It seems like everywhere you turn these days, there’s a TV ad or billboard promoting meat-free burgers that actually look and taste like the real thing. Burger King even recently announced their plans to bring one of these meat-mimicking patties to their restaurants nationwide by the end of the year. The products from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat may be 100% plant-based, but does that mean they’re actually better for our health?
Not necessarily. We took a look at two of the most popular -- The Impossible Burger and The Beyond Burger-- to see how they compare to the real deal, an 80% lean beef patty. (All the nutritional info is for a 4-ounce serving.)
Beyond Meat’s 4-ounce patty contains 270 calories, and Impossible Foods’ is 240 calories. Compared with real ground beef, this is an improvement: The same sized beef patty with 80% lean meat is around 290 calories.
Beyond Burgers contain 20 g of plant-based protein (mostly from peas) and are soy- and gluten-free. Impossible Burgers, on the other hand, contain 19 g of soy- and potato-based protein. That’s a bit less than an 80% lean meat beef burger, which has 29 g of protein.
While these meatless options have the added benefit of fiber and less saturated fat overall than beef (11.4 g), the amount is still on the high side per serving: 8 g for the Impossible and 5 g for the Beyond.. For context, the American Heart Association recommends you only eat about 13 g of saturated fat per day at most (with a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet).
The Bottom Line: Go Plant-Based if You Want, but Be Realistic
It’s well established that eating a plant-based diet and cutting down on your meat consumption is a great move for your health. For example, the Mediterranean diet (one of the most-studied plant-based diets) has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, depression, and more, according to Harvard Health. And while going plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut out all meat from your diet, it means making it more of an occasional side dish, rather than the main event on your plate at every meal.
Beef in particular is not something you want to eat frequently. Red meats tend to contain more saturated fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease and up your cholesterol, according to the American Heart Association.
So in that sense, it makes sense to try out a plant-based option occasionally when you have a hankering for a burger.
But if you’re ordering one of these meatless burgers at a restaurant, don’t assume it’s that much healthier for you just because it’s meatless. The way the dish is prepared and what else comes with your meal still may introduce other unhealthy factors (for example, getting your Impossible Burger with two patties and extra cheese—or large fries and a soda—isn’t going to help matters).
“People are going to be fooling themselves into thinking these are not just better, but healthy,” said Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa, told the Associated Press.
So by all means—buy these meatless options from the grocery store and whip up a healthier version of your favorite burger in your own kitchen. But when it comes to dining out, bear in mind: Fast food is still fast food.