Plant-based protein alternatives are popping up on menus everywhere - from fast food chains to our favorite restaurants. But what are these plant based options made of and what about their nutritional value? What are the differences between Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger, popular traditional burgers and veggie burgers? Let’s see how they really stack up.
Plant-based burgers have taken the media and our menus by storm. Fast-food establishments like Carl’s Jr., Burger King, White Castle, Red Robin and TGI Friday’s have all added the alternative burgers to their protein offerings – and even more restaurants are following suit. We even saw the Beyond Burger in the wilds of the Pennsylvania countryside this summer.
Comparison of popular meat and meat alternatives
They may look, taste and even ‘bleed’ like real meat, but how do the nutritional profiles of these plant-based alternative burgers compare to more traditional options? Let’s take a look!
Sources: ImpossibleFoods.com, BeyondMeat.com, Kelloggs.com, Instacart.com, BK.com, Walmart.com
Key nutritional differences
From the chart above, you can easily identify some similarities, but also some obvious differences. The most glaring difference? The number of ingredients. Traditional meat products typically have one ingredient: meat. These meat-like products, however, are more complicated! Comprised of a variety of ingredients, Beyond Burger has 18, while Impossible burger has 21.
These meatless alternatives have a similar amount of protein as traditional burgers, but how? The Beyond Burger lists pea isolate, a plant-derived protein, as its second ingredient after water. Alternatively, Impossible Burger credits soy and potato isolates for their main sources of protein.
While the primary protein source is not made from whole foods, they do contain a healthy amount of nutrients such as iron, calcium and in the case of Impossible burger, high amounts of B12, an important ingredient for those not eating meat.
Veggie burgers sold from consumer product companies, like MorningStar Farms and Kraft Heinz, are also non-whole-food based, deriving their protein from soy. These products lack the complex nutrient profile that the plant-based alternatives contain.
So, what is a whole-food-based option? A good example of a whole-food-based burger is Kellogg’s Gardenburger, which contains rolled oats, mushrooms, and brown rice as its first three ingredients. While the protein makeup is only 8.5 grams per 4 ounce burger, this alternative is a great source of fiber at 12% DV, and contains moderate levels of Vitamin A, C, calcium, and iron.
How are these meatish products made?
It is pretty obvious how a cow becomes a hamburger, but Beyond and Impossible consider the production of their products as proprietary information. With the Impossible Burger, however, we know it is made with genetically-modified heme. In order to make their ‘meat’ look ‘blood-red’, they use an iron-containing molecule found in the root nodules of soy. They then take the DNA for soy leghemoglobin, insert it into yeast, and ferment the yeast.
Impossible Foods also proudly embraces GMO soy to ‘solve critical environmental, health, safety, and food security problems’ and have long advocated for responsible use of this technology in the food system.
So should I be eating Beyond and Impossible burgers or traditional beef?
The answer depends on your dietary needs. While the Impossible and Beyond burgers are not necessarily unhealthy, they are not the healthier choice over traditional beef or veggie burgers either. It has been reported that we Americans tend to eat too much red meat, so making room for more vegetables in our diets can only improve our health. So how can I get more veggies?
Well, a common misconception is that these new plant-based options are like the V-8 of burgers. The fact is that eating less red meat and more vegetables does not mean substituting traditional meats for these meatless options. You are not eating whole vegetables when you eat a Beyond or Impossible burger; to achieve that, you would need whole vegetables or burgers made from them.
Here are some great burger recipes we love – all with good amounts of protein, whole vegetables and a nice amount of fiber: Homemade Black Bean Veggie Burger, Sweet Potato Burger, and High Fiber Veggie Burger.
Alternative meat burgers are just another choice in the grocery store. Everyone has different preferences and dietary guidelines. While we are optimistic about the emerging environmentally-friendly food technologies, the biggest challenge still left to face is the nutrition of these products. These are exciting options for those who don’t eat meat. And in the future, it will be great to see protein sources with more whole-food-based options and less sodium.
The Bottom Line
The rise of meatless protein options in the marketplace has been interesting to watch unfold. When comparing traditional and veggie options to these new plant-based alternatives, we find they have similar amounts of protein and fat as real meat. However, the excess sodium make these selections something to be aware of. Be sure not to mistake plant-based protein for whole vegetables and read your ingredients.