Is the Beyond Burger Healthy?
It seems like just yesterday, ordering a veggie burger in a restaurant meant you were taking a big-time gamble with your tastebuds. If you were lucky, you’d get a crispy, delicious combo of chickpeas, black beans, and veggies. If you weren’t, you might be handed a mushy, tasteless mess. And that’s if you could even find a meatless option on the menu.
Times sure have changed. The Beyond Burger — the ubiquitous plant-based burger that looks and tastes just like a big old hunk of ground beef — is available at upscale restaurants across the country, not to mention fast-food and casual-dining chains such as Carl’s Jr.,and TGIFridays. (Beyond’s competitor, the Impossible Burger, is cutting a similar swath across the nation’s fast food restaurants, and is even available as a Burger King Whopper.) If you’d prefer to eat your cruelty-free burger at home, you can buy a pack of Beyond Burgers at Target. Look for them next to the turkey burgers and ground beef in the meat aisle.
The widespread availability of these meat alternatives is great news for vegetarians, but are Beyond Burgers a healthier choice? And what the heck is actually in them?
Are Beyond Burgers healthy?
“If you’re a vegetarian who occasionally wants to grill out with a juicy burger, these are great,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap. “But there are a lot of people who regularly eat meat who then go into a fast-food restaurant and think, ‘I want to eat something healthier for myself!’ so they try the plant-based burger, but it’s actually not any healthier for you.”
Blatner points out that when it comes to calories and saturated fat, the Beyond Burger is about equal to a grass-fed beef burger (Beyond’s saturated fat comes from coconut oil and cocoa butter), and it has far more sodium than its animal-based counterpart. Both burgers have a good amount of protein, and the Beyond has an added boost of 2 g of fiber (though Blatner points out that you can make up for that simply by topping your hamburger with lettuce and tomato). The Beyond Burger, however has no cholesterol, compared with beef’s 70 mg. “But saturated fat is more damaging in terms of heart disease than dietary cholesterol is,” points out Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It.
Blatner created a side-by-side comparison of the Beyond Burger vs. a grass-fed beef burger. Here’s how they stack up:
But wait, what is Beyond Meat actually made out of?
Ethan Brown, the creator of Beyond Meat (the company that makes the Beyond Burger as well as Beyond Sausage, Beyond Beef Crumbles, and Beyond Ground Beef) told an NPR podcaster that his a-ha moment came when he realized that meat is made of five basic elements: amino acids, lipids, a small amount of carbohydrates, trace minerals, and water. And all these elements are present in plants. The trick, he explained, was figuring out how to turn those into a fibrous, meaty substance without using an animal’s digestive system as the processing machine.
The end result is a product that uses vegetable proteins to create the same juicy, chewy, “bloody” meat as animal flesh — without actually harming any animals.
This means that the Beyond Burger is highly processed with a long list of ingredients, says Taub-Dix. In a basic hamburger, all you’ll find is ground beef and perhaps some seasoning and an egg to bind it. A Beyond Burger, however, includes 18 ingredients: 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, and beet juice extract (the beet juice give the burger its meat-like “blood”).
So which is better: the Beyond Burger or a hamburger?
“It all comes down to your eating style,” says Blatner. “If you’re a vegetarian because of animal rights or because it’s better for the planet, and you miss the taste of a burger, this is a great option once in a while, though a bean- or veggie-based burger is going to have less fat. But if you’re just looking for a healthier meal, the Beyond Burger is no healthier than a grass-fed beef burger, turkey burger, or chicken burger. You should find the best meat you can afford — organic if possible — keep to small patties of four ounces or less, and rotate through your favorites.”
It’s also crucial to pay attention to the rest of your plate, says Taub-Dix. “If you make the Beyond Burger at home on a whole-grain bun, with vegetables on the side, that’s very different than ordering it in a restaurant with a big white bun, a soda, and fries,” she says. “It’s not just about the burger, it’s about the company it keeps.”