Non-meat burgers have become very popular. People are drawn to these foods because they are trying to reduce their consumption of red meat and believe that plant-based foods are healthier and better for the environment. While plant-based diets have been connected with good health, are these “fake meat” products healthy?
Highly Processed Foods
Our bodies were designed to thrive on whole, natural foods. The overconsumption of processed foods in the Standard American Diet (SAD) has led to a myriad of health problems. Two of the most popular faux meat products (designed to mimic the taste of meat) on the market right now are ‘Impossible Burger’ and ‘Beyond Beef’ which are heavily processed foods. The following list of ingredients was obtained from their websites.
Impossible Burger: Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
Beyond Beef: Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Cocoa Butter, Mung Bean Protein, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Pomegranate Fruit Powder, Beet Juice Extract (for color).
A Few Ingredient Highlights
Both products use ‘natural flavors’ which are derived from substances found in nature (plants, animals, etc.) but can also contain preservatives, emulsifiers, solvents and other incidental additives.
The Impossible Burger contains GMO soy. At this point there is not enough evidence to know what effect GMOs will have on us or on the earth. There are current concerns including increased allergy risk, negative impact on the balance of our gut microbiome/gut health and increased antibiotic resistance in humans. Although GMO crops are often contaminated with glyphosate, their website claims that their products are tested for glyphosate. The yeast extract found in this product can pose problems for MSG-sensitive individuals.
Beyond Beef contains pea protein isolate. Popularity of plant-based protein alternatives has led to increased use of pea protein. However, the supply has not been adequately tested to ensure Americans are getting clean products. The Detox Project (a research agency that tests levels of pesticides in our food and supplements) has found many products containing pea protein are contaminated with glyphosate. Glyphosate is an herbicide that has been linked to cancer. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. It has also been shown to disrupt hormone balance and the gut microbiome in the body.
Be aware of sodium levels in restaurant offerings of 0% beef burgers. The Impossible Whopper served at Burger King contains 1080 mg of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and an ideal limit of less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure.
Whole Foods Are Always the Best Option
Natural beef can have a place in a healthy, balanced diet. Red meat is a complete protein source and contains a variety of bioavailable nutrients including heme iron, zinc, and B vitamins. As always, portion size matters and you can make better choices at the supermarket by choosing meat from animals raised with no antibiotics or added hormones. Another good choice is grass-fed beef which may contain less total fat than grain-fed beef, but a lot more omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which are both linked to health benefits.
The best plant-based protein alternatives should be focused on whole foods. If you are interested in non-meat burgers, veggie burgers would be the best alternative and the best choice would be to make them at home. These burgers will provide natural vitamins and minerals from actual vegetables. There are a lot of plant-based protein options available such as quinoa, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, peas, soy, mushrooms, chickpeas – and even whole grains and green vegetables offer varying amounts of protein.
One of the most researched diets for providing a healthy lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet, recommends focusing on whole, natural foods and eating lots of vegetables. This diet does recommend limiting red meat to a few times per month. Overall, we should eat less processed foods, but on occasion a pre-made veggie burger can be a viable option. Just be sure to read the ingredients and choose the most natural option. The bottom line is that if you would like to have a burger then have one. Just limit this to occasional indulgences. It is best to eat foods where you can identify them for what they are. The more mysterious the ingredients are, the less likely that it will be nutritious for you.
-Diane Duvall, Life Coach and Certified Health Coach for the Lifestyle Medicine Practice of Dr. Geni Abraham, Board Certified, American Board of Internal Medicine. Our Internal Medicine Practice is an integrated medical practice with a focus on Lifestyle Medicine. We offer health coaching sessions to help you reach your personal goals. Dr. Geni Abraham, Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Inc., 205 JFK Drive, Atlantis FL 33462. Phone: (561) 432-8935, Visit DrGeniAbraham.com and Follow us on Facebook: Dr. Geni Abraham