How healthy are plant-based meat substitutes?

February 17, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Finding ways to cut meat out of your diet is getting a bit easier with plant-based options.

Burger King now sells the Impossible Burger, a plant-based alternative to their meat patties. Other fast food and restaurant chains, like KFC, White Castle and Red Robin offer plant-based alternatives to burgers and chicken on their menus.

Limiting your meat intake has its health benefits. Decreasing the amount of meat you eat can help decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.

The World Cancer Research Fund recommends eating just three servings of red meat (about four ounces per serving) a week to decrease your risk of certain types of cancer.

Having plant-based alternatives to that burger or steak can help. And while more and more options are becoming available, dietitians and doctors warn that not all plant-based alternatives are created equally.

“It’s a matter of how processed they are,” says Toni Havala, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian with Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Two of the more well-known plant based patties — Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger — weigh in similar to a beef patty in terms of calories and fat, with the Impossible Burger at 240 calories and 8 grams of saturated fat and the Beyond Burger at 250 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat, according to an analysis of meat alternatives by CNN.

By comparison, an 80 percent lean beef patty contains 280 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat. The three also have similar protein counts. But when it comes to sodium, there’s a big difference.

The plant-based alternatives, Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, have 370 milligrams and 390 milligrams of sodium respectively, while the beef patty comes in with about 65 to 75 milligrams of sodium.

Havala suggests checking out the ingredients first before buying. If the ingredient list includes whole foods like peas, lentils or beans, chances are you’re in good shape.

“Look for recognizable foods you could find at the grocery store in the ingredients,” Havala says. “When you start seeing a lengthy list of complex ingredients there’s a good chance that it’s been processed more than others.”

She also warns against using the plant-based alternative to rationalize other unhealthy choices such as loading up on calorie-laden French fries or sugary beverages.

While there is much to learn yet about plant-based alternatives, they are more eco-friendly, so consumers can feel good about that. Opting for plant-based alternatives can also help people transition to a healthier diet in the long run.

For a simple way to select the best plant-based alternative, Havala suggests using the website which grades food based on its nutritional content (fooducate also offers a smartphone app).

And while the options for plant-based alternatives continues to grow, Havala said there are some simple ways to incorporate plant protein on your own.

For example, Havala suggests using a can of pinto beans to add into taco meat or a can of kidney beans with your sloppy joe mix. The beans offer the protein found in meat without the processing found in some meat alternatives.

For a quick meal, Havala likes to mix vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach, and cannellini beans with some whole wheat pasta. If you’re up for making your own veggie burger, Havala offers this recipe.

Southwestern Bean Burgers


  • ½ cup onion, diced
  • ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 (15 ounce) can no salt added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (8 ¾ ounce) can no salt added whole kernel corn, drained (or 2 cups frozen corn, thawed)

Mix all burger ingredients together thoroughly and shape into patties. Grill burgers 5 minutes per side on the grill or in a sauté pan on the stove at medium high. Serve on a bun with lettuce, tomatoes and avocado or put on top of a green salad. These can be frozen, thawed and microwaved for a delicious, quick meal.

Get more Healthy Driven recipes.

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