We’ve been discussing the consumption of ultra-processed foods and ways to reduce them in our diets. Protein bars, muffins, and lunch meat are just a few examples of processed foods that people eat frequently, but hopefully, you’ve learned some tips to reduce them.
Researchers recognize that these foods tend to be more calorie-dense and higher in fat, salt, sugar. They also tend to have more additives and preservatives than whole, unprocessed foods. Ultra-processed foods are not just hard on our waistlines and blood cholesterol. Studies show that higher consumption of these foods is associated with an overall increase in cancer risk, in particular breast, prostate, and colon cancer.1
This association between diet and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses is also observed with red meat consumption and even more so with processed red meat as mentioned previously.2 Animal protein intake also increases the burden on the environment versus eating more plant-based meals.
Enter the meatless or plant-based burgers. These were specifically designed to look, taste, and smell like regular meat. Companies purposely add fake heme that’s typically found in real meat to make the meat look “bloody” when it’s being cooked. But are they really healthier and easier on the environment?
Unlike traditional veggie burgers made of soy, mushrooms, or other vegetables, newer plant-based burgers include a variety of ingredients. Beyond burgers are made up of pea protein isolate, canola and coconut oil, yeast extract, and a combination of seasonings, while the Impossible burger uses potato protein, soy protein, and coconut oil, making it gluten-free.
Beets are used in Beyond Burgers to mimic the “bloodiness” of a regular burger. Coconut oil is used to replace saturated fat normally found in beef. The Impossible burger utilizes an ingredient from soybeans called leghemoglobin, a protein that’s bound to a non-protein compound known as heme. Heme gives the burgers its red color. The chemical, derived from yeast, is safe according to the FDA.
Better for you?
Plant-based burgers provide about 20 grams of protein in a 4 oz. patty, similar to a beef patty. Iron and B vitamin contents are also similar as are calories. Because of the addition of coconut oil, the saturated fat is fairly similar as well. If they’re supposed to be healthier, why not use less saturated fat?
Unfortunately, the sodium content, as well as carb content, is higher in plant-based burgers and most contain 20 or more ingredients. While these burgers may be meatless, they are still ultra-processed.
These types of burgers contain very few whole foods compared to bean or other plant-based options. Pure Farmland burgers and 365 burgers also contain added sugar; something consumers certainly don’t need more of. If you add a slice of cheese or side of fries to these non-meat burgers, they can hardly be considered healthy food.
Put your plants on
If you truly want to eat plant-based, do it!
Here is a recipe for our delicious Portabella burger.
Or try your hand at a black bean veggie burger! Below is a quick recipe for a delicious black bean burger.
Recipe adapted from http://www.loveandlemons.com
• 1 ½ cans (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
• ½ medium onion, finely diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• ½ tsp. smoked paprika
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• 1 egg
• 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1. In a large bowl, combine the beans, onion, garlic, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, cumin, salt, and pepper.
2. Mash the mixture with a fork until the mixture holds together but still has some visible chunks of black beans. Add the egg and use a spatula to fold until combined. Then, fold in the bread crumbs.
3. Form the mixture into 6 patties. The mixture will be sticky and a bit wet. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes if the mixture is too wet.
4. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Brush the patties with a little oil and cook the burgers for roughly 5 minutes per side, until charred on both sides, adjusting the heat down as necessary. The timing may vary based on your stove and cookware.
5. If grilling outside, preheat the grill to 400°F. Lightly brush the patties with olive oil, spray the grill grates, and grill for 8 minutes on the first side and 4 minutes on the second side.
6. Serve with hamburger buns and your favorite condiments.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
1. Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Deschasaux M, Fassier P, Latino-Martel P, Beslay M, Hercberg S, Lavalette C, Monteiro CA, Julia C, Touvier M. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort. BMJ. 2018 Feb 14;360:k322.
2. Wolk A. Potential health hazards of eating red meat. J Intern Med. 2017 Feb;281(2):106-122.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/