There are lots of names for it – mock meat, meatless meat or faux meat. Whatever you call it, plant-based meat is made to mimic the taste and texture of real meat, but, of course, it doesn’t include any real animal meat. Should you swap out a beef burger for a meatless option? UnityPoint Health dietitian Emma Rueth offers her advice to help you make the best decision for your diet.
What are Meatless Burgers?
While meatless burgers are technically made of vegetables, for the sake of clarity, we’ll avoid calling them veggie burgers.
“I would consider the popular meatless burger brands of Impossible™ Burger and Beyond Meat® ‘meat replacements’ or ‘meatless meats,’ while I would consider a patty made from rice, beans and squash – or something like that – as a ‘veggie burger’,” Rueth says.
Popular meat substitutes use ingredients including soy or pea protein, coconut oil, rice or potato starch and more to make their burgers.
“The Impossible Burger is ‘impossible’ because it bleeds like actual beef, which is due to an innovative ingredient: soy leghemoglobin. This is basically soy heme, aka soy blood, taken from the roots of the soy plant,” Rueth says.
Are Meatless Burgers Healthy?
“I would give the same recommendation regarding meatless burgers as I would beef burgers – use in moderation,” Rueth says.
Rueth also says to consider your health goals and dietary restrictions when choosing your burger. This chart might help:
- Protein. The protein content in four ounces of 90/10 beef, 80/20 beef, Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger are all relatively comparable. However, when you look at a black bean burger, it provides less than half the amount of protein as the other option. It is also about half the size of the other burgers. The Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers get their protein from soy and pea protein, respectively. There is also a bit of potato and rice protein thrown in there.
- Vitamins & Minerals. The vitamins and minerals in meatless, plant-based burgers vary as widely as their ingredients. For example, the Impossible Burger is fortified with the same vitamins and minerals found in real beef, but the Beyond Burger is not. Rueth says the vitamins and minerals added to meatless burgers are as good a source as those naturally occurring in beef.
- Saturated Fat. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 5 to 6 percent of calories from saturated fat per day, which is about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat per 2,000 calorie diet. In the chart, you’ll notice the difference in saturated fat between the black bean burger and the meatless meat varieties.
- Trans Fat. The recommendation around trans fat is zero grams per day. Beef is a natural source of trans fat, which can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol, increasing the risk for various chronic disease.
- Sodium. Individuals with high blood pressure, or other heart issues, need to consider sodium (salt) intake. Many meatless burgers contain a significant amount of sodium. However, the same can be said of most ground beef burgers consumed while dining out. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 1,500 milligrams of sodium. You’ll notice the black bean burger in the chart has lower sodium than the meatless burger options.
- Carbohydrates. Meat of any kind is naturally free from carbohydrates. Meatless burgers, homemade or store-bought, are made from plant-based materials and likely contain sources of carbohydrates. Even high-protein plants, like soybeans and other beans/legumes, contain a notable amount of carbohydrates per serving.
Beef or Plant-Based Burgers – It’s Up to You
The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat intake to no more than 18 ounces per week. More than that could increase someone’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. Rueth reemphasizes, as with most dietary decisions, moderation is key.
“It’s not necessarily true some people should eat meatless burgers, and it’s not necessarily true some people shouldn’t eat meatless burgers. Even for individuals with chronic disease, making the choice between a beef burger and a mock-meat alternative must be the person’s choice based on their health goals. People who eat highly processed red meat several times each week may see a benefit from replacing some of those meals with mock meat. However, if someone generally eats beef burgers in moderation, once every couple of weeks, there may be little change noticed when switching to meatless meats,” Rueth says.