The Naked Truth About Plant-Based Burgers…How Do They Stack Up To The Real Thing?

The naked truth about plant-based burgers...how do they stack up to the real thing, meat

Are plant-based burgers a healthy choice?

Plant-based burgers have become extremely popular. For instance, they often occupy their own section in the meat case and are on the menu in more and more restaurants. Made from non-meat sources, a plant-based burger may be better for the environment, however, is it a healthy alternative to the real thing? Having gained a reputation for its high fat and sodium contents as well as containing many additives, is it a smart choice?

Here are some criteria to consider when making your decision:

  • Is it made from a high-quality plant protein?
  • Does it contain saturated fat? (aim for <3 grams)
  • What is the sodium content? (look for <140 milligrams)
  • Does it provide any fiber? (ideally >5 grams)
  • Is it fortified with vitamins and minerals?
  • Look for the least number of food additives or GMOs.

Food additives are substances added to food to maintain or improve its safety, freshness, taste, texture, or appearance”. They are regulated by federal authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) among others.

GMOs are genetically modified crops that artificially engineered. Although these are thought to be unhealthy, research shows that they safe.

Take a look at 4 of the top-selling plant-based burgers:

  1. The Impossible burger

The Impossible burger is made with soy protein concentrate and a small amount of potato protein. These are both high-quality plant proteins. Soy protein has a biological value similar to beef, while potato protein has a value similar to egg whites

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

The Impossible burger has added coconut oil which is saturated fat. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products and some plants.

These can lead to elevated cholesterol and consequently an increased risk of heart disease. According to the manufacturer, no antibiotics or animal hormones are used in the Impossible burger.

Additives found in the impossible burger include:

  • Methylcellulose, a thickener, and a source of fiber.
  • Yeast extract, a flavor enhancer; may provide B vitamins and folate
  • Cultured dextrose, a sweetener, and preservative.
  • Modified food starch, another thickener.
  • Salt, a flavoring
  • Soy leghemoglobin, a color additive, and flavoring.

Additionally, the Impossible burger is fortified with these vitamins and minerals:

  • The Beyond Meat plant-based burger

The Beyond Meat burger is made with pea protein, mung bean protein, and rice protein. These are all high-quality plant proteins. Pea and rice proteins are nearly complete. In other words, containing all essential amino acids. Mung beans contain folic acid, manganese, and magnesium.

The Beyond Meat burger contains two saturated fats: coconut oil, and cocoa butter. As noted above, saturated fats are unhealthy and therefore should be limited in our diet. According to the manufacturer no GMOs, hormones, or antibiotics are used in the Beyond Meat burger.

Additives found in the Beyond Meat burger include:

  • Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, for fat and flavor
  • Natural Flavors, unidentified
  • Methylcellulose, for thickening; and a source of fiber
  • Potato Starch, another thickener
  • Sunflower Lecithin, an emulsifier preventing separation; may help lower cholesterol
  • Yeast extract, a flavor enhancer; may provide B vitamins and folate
  • Salt, for flavor
  • Beet Juice Extract, for color and flavor; may provide folate, vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants,
  • Apple Extract, for color and flavor; may help lower cholesterol

In addition, the Beyond Meat burger includes these added nutrients:

  • Lightlife plant-based burger

The Lightlife burger is made with just one protein source: high-quality pea protein. Coconut oil once again adds saturated fat. No GMO ingredients are used in the Lightlife burger, according to the manufacturer.

The Naked Truth About Plant-Based Burgers...How Do They Stack Up To The Real Thing?
Photo by Caleb Oquendo

Additives found in the Lightlife burger include:

  • Natural Flavors, unidentified
  • Modified Cellulose, as a thickener, and a source of fiber
  • Sea Salt, for seasoning and flavor
  • Vinegar, a flavor enhancer and acidifier
  • Beet powder and cherry powder, for color
  • Cane Sugar, for sweetness and flavor

The Lightlife burger is not fortified with vitamins and minerals, however, beet powder contains the essential minerals iron, potassium, and magnesium.

  • Incogmeato plant-based burger

Incogmeato’s plant-based burger is made with soy protein concentrate, a high quality, complete protein. It also includes palm oil, and unhealthy saturated fat. However, according to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, although palm oil is saturated, it is only 55% saturated while coconut oil is 85% saturated. According to the manufacturer, the Incogmeato Burger is made with some genetically engineered crops or GMOs.

Further additives in the Incogmeato burger include:

  • Methylcellulose, for thickening; and a source of fiber
  • Natural flavors, unidentified
  • Potato starch, corn starch, for thickening
  • Pectin, another thickener
  • Dextrose, a sweetener, and flavor enhancer
  • Citric acid and salt, also for flavoring
  • Apple juice powder for color; may add vitamin C, beta carotene, B vitamins and, antioxidants
  • Yeast extract, a flavor enhancer; may add B vitamins and folate
  • Sunflower lecithin prevents separation; may help lower cholesterol
  • Vegetable juice concentrate, for color

In addition, the Incogmeato burger is fortified with these vitamins and minerals:

How does ground meat (beef) compare?

It all depends on the lean-to-% fat ratio. Standard ground beef is around 80% lean to 20% fat. However, a much healthier (but usually more costly) choice is 93 % lean to 7% fat ground beef.

Ground beef has saturated fat that naturally occurs in animal products but has no added oils or fats. Unlike plant-based meats, (Plant-Based Burgers) there is also no added salt and no added stabilizers, thickeners, or colors and flavorings. On the other hand, there is no fortification with vitamins and minerals and no added fiber.

Here is a look at how the burgers stack up:

The Naked Truth About Plant-Based Burgers...How Do They Stack Up To The Real Thing?

The least healthy of all is the 80%/20% beef burger. It has the most saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol. The 93%/7% burger is significantly better in this regard.

But of the four plant-based burgers, which best meets the criteria we should look for before buying? 

  • Each is made with high-quality plant protein(s). In other words, ones that provide a good source of essential amino acids.
  • However, none are considered low sodium (< 140 milligrams) or low saturated fat (< 3 grams). Consequently, this makes them less healthy than the lean 93%/7% ground meat, in this respect.
  • The Incogmeato burger has the most added fiber (> 5 grams) and the Impossible burger the least number of additives. It should be noted that while some of the additives are natural and may have a nutritional benefit, they are present in very small quantities.
  • Aside from the Lightlife burger, each is fortified with some vitamins and minerals.

In short, while none of the plant-based burgers are unfavorable, due to the number of additives, and the amount of saturated fat and sodium, they really can’t be called healthy either.

There are many other plant-based meat (Plant-Based Burgers) products out there, and worth looking into. The goal is to find one with the least amount of saturated fat, sodium, and additives, and above all, with the best taste!

Read on… If you want more information on plant protein read the article You Need Plant-Based Protein Powders, 4 Reasons Why!

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