How Nutritious are Plant-Based Burgers?

Plant-based burgers aren’t new, but the way that they are now catering to the vegetarian and the meat eater alike is rather novel. But how healthy are these burgers? Are they really healthier than red meat as well as being good for the environment? Well, the answer is no and yes.

These burgers, like the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger brands, are very high in protein, so high in fact that it compares gram for gram with the amount of protein found in an actual beef hamburger. They are also rich in vitamin B12 and zinc in higher quantities than red meat would provide. And vitamin B12 found in beef is well known as a hard nutrient for vegetarians to receive enough of.

The Impossible Burger brands are made from heme, an iron-containing molecule from soy plants which gives the burger it’s meaty flavor. A Beyond Burger gets its meaty texture from a combination of pea, mung bean, and rice. However, these plant-based burgers, in efforts to resemble red meat with the “bleeding” color and flavor, are rich in salts and saturated fats. For example, the Beyond Burger has 390 mg of salt and the Impossible Burger has 370 mg of salt, compared to a 85% lean ground beef burger which typically only contains 80 mg of salt. Even the Sunshine Black Bean Burger only has 190 mg of salt.

What About Saturated Fats?

While high salt concentrations are not uncommon in plant-based burgers, there is also a concern about saturated fats. Generally, the plant-based burgers are have a about the same amount of saturated fat as their beef counterparts. The Beyond and Impossible burgers  brandes have between 6 and 8 grams per serving. However, black bean burgers have a much lower amount of saturated fat, around 1.5 grams per serving.

Saturated fats are common in the American diet. They are solid at room temperature and are included in foods like red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and store-packaged baked goods and other foods. The word “saturated” here refers to the number of hydrogen atoms surrounding each carbon atom. The chain of carbon atoms holds as many hydrogen atoms as possible and then becomes saturated with hydrogens. Now, is this fact actually bad for you? A diet rich in saturated fats can increase total cholesterol make the more harmful LDL cholesterol more prevalent in the body, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.

What Are Your Options?

A grain-based veggie burger that’s not attempting to mimic meat has only 150 to 160 calories, and only about 1 gram of saturated fat, and is therefore healthiest overall from a fat standpoint. What’s more, depending on the brand, these burgers are made with real veggies, like onions, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, green and red bell peppers, quinoa and brown rice.

So, I would say if you’re eating these meat-mimicking burgers to save the planet it’s a win since they’re better for the earth than meat and they taste great. However, if you’re eating these to save calories, or sodium, or saturated fat, maybe go for other plant-based burgers that include real vegetables and grains.

Additional reading:

Article by Tatiana Eves

Images

  • Burger Photo – 5BlueMedia – used by permission, all rights reserved.
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