- Beyond Meat’s “bleeding” veggie burger has become a popular alternative to traditional meat patties.
- The Center for Consumer Freedom, a group funded by some food companies and restaurants, is running ads in major newspapers highlighting the chemical additives in plant-based meat.
- We asked four nutritionists to evaluate the 22 ingredients in a Beyond Meat patty, which include coconut oil, an item with more saturated fat than butter or lard.
- Most of them classified the burger as a “sometimes” food, meaning it can be healthy to eat on occasion as a substitute for real beef.
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It’s often billed as a healthier and more environmentally friendly alternative to beef. But a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is funded by some food companies and restaurants, has started running a series of full-page ads in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal highlighting the chemical additives in alternative meat products.
The ads say “Fake Meat, Real Chemicals,” and compare the ingredients in “real” and “fake” bacon.
Although the ads promote a pro-meat agenda, many consumers have also wondered what to make of the processed nature of these new veggie burgers. So we asked four nutritionists to evaluate the 22 ingredients in a Beyond Meat patty. Most of them classified the burger as a “sometimes” item, meaning it can be healthy to eat on occasion as a substitute for real beef.
Coconut oil might be the most concerning ingredient
Beyond Burgers aren’t necessarily less fatty or caloric than their real-meat counterparts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad for you.
For the most part, the Beyond Burger’s ingredients are relatively nutritious.
Two nutritionists praised the fact that the burger contains 2 grams of fiber, or 8% of the recommended daily value. A few also said the burger was a good source of protein, since it has the same protein content of a traditional 3-ounce beef patty (around 20 grams).
Compared to its competitor, the Impossible Burger, nutritionists said the Beyond Burger had the healthier protein source.
“In my opinion, Beyond and Impossible are very different,” said Cynthia Sass, a New York-based performance nutritionist. “Impossible’s main protein source is soy, one of the ‘big 8’ most common allergens.”
The Beyond Burger, on the other hand, uses pea protein isolate, which most people find easily digestible. The ingredient can, however, cause increased gastrointestinal discomfort if people aren’t used to it, said Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
One element that had nutritionists divided was the burger’s saturated fat content (6 grams). Two nutritionists saw the content as low compared to similar veggie burgers on the market, but Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian nutritionist, had one reservation.
“I don’t love that the patties are made with coconut oil,” she said. “This is a source of saturated fat, and you’ll see that one burger contains 30% of the [recommended] daily value.” Because coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter or lard, many nutritionists recommend using it sparingly.
The Beyond Burger is still a healthy choice (in moderation)
While all four nutritionists recognized the Beyond Burger as a processed food, that doesn’t qualify it as “junk food.” Lots of foods we might consider healthy, like Greek yogurt, cheese, or almond butter, are also processed.
Pamela Bonney, a registered dietitian nutritionist, said the Beyond Burger is “highly processed,” which typically means a product has been heavily altered and contains additives. Highly processed foods are often “ready-to-eat” items like candy, potato chips, diet soda, or microwavable meals.
Overall, Sass said, we should eat less of these processed foods and substitute whole ingredients instead. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggests that processed foods cause people to consume an extra 500 calories a day and ultimately gain more weight.
But compared to many other “highly processed” foods, Bonney said, the Beyond Burger uses particularly high-quality ingredients like mung bean protein, apple extract, and pomegranate fruit powder.
When it comes to choosing between a Beyond Burger and a real meat patty, the nutritionists agreed that the veggie burger was the healthier choice.
“I do believe that plant options that displace red meat are a step in the right direction,” Sass said, adding that red meat is tied to some of our “most prevalent chronic diseases” like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Processed meats like sausage, bacon, and hot dogs could also increase the risk of stomach and bowel cancers.
What’s more, red meat plays a role in the climate crisis, which Sass called “a major public health risk.” The World Resources Institute estimates that cutting the world’s beef consumption by 70% could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by around 35%.
“The truth is that … the protein source [we consume] does matter, both for human health and the health of the planet,” Sass said.
That means Beyond Burgers can be part of a healthy diet, but shouldn’t be your protein source for every meal.