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  • Sophia Kamveris, MS, RD

Mooove Over Beef!

Summer is almost here in New England, which means we are getting closer to BBQ season and rolling out the grills. Soon the sizzling sounds and smells of beef, chicken, pork, and fish will fill the summer air. And now, thanks to a few innovative companies, plant-based burgers will be joining traditional fares on the coals!

Your health conscious and vegetarian guests will be pleased, but are these burgers really that healthy for you? Veggie burgers have come a long way since the textured soy days. Nowadays, the protein is derived from plants, like pea and potatoes. The platform these companies are standing on is one that their products help to save the environment. Saving money on the resources to feed cows and cutting down on the methane they produce (which affects the ozone layer) are some ways they hope to sustain Mother Earth.

So, let’s look at two popular plant-based burgers that are infiltrating the beef market: Beyond Meat® and The Impossible™ Burger. To use a frame of reference, I will provide you with the nutritional breakdown of a variety of beef. I apologize ahead of time for all of the numbers!

  • Original Bubba Burger (beef). Their 5-oz beef patty has 420 calories, 35g fat, 15g saturated fat (whoa!!) 25g protein, 85 mg sodium versus its turkey product: 4 oz turkey patty has 190 calories, 11g fat, 2.5g saturated, 22g protein, 280 mg sodium.

  • 4 ounces of 85% ground beef has 240 calories, 17g fat, 6.6g saturated fat, 21g protein, 75 mg sodium.

  • 4 ounces of 93% ground beef has 170 calories, 8g fat, 3.3g saturated fat, 24g protein, 75 mg sodium.

Beyond Meat®:

The website’s mission statement for Beyond Meat® conveys its conviction that there’s a “better way to feed the planet” by replacing animal protein with plant protein. In so doing, they feel they are also improving climate change issues and protecting animal welfare. Their products are non-GMO, non-soy, gluten-free, hormone-free, and Certified Vegan. Their products use a proprietary system that makes the plant-based meats “look, cook, and satisfy like beef and pork."

The Beyond Burger® : 4 oz has 270 calories, 20g fat, 5g saturated fat, 20g protein, 380 mg sodium. Pea Protein Isolate gives it its protein while beet juice extract gives it its red color. It has coconut oil which is adding to saturated fat and I assume gives it its flavor and sizzling effects. They also make a Beyond Sausage® that has 190 calories, 12g fat, 5g saturated fat, 16g protein, 500 mg sodium.

I have tried this burger. My GI system didn’t react well to the pea protein (sensitive guts may notice similar symptoms) but I am willing to try it again.

The Impossible™ Burger:

This burger first debuted in restaurants in 2016. It is made by Impossible Foods, a California-based company whose website boasts that its products help the environment by using 87% less water, emitting 89% fewer greenhouse gases, reducing water pollution by 92%, and uses less land and herbicide.

While it is still plant-based and is nut and dairy free, it does contain soy* and the older version burger contained gluten. Its protein comes from soy and potato. It also has coconut oil, which adds to the saturated fat content; higher than what’s in The Beyond Burger®. In 2019, the company debuted a new version, “Impossible Burger 2.0,” that they promote is “tastier, juicier, and better than ever,” which is due to its genetically engineered ingredients- heme and textured soy protein. The previous burger recipe used wheat protein, which is not gluten-free, but it looks like the latest version is gluten-free, but be cautious about cross contamination in a restaurant setting.

Unlike the beets in The Beyond Burger®, it derives its red color from heme (the molecule that naturally gives meat its red color). Soy roots contain a compound called leghemoglobin, which also carries heme. Briefly summarized, the manufacturers reproduce heme by mixing the DNA for soy leghemoglobin and yeast together and allowing for fermentation to occur. Hence, the red color!

Here is its nutritional breakdown: 4 oz patty has 240 calories, 14g fat, 8g saturated fat, 19g protein, 370 mg sodium. They also have a sausage that has 300 calories, 19g fat, 2g saturated fat, 18g of protein, 960 mg sodium.

Don’t look for this product in grocery stores- yet! They should be in stores by end of year, according to their website. For now, Impossible Foods can only be found in restaurants in the United States. In April of this year, Burger King had a successful test run in the St Louis area and, after a few more test locations, the company announced it would start offering The Impossible™ Whopper® Burger King at locations nationwide by end of the year. (I’ve been unable to locate nutritional info on this BK product, as it is not a standard item on its menu at this time.)

So, this brings us to my question if these burgers are healthier than beef? I’ll preface my opinion by saying there are finally some good burger substitutes for vegetarians. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines suggest that no more than 10% of your total fat intake come from saturated fats-so that means if you are on a 2000 calorie a day diet, that’s about 20 grams of saturated fat/day. It’s about 16 grams saturated fat/day if you follow 1500 calories.

Based on that, I’d have to go with the Beyond Burger®. While it’s not lower in total fat, the saturated fat is less. Their sausage also fares better with sodium, total fat, and calories.

Feel free to email me and let me know what you think of them if you decide to try them for yourself!


*According to the Non-GMO Project, 94 percent of soy planted in the United States is genetically modified in some way

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