Updated: Mar 14
Plant-based burgers and other meat alternatives are on the rise, there is no doubt about that. After Beyond Meat went public on May 1st, there seems to be meatless burgers available everywhere: grocery stores, restaurants, and even most fast food chains.
There’s no arguing that a plant-based burger is better for the planet than a mass-produced beef patty. But where do these magical, meat-like products sit in regards to human health and nutrition?
Like any topic, there are several sides- I’ve broken these down into the good, bad and ugly from both an environmental and health perspective. My hope is for individuals to be educated on what they are purchasing, that’s all.
The most exciting and positive aspect about the rise of plant-based burgers, is their impact on the environment.
A study at the University of Michigan compared the Beyond Burger vs. a quarter pound of beef and found that “Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use.”
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), for every 2.2 lb of beef consumed, an average of 59.6 lbs of CO2e is generated. That’s more than twice the emissions of pork, nearly four times that of chicken and more than 13 times that of vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils and tofu.
One of the biggest achievements that Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger have done, is make their product so palatable that they have swayed meat-eaters to make the switch. This is something that other companies making meat-alternatives have not done before.
The demand for meat-less products from the general public has also resulted in an increased
convenience to those who are vegan and vegetarian for ethical, cultural or other reasons.
Red meat isn’t necessarily bad for health, neither is the cholesterol associated with it (more on this another time). Though, this elevated red-meat consumption becomes a problem when the meat is mass-produced and grain-fed, which leads to inflammation in the body. By increasing plant-based options, especially at fast food places where the meat is of poor quality already, individuals may decrease their intake of inflammatory foods.
Unfortunately, even though an alternative to beef is better for the environment, it may not necessarily be better for your health.
The Beyond Meat burger has 18 ingredients, the Impossible Burger has 21. Both are highly processed and contain several additives and inflammatory oils. Although the amounts of protein are similar between the meat and plant burgers, the quality and bioavailability of the protein differs. Both burgers have several additives, of which many have unknown long-term health implications. Other than the protein, there is very little nutritional value in the Beyond Meat patty.
Whereas a 100% grass fed beef patty, not only contains a high amount of protein, but is also loaded with vitamin B12, vitamin E, heme iron (a more bioavailable source), creatine, zinc, omega-3 fats, and others.
The ugly part of the introduction of these burgers, is the marketing and deception behind them. Often, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free foods are associated with being healthier, which may be the case for some- but most definitely not all.
Yes, the increase of plant-based burgers has several benefits and is an overall positive addition to the foods available, based on their environmental impact. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to assume that just because it is plant-based, it has more health benefits. You must look at the actual ingredients.
The interest in more plant-based options is beneficial, both for human health and the environment. It is important to make options available to all people, including those with cultural, religious, ethical, or health-related food restrictions. However, it is necessary to be educated on the ingredients and nutritional value of these foods as they are often misinterpreted as being the healthy option.
As we have seen with Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger, demand drives change; so, let’s demand environmentally friendly foods and alternatives that are also nutritious.
If you’re vegetarian or just trying to reduce your personal meat consumption, I’ve added a link to one of my favourite simple veggie burgers for you to try. For those of you who are vegan, just sub in 2 tbsp flax mixed with water for the eggs!
Yours in health,