The fake meat craze has spread across the country and shows no sign of slowing down. We think it’s amazing that non-meat eaters have options at places as ubiquitous as Taco Bell, and omnivores that may want to engage in a Meatless Monday don’t have to sacrifice taste. If you haven’t tried the Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger, you are missing out. Without a doubt, these plant-based burgers taste good. The real question is: Are they good for you?
It’s easy to assume that the label “plant-based” means uber-healthy, but that is not necessarily the case. The Impossible Burger, a product that is available in a variety of forms in commercial restaurants, is made mostly of soy protein, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. The Beyond Burger, which you can buy in supermarkets and cook at home, is composed of pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil, and rice protein. While both are indeed “plant-based,” neither delivers a single serving of vegetables, as defined by the American Heart Association.
Both options contain about the same amount of protein, fat, and calories as a beef burger, per four-ounce patty. The Beyond Burger (270 calories, 20g protein, 20g fat, 5g carbs) has a bit more calories and fat than the Impossible Burger (240 calories, 19g protein, 14g fat, 9g carbs) but is very similar in calories to a grass-fed beef patty (240 calories, 21g protein, 17g fat, zero carbs). While some evidence indicates that consuming too much processed soy protein isn’t a great idea for men, the occasional Impossible Burger is fine. Studies have shown that pea protein, although very low in the amino acid methionine, actually does a pretty good job of building muscle. But ultimately, if you don’t eat beef hamburgers very often because of your physique goals, there isn’t much reason to eat a plant-based burger either.
So why would you want a burger that uses beet juice to make it look like meat juice is running down your chin? Plenty of reasons. For one, as most vegans will tell you, factory farming and the industrial food chain is pretty awful for both animals and the environment. A study out of the University of Michigan found that compared to beef burgers, it takes significantly less fossil fuel, energy, and water to produce Beyond Burgers. In fact, the resources utilized to make one conventional grain-fed beef burger can generate 15 Beyond Burgers.
Things get a little bit different when you consider grass-fed hamburgers. Grass-fed cows live longer, eat the food nature intended for them, and are quite often (but not always) able to roam freely in pastures. Studies have also shown cows that graze on grass can improve the health of grasslands and limit carbon emissions compared to corn-fed animals in commercial feedlots. Additionally, a diet of grass results in grass-fed meat with higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to reduce body fat in humans. While plant-based burgers can add protein and iron to their products, they haven’t included CLA yet.
We are a fan of burgers, all burgers. We are also fans of living by your principles, voting with your dollars, and eating in a way that makes you feel good about your body, your life, and the planet. With a little research, hopefully, you accomplish all three.