Impossible Burger vs. Beyond Burger: Are They the Healthier Choice?
Fancy new “non-burger” burgers seem to be popping up all over the place…. even at fast food chains. I feel like you have to question anything that proclaims to be “healthy” coming from Burger King. However, these burgers are also showing up in some really great, healthy restaurants. A number of my clients, knowing that I don’t eat meat myself, ask if I eat Beyond Burgers and/or Impossible Burgers and my answer is no.
First of all, I did not give up meat for health reasons. I was visiting a friend in rural Virginia as a college student and saw her neighbors’ cows picked up by a truck headed to the slaughter house. I cried my eyes out for days and vowed to never eat meat again! Now I realize, we all know where meat comes from, but for me seeing it first hand had a huge impact on me. Now with that being said, I have no judgement about other people eating meat and unlike when I was growing up, there are some really great, healthy and humane ways to enjoy meat nowadays.
Red meat does inherently have some things working against it, namely that it is high in saturated fat. Further, conventional meats from cows that live a miserable life on a crowded feedlot tend to be highly processed. Further, these cows are grain fed, which is not their natural diet and results in higher levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, as opposed to grass-fed beef which contains much higher levels of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. Feedlot cows are also fed hormones to make them grow faster and antibiotics, which help to ward off infections given the crowded conditions these animals live it. All of these end up in the meat that you eat. Therefore, if given the option, the non-meat burger may be a better choice. However, that does not mean it is necessarily the best choice.
Let’s first compare the two most common of these burgers; the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger.
Overall, the Impossible Burger contains about 19 g of protein per serving at less than 300 calories. This is not that much different than what you will get in a beef burger. Beef burgers tend to be a little higher in calories and contain higher amounts of fat, including saturated fat. However, the Impossible Burger does contain significantly more sodium than what you would find in a beef burger.
According to the company’s website, this is this list of ingredients:
· Protein from soy and potatoes
· Flavor from heme (the molecule that makes meat taste, well, meaty)
· Fat from coconut and sunflower oils make it sizzle on the griddle
· Binders, methylcellulose and food starch, hold it together so you can make anything you want -- meatballs, kebab, patties, etc.
Here is the full ingredient list:
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% Or Less Of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamins and Minerals (Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12). As you can see, the primary ingredient is soy, which is controversial in and of itself. Although there are a number of studies that show that soy can be a healthy food, it all depends on the type of soy. I tell my clients, if they are going to eat soy, to focus on the whole food versions of soy like edamame and fermented, organic soy like tempeh and miso. Unfortunately, the Impossible Burger contains a highly processed type called soy protein isolate. Processing the soy means that many of the highly nutritious and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals are lost. As you can see from the ingredient label, this product is fortified, meaning that these nutrients must be added back in.
Further, the ingredients used in the Impossible Burger, including soy, are genetically modified (GMO). Genetically modified foods are highly controversial, as not enough is known about them to determine what, if any, are the long terms health effects of eating them. Additionally, many of these ingredients are genetically modified to be resistant to pesticides and herbicides. This means that these poisonous substances can be liberally sprayed on the plants, to kill the weeds around them, without fear of killing the plant itself. These pesticides and herbicides leave residues called glyphosates on the plant, which have been linked to a number of health conditions including cancer. Even after processing these plants, the residues persist and can build up in your body if you eat them in large quantities. Lastly, these burgers contain a number of artificial additives and binders necessary to recreate the look and taste of meat. Although it touts itself as a plant-based, healthy alternative to meat, it is highly processed, and in my opinion, contains some questionable ingredients.
The Beyond Burger contains about 22 g of protein in less than 300 calories. Further, it contains even less saturated fat then the Impossible Burger. Similarly, it contains a higher amount of sodium, as compared to a beef burger.
According to the company’s website, the ingredients include:
Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract (to protect quality), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Beet Juice Extract (for color), Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto (for color).
Although we see some similar ingredients to the Impossible Burger, there are two key differences: the main source of protein is from pea protein, rather than soy, and there are no GMO ingredients. That being said, Beyond does include some questionable ingredients like “natural flavorings” and other additives. Further, as discussed in a previous post (https://www.vitasananutrition.com/post/canola-oil-heart-healthy-or-advertising-myth), I am not a fan of canola oil, which is included in the list of ingredients.
All-in-all, given the choice of the two, I would say the Beyond Burger is a better option, however that does not mean I genuinely recommend it. For my clients who are meat eaters, I would recommend eating a real burger made from organic, grass fed beef on occasion rather than a processed “non-meat” burger. And for those people, who want a burger, but do not eat meat, I would suggest a plant-based burger either made from beans or real vegetables. I am a bit of a purest when it comes to food. I want the real, whole foods version of what I am eating, not an imposter food trying to be something it’s not.