Where’s the beef?

Plant-based alternatives are a mixed bag

Ram IM burger2
The Classic Cheeseburger made with an Impossible Burger patty at the RAM Restaurant & Brewery in Medford. Photo by Rick Browne.

With all the buzz over plant- or soy-based burgers like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, are they actually healthy for you?

Julie Kokinakes, a registered dietitian and Medical Nutrition Therapy practitioner in Medford, says, “These meat alternative ‘burgers’ are particularly helpful for people who like the taste, consistency and protein content of meat, but wish to increase plant-based foods for medical and ethical reasons.”

 Lisa Newton, a certified nutritionist and a mind-body eating coach in Ashland, is not a fan of plant-based faux meat. “I’m not crazy about fake anything: sugar, meats, highly processed soy and GMO foods. I like consuming foods that are natural and as close to how they are found in nature as possible. Eating one of these meatless products is not the end of the world, but mostly, you want to stick to foods that are more natural and closer to what is found in nature.”

Using the Impossible Burger as an example, Kokinakes says the patty contains protein, fiber, fat and nutrients from plant sources – soy, coconut and sunflower oil. It does not contain cholesterol, she notes, as only animals produce cholesterol. However, coconut oil is a partially saturated fat. The fat from coconut oil tends to have a positive impact on HDL-cholesterol, the good cholesterol that protects against cardiovascular disease, unlike the saturated fat from meats that tend to have a negative impact.

Should you choose an Impossible Burger over a fast-food beef burger? Kokinakes has a mixed answer.

“Yes, as an intention to limit one’s consumption of hormones and antibiotics from factory-farmed meats,” she says. “But only maybe if you’re trying to improve your health. This type of ‘burger’ is not a replacement for minimally processed legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds, which are natural sources of plant proteins and fats. Also, this excludes the bun, french fries and soda that comes with a meal at a fast-food restaurant.”

Newton echoes that sentiment, saying “Eating real whole foods, real vegetables and real natural protein is still the way to go.”

If you have reasons for avoiding beef, Newton suggests making your own meatless burgers with black beans rather than the processed plant or soy burgers. “There are dozens of recipes using real ingredients, such as mushrooms, beans and pea protein, lentils and other vegetables. Try some of them and you may discover you like the results as much as you do that ½-pound beef burger or 80-20 beef meatloaf.”

For omnivores looking for minimally processed beef, Kokinakes says there are lots of local options. “Look for local ranchers who raise livestock with sustainable, ethical and humane methods and produce the highest-quality products without the continuous dosing of pharmaceuticals, like antibiotics, antimicrobials and growth hormones.”

 Newton agrees with seeking quality meat, saying, “I don’t think there is anything wrong with meat that is well raised. Beef has lots of minerals that are good for you. Plus, there is that unmistakable taste and mouthfeel factor to a real burger that hasn’t been duplicated yet, and probably won’t ever be.”

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More to Explore

What’s in a ‘burger’?

What’s in an Impossible Burger? These genetically engineered meatless burgers have 21 ingredients, including water, textured wheat protein, coconut oil, soy protein isolate, konjac gum, xanthan gum, thiamin (vitamin B-1), zinc, niacin, vitamin B-6, riboflavin (vitamin B-2), and vitamin B-12.

What’s in Beyond Burger? This highly processed food 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 gives the burger its meat-like “blood.”

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