Beyond Burgers: A Vegan's Dream Or Just Another Trend?

Photo: Courtesy of Beyond Meat.
This BBQ season, as you prep your hot dogs and burgers for the grill, your vegan and vegetarian guests might request something a little more elaborate than a grilled portobello mushroom or frozen bean burger: the Beyond Burger. This plant-based product is increasingly trendy among the veggie crowd, but also omnivores who aren't into processed red meat burgers.
Beyond Meat is a Los Angeles brand that came on the health food scene in 2012, with the goal of developing a plant-based meat alternative that was both health-conscious and better for the environment. The result is a "meat" product that tastes, looks, and cooks like meat, but is made entirely from plant-based ingredients. Celebrities from Jessica Chastain to Leonardo DiCaprio have supported Beyond Meat, and in May, the company went public.
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So, why is there so much hype around these particular veggie burgers? Well, for starters, they're a far cry from the traditional bean-or-soy-based hockey pucks that you're used to seeing in the freezer aisle. Technically, Beyond Meat is made from a pea protein base, but it contains all the core nutritional elements of meat, such as amino acids, lipids, minerals, and water, a representative for Beyond Meat tells Refinery29.
The problem with many meat alternatives on the market is that they're made from highly processed soy. While soy in its whole, natural form can be a good source of essential amino acids and nutrients, "many soy protein isolates are devoid of the original nutrients found in soy," explains Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles. Plus, these "soy protein isolates" typically contain additives that can be harmful for your health. "Soy is also a highly allergenic food and controversial to some consumers," Davis adds. Pea protein, on the other hand, is a great alternative for people who are looking to eat less meat due to environmental reasons, says Kathleen Meehan, MS, RD, LDN, an anti-diet registered dietitian in Houston.
Beyond Meat was intentionally designed to be made without soy, gluten, or GMOs, explains the Beyond Meat rep. "We put strict guardrails on our R&D team and tasked them to find a way to deliver the sensory experience of meat without those ingredients," they say. Fans say that the Beyond Burger, which is the brand's flagship product, cooks and grills just like a ground beef burger.
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As someone who eats meat, I was intrigued by the Beyond Burger, so I ordered one from a local diner on Seamless (it's available in lots of restaurants and fast food locations) to see if it's worth the hype. The burger has a very similar mouthfeel to ground beef, but I wasn't blown away. It still had that particular meat substitute aftertaste that I've experienced with other veggie burgers, and lacked the true juiciness of beef. That said, I can see how people who have food allergies, or those who follow a vegan diet, would be into the taste of the Beyond Burger.
But if you're not vegan or vegetarian, is eating a Beyond Burger a better choice than a regular beef one, from a nutritional perspective? In general, we know that meatless meals can be healthier, because they tend to be lower in saturated fats and higher in fiber and vitamins, Davis says. "Additionally, switching to plant-based alternatives introduces variety into the diet, which helps ensure all nutritional needs are met," she says. Processed red meat, such as sausage or ground beef, contains nitrates and nitrites, which are preservatives that are associated with heart disease and diabetes. For these reasons, it's recommended to stick to eating lean cuts of red meat only twice a week.
This is all to say that opting for a Beyond Meat product when you have a hankering for meat is totally fine and good — if that's really what you want. Besides the nutritional benefits of this swap, we know that Beyond Burgers tend to be better for the environment. According to the company, the Beyond Burger uses 99% less water, 93% less land, nearly 50% less energy, plus emits 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than producing a quarter-pound U.S. beef burger. So, if you also like to consider the environmental impact of your food beyond when it leaves your plate, slapping one of these pea-burgers on the grill this summer might be the better choice for you.
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