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Posted September 27, 2020 by Alyssa C. Diamant, RD, LD
It’s no secret that meatless meals are becoming more popular. While this is certainly not anything new for our vegan or vegetarian consumers, terms like “plant based” and “meat alternatives” are quickly becoming more mainstream. Wildly popular, meatless burgers are even entering the fast food market with Burger King’s addition of the “Impossible Whopper” to their regular menu. But, are veggie burgers actually healthier than a conventional burger made with meat? Yes and no. Here are a few things to remember about the popular meat substitutes.
Not all veggie burgers contain vegetables
Not all veggie burgers are alike – in fact, not all “veggie” burgers actually contain vegetables. Check the ingredients list to verify if the product contains whole foods such as vegetables and plant based protein sources. Plant based protein sources include tofu, seitan, beans, or pea protein. Try to limit veggie burgers made primarily with grain fillers and difficult to pronounce ingredients as these tend to be low in protein and not always the healthiest choice.
Sodium & saturated fat levels may be high
With so many options available, it is no longer hard to find a veggie burger that contains a comparable amount of protein to a conventional burger – or about 20 grams of protein. Just take a minute to review the saturated fat and sodium content of these products also. These values may be higher than you would expect to create a similar mouth feel and flavor to conventional meat products.
Chemicals and processing are common in some brands
Often, preservatives and artificial flavors are added to veggie burgers to give them longer shelf lives and make them taste better. In general, it takes a fair amount of ingredients to create meatless burgers, so aim for fresh, healthy ingredients – not highly processed.
There are environmental and health benefits to eating more plants, but it’s always important to look at the ingredients and nutrition of the food you eat. When it comes to meatless burgers, it’s also important to consider how processed they are since there is a link between processed foods and significant negative health outcomes. When it comes to adding veggie burgers into your diet, your best bet is to do a deep dive into the ingredients list before purchasing pre-made ones at the store, or to find a healthy recipe to make your own homemade plant-based burgers from ingredients like root vegetables, beans, mushrooms and lots of herbs and spices to make them extra tasty.
While it is important to incorporate more plant-based food into your diet, it’s important to talk to your doctor before making any significant changes in your diet. At Summa Health, we are here to keep an eye on the latest trends and how they relate to your health. If you ever have questions about whether something is safe to consume, talk to your primary care physician.