Several popular fast food and sit-down restaurants are offering meat substitutes made from plants rather than beef. Restaurants like TGI Fridays®, Carl's Jr®, White Castle®, Red Robin® and Burger King® have announced they will be serving plant-based burgers on their menu and Qdoba® along with Del Taco® will be serving a plant-based ground beef substitute as an option. In early 2019, Chick-fil-A® also announced they are testing plant based alternatives to chicken.
TGI Fridays®, Carl's Jr® and Del Taco® are using the Beyond Meat® brand of a plant-based beef substitute, while White Castle®, Red Robin® and Burger King® are testing the Impossible Foods® plant-based burger. As of June, 2019, Qdoba® is offering the Impossible brand of plant-based beef in most of their locations throughout the United States. There are many other local and regional restaurants that are offering plant-based beef and chicken substitutes on their menu.
I worked as a chef in one of the top steak and burger joints in the United States, so I know how a burger should taste. Both the Impossible Burger® and the Beyond Burger® are good, and the taste and texture somewhat resemble a burger made from beef or bison, but why should you choose a plant-based burger over the real thing?
As a nutritionist, I consider all commercially produced faux-meats as transition foods that help you move toward a healthier diet. Commercially available plant-based meat substitutes are processed foods, and processed foods are not as healthy as the whole food ingredients from which they are derived. In terms of nutritional value, there are advantages and disadvantages to these processed meat substitutes.
Both the Impossible Burger® and the Beyond Burger® have slightly fewer calories than 85% lean ground beef. The Beyond Burger has more total fat while the Impossible Burger has more saturated fat. Both of the plant-based burgers have more sodium than beef prior to seasoning. The good news is that neither of the burgers contains cholesterol. I view this as a tradeoff since saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium are all considered risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Both plant-based burgers have slightly less protein than beef, which is good because most Americans eat excessive amounts of protein. Both of the burgers claim to have more iron than beef, and studies show that iron derived from plants is safer for humans than the animal-based heme iron. Beef does not contain fiber, but each of these plant-based burgers contain 2 to 3 grams of fiber in a 4 ounce serving. For these reasons, I feel the plant-based burgers have a slight edge.
If you are more interested in Chicken, Beyond offers a grilled chicken substitute that works well in dishes like fajitas. You can find it in the frozen food section of your local grocery store. Again, I view this as a processed food that can be helpful in transitioning to a healthier whole food, plant-based diet, or as an occasional treat, but I do not recommend basing your entire diet on any of these plant-derived meat substitutes.
Most companies that produce plant-based meat substitutes promote the environmental benefits of choosing their product over real animal meat, and this is probably the strongest reason for consuming their products. If you are interested in protecting the environment, then plant-based meats are definitely the best choice. You can learn more about the environmental aspect of plant-based burgers from the Beyond Meat (beyondmeat.com) and Impossible Foods (impossiblefoods.com) websites.
Here is a breakdown of the basic nutrition elements in the Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger, and real beef hamburger that you would use for your favorite grilled burger. Keep in mind that it appears over the last year or two the recipes for these plant-based burgers has been changing. The information below is based on published nutrition information as of May, 2019.
Enjoy your summer grilling, but do it in a healthy manner. If you want a great whole food, plant-based burger, you can try the following recipes.
BBQ Mushroom Oat Burger (click or tap for recipe)
Sunflower Oat Sliders (click or tap for recipe)
If you are more of a hot dog person, try this recipe:
Grilled Carrot Hot Dogs (click or tap for recipe)
Please enjoy health and happiness through better nutrition and lifestyle!