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Nutrition News: Meat Burgers vs. Plant-Based Burgers

Charlyn Fargo on

Should you make the switch to plant-based burgers rather than meat?

At the grocery store where I'm a dietitian, our shelves are bulging with plant-based alternatives, including burgers. Fast-food and restaurant chains, including Red Robin, TGI Friday's, Carl's Jr. and Burger King, have also begun offering plant-based burgers.

Are they healthier than meat? Depends. Some are made from highly processed foods with a long list of ingredients. The more healthful options come from whole foods rather than processed plant-based ingredients. A pea protein isolate, for example, isn't a whole food. A beef burger, on the other hand, has one ingredient: beef.

Then there's the fat and sodium content. While many try to avoid the saturated fat in beef, many plant-based burgers contain coconut oil as a main ingredient, also a saturated fat. We went through a phase where anything coconut was perceived as good for you. However, the American Heart Association recently issued an advisory against consuming coconut oil, saying it's 82% saturated fat and can raise LDL (bad cholesterol), similar to the way butter and beef fat do. In reality, coconut oil gives several plant-based burgers similar levels of fat.

Check how much sodium your plant-based burger contains. A chart in a recent issue of Today's Dietitian had a range of 540 milligrams (Amy's California Burger) to 130 milligrams (Engine 2 Poblano Black Bean Burger) for one patty. As always, it pays to read the labels to be healthy. Most have around 350 milligrams of sodium.

The calories for plant-based burgers range from 270 (Beyond Burger) to 100 (Boca All American Veggie Burger). By comparison, a ground beef burger has about 250 calories. You're also likely to pay more for that plant-based burger -- on average, three to four times more than meat. Confusing? Like any food, you need to read the label to determine if it's a good choice.

 

The bottom line? Plant-based foods are better for the environment because they use fewer natural resources. However, a healthy diet should limit processed foods of any kind, including plant-based burgers. So enjoy that beef burger -- on occasion -- or enjoy a plant-based burger if you prefer the taste -- on occasion. Both can fit into a healthy diet. Just enjoy the one you choose.

Q and A

Q: How many steps do you need to take a day?

A: We typically hear a magic number of 10,000 steps a day, which can seem daunting. But researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School tracked 17,000 women (average age 72) and found that even 4,400 steps a day increased life expectancy compared to those who took just 2,700 steps. Those who reached 7,500 steps a day benefitted the most. Even if you can't hit 10,000 steps, take that daily walk.

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