The Beyond Meat burger is a 'highly processed' food sold at Carl's Jr. and TGI Fridays, but nutritionists say it's a healthy option
- Beyond Meat's "bleeding" veggie burger has become a popular alternative to traditional meat patties.
- The processed burger, which mimics the taste, look, and feel of real beef, is now sold at TGI Fridays and Carl's Jr.
- We asked four nutritionists to evaluate the 22 ingredients in a Beyond Meat patty, which include coconut oil, an item with more saturated fat than butter or lard.
- Most of them classified the burger as a "sometimes" food, meaning it can be healthy to eat on occasion as a substitute for real beef.
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Beyond Meat signature "bleeding" veggie burger has been heralded for mimicking the taste, look, and feel of real meat. The patty is now featured on the menus at TGI Fridays, Carl's Jr., and Canadian fast food chain A&W, where it's being billed as a healthier alternative to beef.
But the Beyond Burger menu items aren't necessarily less fatty or caloric than their real-meat counterparts - and they've generated some skepticism about whether the ingredients themselves are actually nutritious.Like many veggie burgers, the Beyond Burger is considered a processed food, since it's been altered from its original state. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad for you. It all depends on how the burger fits into your diet.
We asked four nutritionists to evaluate the 22 ingredients in a Beyond Meat patty. Most of them classified the burger as a "sometimes" item, meaning it can be healthy to eat on occasion as a substitute for real beef.
Coconut oil might be the most concerning ingredient
For the most part, the Beyond Burger's ingredients are relatively nutritious.
Two nutritionists praised the fact that the burger contains 2 grams of fiber, or 8% of the recommended daily value. A few also said the burger was a good source of protein, since it has the same protein content of a traditional 3-ounce beef patty (around 20 grams).
Compared to its competitor, the Impossible Burger, nutritionists said the Beyond Burger had the healthier protein source.
"In my opinion, Beyond and Impossible are very different," said Cynthia Sass, a New York-based performance nutritionist. "Impossible's main protein source is soy, one of the 'big 8' most common allergens."
The Beyond Burger, on the other hand, uses pea protein isolate, which most people find easily digestible. The ingredient can, however, cause increased gastrointestinal discomfort if people aren't used to it, said Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
One element that had nutritionists divided was the burger's saturated fat content (6 grams). Two nutritionists saw the content as low compared to similar veggie burgers on the market, but Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian nutritionist, had one reservation.
"I don't love that the patties are made with coconut oil," she said. "This is a source of saturated fat, and you'll see that one burger contains 30% of the [recommended] daily value." Because coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter or lard, many nutritionists recommend using it sparingly.
The Beyond Burger is still a healthy choice (in moderation)
While all four nutritionists recognized the Beyond Burger as a processed food, that doesn't exactly qualify it as "junk food." Lots of foods we might consider healthy, like Greek yogurt, almond butter, or frozen veggies, are also processed.
Pamela Bonney, a registered dietitian nutritionist, said the Beyond Burger is "highly processed," which typically means a product has been heavily altered and contains additives. Highly processed foods are often "ready-to-eat" items like candy, potato chips, diet soda, or microwavable meals.Overall, Sass said, we should be eating of these less processed foods and substituting them with whole ingredients. New research from the National Institutes of Health suggests that processed foods cause people to consume an extra 500 calories a day and ultimately gain more weight.
But compared to lots of other "highly processed" foods, Bonney said, the Beyond Burger uses particularly high-quality ingredients like mung bean protein, apple extract, and pomegranate fruit powder.
When it comes to choosing between a Beyond Burger and a real meat patty, the nutritionists agreed that the veggie burger was the healthier choice.
"I do believe that plant options that displace red meat are a step in the right direction," said Sass, who added red meat is tied to some of our "most prevalent chronic diseases." The protein has been associated with type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and processed meats like sausage, bacon, and hot dogs could increase the risk of stomach and bowel cancers.
Red meat also plays a role in the climate crisis, which Sass called "a major public health risk." The World Resources Institute estimates that cutting the world's beef consumption by 70% could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 35%.
"The truth is that ... the protein source [we consume] does matter, both for human health and the health of the planet," Sass said.
That means Beyond Burgers may be an occasional part of a healthy diet, but they shouldn't be your protein source for every meal.