like anything else. If you find yourself spending too much time on deciding if real meat or fake meat is better for you - start branching out your thoughts to the other foods you are eating.
Focus on the whole picture instead…
Are you getting an array of vegetables, different sources of protein, healthy fats and smart carbs? Health is on a spectrum; there are no black and white answers.
Plant-based meat can provide a nice “step down” from a diet heavy in red meat. By still getting the taste and texture of a real burger, you can improve your nutrition just a little bit as you get closer to eating a little less red meat then before.
This isn’t for everyone and again isn’t necessarily the better option. However for those who do want to get away from eating as much red meat, a good way to do that is by trying out your own plant-based burger.
I for one have not tried beyond burgers or impossible burgers. This research makes it more enticing to try and just see how it could fit into my own version of healthy eating.
What does the future hold?
I want to end this post with some questions to ponder.
With technology always increasing and innovating how we do things - the rise of lab grown products are ever being tested and experimented on.
Where do you think this world needs to go, to continue to survive?
Do we need to start shying away from cattle/animals to produce our foods?
Are lab made/grown products the future of our food?
Would you feel comfortable eating food that was developed by white lab coats?
These are questions that I can go over another time, but for now I think it’s interesting to consider the possibilities in the future.
For me, I think if we can find an alternative to eating animals and instead grow our own food in the lab safely, this might be a great long term option for our future generations.