By Sara Colman Carlson, RDN, CDE
Plant-based meat alternatives that look and taste like meat are now mainstream. Unlike many frozen veggie meat substitutes, these plant-based burgers, sausages and grounds have taken a seat in the meat department next to the hamburger meat. Some of the brand name products that are gaining in popularity and availability include Awesome Burgers® and Grounds, Beyond Meat® and Impossible Meat®, with more to come as popularity increases. In addition to grocery stores, many fast food
places and restaurants now offer these meat-like meatless burgers, sausages, burritos and tacos.
One reason for trading ground meat for plant-based substitutes is for the environment. There is less impact from plants compared to raising cows and pigs, preserving both land and water. But what about the nutrition component? Are plant-based burgers really healthier than beef burgers? Let’s look at the sources of different nutrients. The following ingredients vary with the different products. Comparisons are for a 4-ounce portion.
Protein sources: soy, potato, rice, pea and mung bean protein; ranges from 19 to 26 grams for a 4 ounce portion; comparable to beef
Fat: coconut oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, cocoa butter; ranges from 14 to 18 grams with 5 to 8 grams saturated fat; comparable to beef
Carbohydrate: dextrose, modified food starch, potato starch; ranges from 5 to 9 grams; beef is carb-free
Fiber: methylcellulose (no fiber from legumes); beef is fiber-free
Vitamins: thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12; beef is a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12
Minerals: iron (4.0-4.2 mg), zinc, potassium; beef is a good source of iron (2.5 mg), zinc and potassium
Other ingredients: Soy leghemoglobin from genetically engineered yeast (Impossible Meat); colorings from fruits and vegetables (beets, pomegranate); other ingredients to add flavor
A few points to keep in mind:
- Plant-based meats are ultra-processed with few whole food ingredients.
- Compared to beef plant-based meat products are high in sodium. By the time you add a bun and condiments the sodium can easily exceed 600 mg.
- Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
- Consider moderation in frequency and portion size.
Be aware if you are allergic to soy. Beyond Meat warns that pea protein could potentially cause problems if you are allergic to peanuts as both are legumes. Check for wheat ingredients if you follow a gluten-free diet as some products contain wheat gluten.
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