Before You Sink Your Canines Into That Plant-Based Patty, Are Vegan Fast Food Burgers Healthy?
What a great time to be a newly-converted vegan. To capitalize on the growing trend of plant-based diets, many fast food chains now offer vegan alternatives to burgers and breakfast sandwiches. Without doubt, plant-based diets are healthier and better for the environment than the Standard American Diet (SAD). But is there a dark side to vegan fast food burgers?
Vegan patties that sizzle just like a flame-broiled Whopper and that have the same mouthfeel as one, not to mention ooze blood-red just like real beef?
A vegan sausage that eerily resembles pork brats and that’s just as juicy?
Pinch yourself. You’ve died and gone to vegan heaven!
Meatless fast food burgers are the new normal. What a change from just a few years ago, when the most exciting plant-based patty was a Gardenburger that was nearly impossible to cook without it falling apart.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular vegan fast food options and see if they’re really healthy...
Burger King’s Impossible Whopper
Perhaps millenials are indeed forging a nation of vegans. Who ever would have thunk it: All 7,000-plus Burger King restaurant locations offering a plant-based alternative to its iconic Whopper…
The Impossible Whopper has the same look (including the black, flame-grilled charing marks), texture and red juiciness of its beef equivalent.
But is eating an Impossible Whopper much healthier for you than the beef version?
For starters, the Impossible Whopper is not vegan the way it’s made; you have to ask for no mayonnaise. And secondly, if you’re a dedicated vegan, be aware that the Impossible Burger will be made on the same flame-broiler as beef patties. Cross-contamination is a risk. In fact, one vegan has sued the fast food giant for its claim that the Impossible Burger is 0% beef.
In Burger King’s defense, the company never advertised the Impossible Whopper as vegan, but rather, “plant-based.” On its website, Burger King mentions that for "Guests looking for a meat-free option, a non-broiler method of preparation is available upon request."
Compared to the beef version, the Impossible Whopper doesn’t seem drastically healthier. In fact, grams of saturated fat are nearly identical (11 for the plant-based; 12 for the beef); sodium is higher in the plant-based version: 1,240mg (980 for the regular); calories and overall fat are nearly the same as well.
But as we say here at BōKU superfoods, nutrition labels don’t tell the whole story. And in the case of the Impossible Whopper, there’s good news and bad news behind the whole story.
Plant-Based Burgers: Better For The Environment
While it’s true that even plant-based-food farming practices can be detrimental to the environment (clear-cutting of vast swaths of virgin Amazonian rain forest for soybeans, and the same in Indonesia for palm oil), for the most part, plant-based foods are more sustainable for the environment.
According to this CNBC report, animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions; 65% of those emissions emanate from beef and dairy cattle. And according to the website of Impossible Foods, the company behind The Impossible Burger (the type of patty used in the Impossible Whopper) uses 96% less land, 87% less water and 89% less greenhouse gas emissions than regular beef.
That’s enough reason to sink your teeth into this vegan burger, right?
Well, not so fast…
Fast Food Vegan Burgers: Healthier Than The Real Thing, But No Superfood
Every once in a blue moon, if you crave a fast food vegan burger, sure, go ahead and relish the fact that we’re living in an era with delicious plant-based alternatives to meat. But you should also realize that the Impossible Whopper is not health food. In fact, some people are concerned about one particular ingredient in the Impossible Burger patty: soy-based hemoglobin, or more succinctly, “soy heme.”
Soy heme was approved in 2019 as a food coloring additive. It’s what gives the Impossible Burger its juicy, blood-red carnivorous aesthetic. The problem with soy heme is it’s a genetically-created ingredient. Although heme is found in the roots of legumes, the process of creating a meatless, bloody patty requires human intervention. (The way it’s made is basically soy DNA meets craft beer fermented yeast.)
If you’d rather not get your nutrition from genetically-modified foods, you may want to pass on the Impossible Burger. (Arguably, eating an occasional piece of 100% grass-fed beef from a small, organic farm is better for you than eating an Impossible Whopper.)
However, in defense of weird science soy, if the Impossible Burger gets more people to eat meat less often, that’s probably a good thing.
But make no mistake about it. The Impossible Burger is not a superfood protein. It’s no Sachi Inchi seed or cranberry seed extract or pea protein or red dulse, a seaweed that’s called “The Bacon of the Sea.
For The Best Vegan Burger, Go Beyond The Impossible
If you want the healthiest meatless burger, don’t go to Burger King. Skip the Golden Arches, too. As of this writing, McDonalds offers a vegan burger called “The PLT” (Get it? It’s like BLT only the “P” stands for ‘plant.’). But it’s available only in Europe and limited locations in Canada. But vegans can rejoice in a far healthier fast-food plant-based burger at several locations.
Carl’s Jr., Dunkin Donuts, Hardees, Subway, Del Taco, and other regional franchises already offer or in the near future will sell Beyond Meat faux burgers and sausage. On paper, the Beyond Burger, the flagship patty of Beyond Meat, seems far healthier than the competition. Mostly because Beyond Burger uses beet for bloody appearances. And like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat’s burger has a similar texture and mouthfeel to beef.
In addition, the plant-based protein sources in Beyond Meat are superior and soy-free, consisting of pea, mung bean, fava bean and brown rice. The one knock on the Beyond Burger is that it contains canola oil. But hey, you can’t have it all…
Beyond Meat’s plant-based sausage uses a vegan casing derived from algae, called alginate. Like the Beyond Burger, Beyond Sausage is GMO-free and soy-free (as well as gluten free.)
Keep in mind that if you have a peanut allergy, it may not be safe for you to consume a Beyond Burger or Sausage since they contain pea protein. (Peas are legumes.)
Plant-Based Fast Food Options: Conclusion
Will reducing the amount of meat people consume be not only better for the environment but will doing so also help reverse the epidemic of metabolic disorders such as obesity?
Without doubt, yes.
However, the quickest path to optimal health and reversing obesity and type 2 diabetes is by eating nothing but high nutrient-dense foods (superfoods). Vegan burgers are a step in the right direction, but they’re no substitute for superfoods that potentiate our cells for abundant health.
Don’t particularly like veggies or don’t have time to cook healthy? This Superfood Powder is the easiest way to get your daily dose of nutrient-dense nutrition.