Are Plant-Based Burgers Really Healthier for You Than Regular Beef?
There are more choices than ever for consumers looking to reduce or eliminate their meat intake, but are plant-based meat options healthier than eating ground beef?
If you’re trying to avoid eating animal-based products, whether for the environment, your health, or because you’ve got concerns over animal welfare, you’ve got more options than ever before.
There are many choices in the freezer section at the grocery store for plant-based meat products, and fast-food restaurants have also gotten in on the action. Burger King has its Impossible Whopper, and McDonald’s is testing a plant-based burger in certain markets.
However, you may be wondering what the nutritional content is of a plant-based burger compared to that of regular ground beef.
Plant-based burgers sound healthier, but are they really?
Comparing beef burgers to plant-based
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics compared the nutrients in regular ground beef to plant-based ground meat alternatives.
In their comparison, the scientists looked at the nutritional content of 37 types of plant-based meat alternatives to determine calories, protein, fat, vitamins, and mineral content.
They discovered that overall plant-based meats have some nutritional advantages to beef, although they aren’t without disadvantages.
According to the study, “The major brands of plant-based ground beef alternative products examined in this study have nutritional strengths as well as some shortcomings.”
Here’s a rundown of their analysis:
Advantages of plant-based meat over standard ground beef
- Less saturated fat. Plant-based burgers have less saturated fat (4%) compared to ground beef (20 to 30%.) Although recently there has been new thinking that saturated fat may not be as harmful as previously thought, mainstream nutritional advice (such as the American Heart Association) still encourages people to limit their saturated fat intake.
- Fewer calories. Plant-based burgers have around 153 calories compared to roughly 199 calories for a 90% lean beef burger.
- Fiber. Ground beef contains no fiber, but a plant-based burger will give you about 15% of your daily recommended value.
Disadvantages of plant-based meat
- High sodium. Many plant-based burger products contain much higher sodium than you find in ground beef.
- Less protein and zinc. Lean ground beef is a great source of protein, zinc, and vitamin B12. Plant-based burgers tend to contain fewer of these nutrients.
- Less vitamin B12. Ground beef contains vitamin B12. According to this study, only three out of 37 plant-based products were fortified with vitamin B12.
- The phytic acid in plant-based foods might interfere in the absorption of zinc and iron.
How about the environment?
Without going into a lot of detail, we can note that some studies have shown plant-based burgers are better for the environment than meat. However, this opinion isn’t without its critics.
There is some controversy among experts that highly processed plant-based burgers may still have a large carbon footprint, based on how processed the burger is and with what materials it’s made with. If you’re concerned with your carbon footprint, you may want to do some research into how your plant-based burger is processed.
For example, a study conducted by Quantis regarding Impossible Burgers concluded,
“There are clear environmental benefits to replacing conventional ground beef with Impossible Burger. When consumers choose an Impossible Burger over a conventional ground beef burger, they reduce environmental impacts across every impact category studied in this report between 87% and 96%.”
The bottom line
Just because the package says that it’s a plant-based meat alternative, it doesn’t necessarily make something a “health food”. Although plant-based meats have their advantages, they may be highly processed and contain a lot of sodium.
If you are concerned about your health, be sure to check nutrition labels and watch out for red flags, such as high sodium content.
This article was originally published on Medium.