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Meatless Burgers are Changing, But is it a Change for the Better?

The newest meatless burger innovations are here and they basically exploded onto the scene. Powered by theplant-based movement, the audience for meatless burgers has moved well beyond vegan shoppers at the health food store. These days everyone is trying them; even traditional meat lovers are giving them a go. Big chain fast food burger restaurants are on board touting the flavor of these newly revamped health “burgers”, claiming that they are as tasty as the real thing and healthy too. So is it too good to be true?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. We sent our nutritional team on the road to check them out, and the more we learned about how these meatless burgers are made, including all the tricks and compromises made to trick people into believing they are eating a delicious, greasy meat burger, the more we began to question the health claims being made by those producing these mass-marketed meatless burgers.

The Rise of The Meatless Burger

For years, veggie burgers were treated like the ugly duckling of the burger industry. Yes these plant-based options were given a seat at the table, but usually as nothing more than a way to pacifyvegan andvegetarian patrons, while the rest ordered “real” burgers. 

But times have changed!  Driven by the plant-based health movement as well as the global environmental movement, the industry recorded double-digit growth last year, with 80% of the growth coming from the likes of a few big players, including theImpossible Burger andBeyond Meat burgers. But this growth is not happening because people are moving to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. New research is showing that 90% of people opting for meatless burgers arenon-vegetarians looking for a healthy, sustainable alternative to consuming traditional beef-based burgers and othermeat options. Most are just trying to cut-back on meat consumption, not eliminate meat altogether.  

Veggie Burgers Vs Meatless Burgers: Understanding the Difference

Plant-based burgers have been available for over 40 years. They are not a new concept, but there are major differences between the traditional plant-based veggie burger we used to know, and the new meatless burgers that have taken the market by storm.

Traditional veggie burgers never really tried to mimic meat in texture or flavor. They are usually grain, rice, or bean-based, and made with a number of different vegetables including carrots, mushrooms, peppers, and onions — anything plant-based that can be easily ground up and shaped into a patty. While they were not the most delicious option, these traditional veggie burgers offered a viable, low-calorie and low-saturated fat alternative to traditional beef-based or poultry-based burgers. The veggie burger market remained small, never posing much of a challenge to the meat-based burger industry.  

The producers of the new generation of meatless burgers, on the other hand, had a very different agenda. Wall Street set out to capitalize on the desire for meat alternatives and create a product that, while free of meat, combined a number of ingredients, both natural and man-made, that would closely resemble the appearance, taste, texture, and experience of actual meat. The holy grail!

The result is a plant-based product that might be better for the planet (we’ll give them that), but, as you’ll find out, isn’t necessarily a healthier option for you or your family.

Meatless Burgers: Mock Meat Created In A Lab?

You’ve probably guessed we’re not the biggest fans of these new meatless burgers. Fake meat burgers are not natural, or even healthy food options. They are heavily processed and produced in a factory, not a kitchen — a testament to food chemists’ ability to use man-made ingredients to mimic the flavor, texture, smell, and even color and appearance of meat. They even found a way to produce juices that replicate bleeding of beef when grilled. It’s Franken-food alright, but a very impressive copy of the meat-based burger experience nonetheless.

Analyzing the ingredients contained in the most popular meatless burgers reveals that most contain at least 20 different ingredients, many of which are chemical-based or human-manipulated in some fashion. For example, one of the more surprising ingredients used in these products is a genetically modified molecule calledheme, which is actually an iron molecule that is extracted fromsoy plants. According to theImpossible Burger’s website, heme is what provides these meatless burgers with their unique meat-like flavor. 

Other ingredients included in meatless burgers include soy, potato, pea protein, and processed oils like expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut and sunflower oil. They also contain  methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, modified food starch, soy leghemoglobin and a lot more things you can’t pronounce. 

It’s also worth pointing out that 40% - 60% of the fat contained in these products comes from the unhealthy saturated fats of processed refined vegetable oils, known to cause serious health issues over time.

Considering these ingredients, and examining how meatless burgers are produced, has even caused the the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a vegetarian for over two decades, to recently issue a strong statement regarding the health benefits of these products:

“...some of these [meatless burgers] that are extremely popular now that are taking the world by storm, if you look at the ingredients, they are super, highly processed foods.  I don’t think eating highly processed foods is healthy. I think people thrive on eating whole foods. As for health, I will not endorse that, and that is about as big of a criticism that I will do in public.”

Wow! And that’s from the CEO ofWhole Foods. A serious warning to anyone looking at these meatless burgers as health food.

Minimal Health Benefits With Meatless Burgers

Now, not everything about these meatless burgers is bad.  Looking at some of the benefits, we find that meatless burgers contain roughly 20g of protein per serving — which is  similar to beef and turkey burgers. In addition, meatless burgers also contain added amounts of some importantvitamins andminerals typically found inanimal proteins, including vitamin b12 and zinc — both essential nutrients that people following a plant-based diet often struggle to get enough of.

And there is something to be said about the positive environmental impact of moving away from meat-based diets. Opting for food options thatare animal-friendly with less of an impact on the environment, and still tastes good is something we can all support. But that’s where the good news ends, as far as we’re concerned.

Meatless Burgers: Saving the Planet, But Not Necessarily Your Health

Based on the research, we recommend steering clear of these meatless burgers. Instead, opt for more natural, healthier, plant-based alternatives to meatless burgers, like homemade black bean burgers or even the pre-made organic legume or grain-based burgers. They are not only far better for your health, they can also be high in protein, and they support the health of the environment too.  

At the end of the day, we recommend avoiding mock meats. However, if you do opt for meatless burgers, we recommend doing so occasionally, and in moderation. We all indulge from time to time, so grabbing a meatless burger once in a while is okay. They’re still better for you than the fries!

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