Are Plant-Based Burgers Healthier for You?
Veggie burgers were just minding their own business, living the good life of fame, fortune and glamorous popularity with the surge of plant-based eating.
They were literally the Beyonce of the plant-based world.
That is until the Kardashians stepped in to steal the spotlight. Ubiquitous. Everywhere you look. On the TV, on social media, in your magazines. You literally cannot escape the Kardhashians. And the Kardashians…
Are plant-based “meat.”
Plant-based meat is predicted to become a $140 billion industry, with Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat being the biggest moneymakers. According to the CEO of Impossible Foods, “Our hunger for meat is destroying the environment and damaging our health.”
These companies also boast that products like the Impossible burger deliver the same protein and iron as a burger made from a cow.
Now, this is great news for vegetarians because these are two nutrients they have the biggest amount of trouble getting enough of. However, are these burgers actually healthier for everyone? Should we all be making the switch and leave cow burgers as a thing of the past for the sake of our health?
Let’s investigate. Starting with the Impossible Burger.
It starts out innocent enough. Specifically, the Impossible Burger is made from “simple plant ingredients that people have been cooking with and eating safely for thousands of years.” These include potatoes, wheat, soy, and coconuts.
Sounds like that checks out.
But if any of you readers out there have actually had the thing. It tastes like much more than a mashed together hodgepodge of coconuts and soy. I’ve had it myself and can say it tastes just like the savory goodness of an actual cow burger. It’s an amazing accomplishment in the field of food science, honestly.
So what makes it taste and look so much like actual beef, though? The answer is heme. Without going into too much nutritional science, heme is a form of iron and a molecule in human and animal blood that helps all animals carry the oxygen they need to live. Not only does it give meat its meaty and juicy flavor, but it’s also what causes these plant-based beef patties to look like they’re “bleeding.”
If these burgers are vegan-friendly though, how do they get away with adding all of that tasty heme? Surely a compound that comes from blood violates everything vegan morals stand for.
That’s where genetic engineering comes in.
Here’s the process.
They genetically manipulate the roots of soy plants and insert it into genetically engineered yeast. Then, they let it ferment to multiply and make even more heme. Due to this process, even though these burgers may be vegan-friendly, they aren’t friendly to people who prefer to eat organic in order to avoid GMOs.
And the fact is...genetic modification is the bread and butter to their biggest selling point: getting these burgers to look and taste like beef.
Now let’s look at my favorite part: the nutrition.
According to the new Impossible burger recipe, the nutrition for a 4-ounce Impossible patty looks like this: 240 calories, 14 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 370 milligrams of sodium, and 19 grams of protein. Doesn’t seem so bad, right? Well, for some perspective, a good old 4 oz, 90/10 beef patty contains 170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 56 milligrams of sodium, and 21 grams of protein.
Let’s take a moment to discuss this super interesting set of findings. The first thing I want to point out is, with the beef burger, you know exactly what it is that you are eating: 100% beef. That’s it! The only ingredient. The plant burger, on the other hand, has 21:
Water, Soy-protein concentrate, Coconut oil, Sunflower oil, Potato protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast extract, Cultured dextrose, Food starch, modified Soy leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy-protein isolate, Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), Zinc gluconate, Thiamine hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
Sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
Have you ever heard anyone tell you if you can’t pronounce most of the things on the ingredient list, it’s probably shit for your health?
I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.
Secondly, this calls into question what people mean by the word “healthy” when referring to this burger. One of the many demonizing factors people cite when they try to convince others not to eat red meat (or meat in general) is because it’s bad for your heart health. However, diets high in saturated fat and sodium are major risk factors of heart disease.
So when you look at the nutrition facts above and notice that the Impossible burger has twice as much saturated fat and 6 times as much sodium...which one would you say puts you at a greater risk for heart disease?
I’ll let you sit on that question, too.
The bottom line?
Listen, I love ordering the Impossible burger when I go out to eat. It’s pretty damn tasty and is a fun little change-up every now and then.
Also, if you’re a vegetarian or someone who just prefers a more plant-based diet (or just someone who doesn’t want to choke down another dry and bland veggie burger), the Impossible burger is a remarkable invention for letting you taste the delicious flavors of red meat and still get in some much-needed protein and iron.
However, if you’re not vegan or vegetarian, but are leaning toward this option thinking that it’s healthier for you, I can pretty definitively tell you you’re better off just sticking to good old, simple lean beef. Don’t let the fake meat moguls try to convince you otherwise.