Recently, plant-based meat products have received significant attention. Some claim or misinterpret that plant-based meat products are nutritionally equal to traditional meat products, if not better (Seehafer and Bartels 2019). Although both are known to be sources of protein, there are some key nutritional differences.
Plant-based meat products are not new, as soy-extended burgers and veggie-burgers have existed for a long time (Curtain and Grafenauer 2019). However, these products were not well-accepted by consumers because of texture and flavor problems. Some wheat protein-based products have also mimicked the texture of meat fairly well, but never got the media hype of the current plant-based burgers. Additionally, the gluten in the wheat protein posed an issue for some individuals. The newer plant-based products (e.g., Beyond Meat®, and Impossible™ Burgers) have come much closer to copying the texture and flavor of traditional meat products and are growing in popularity.
Newer Plant-Based Meat Options
The makers of the modern plant-based meat products have done a great job matching the macronutrients of these new products to traditional meat products. Macronutrients include protein, fat, and moisture. But to make these products, they are using heavily processed protein products (e.g., isolated, extracted, hydrolyzed, fermented, etc.) from whole vegetables. The impact of these processing methods on the nutritional effects (i.e., digestibility) of these vegetable proteins is not yet known, but nutritionists are skeptical (Curtain and Grafenauer 2019). Nutritionists recommend that people need to consume more vegetables but not in the processed, plant-based, meat-product form.
|Plant-Based Meat Products||Traditional Meat Products|
Nutrition of Traditional Meat Versus Plant-Based
Animal proteins contain a better balance of essential amino acids than plant proteins. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by humans, so they are essential in the human diet for proper growth and maintenance. The essential amino acid balance that meat proteins offer is especially important for proper growth and development of young children. We use essential amino acids to make proteins for our growth and maintenance. If an amino acid is missing, then certain proteins cannot be produced. This results in a negative impact on our body’s growth and maintenance.
The high quantity and quality of meat proteins provides a higher nutrient density than plant proteins. Meat proteins also contain a lot of iron. The iron in meat is much more absorbent than iron found in vegetables. Also, meat is the only natural source of Vitamin B12.
Key Ingredients in Both Products
The vegetable proteins used in modern plant-based products include isolated soy protein (Impossible Burger) and isolated pea protein (Beyond Meat). Soy protein lacks several amino acids, including methionine and lysine, and is on the list of allergenic ingredients that some people need to avoid. Pea protein also lacks methionine. Unprocessed pea protein also has a much lower digestibility than either soy or meat proteins.
Besides protein, modern plant-based meat products contain similar fat content to traditional meat products. To obtain that level of fat, vegetable oils are added to the vegetable proteins. Coconut oil contains 80% saturated fatty acids and is commonly used in Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger products. Some studies have shown that a diet that includes saturated fatty acids is less healthy than a diet with unsaturated fatty acids. Beef fat is known to contain 50% saturated fatty acids.
Commercial plant-based burgers contain 18–20 ingredients to simulate the texture and flavor of traditional meat products. Traditional ground beef contains only beef.
Sodium content is rather high in plant-based burgers (see Table 2). However, plant-based products also contain fiber, which is not in traditional meat products.
Cholesterol content is the one component some would say is a negative factor for traditional meat products, particularly for people with high cholesterol levels.
|Quick Comparison of the Two Products
|Impossible™ Burger||Traditional Burger|
|$12 per lb.||$3.50 per lb.|
|Five ingredients||One ingredient|
|240 calories||240 calories
(based on 80% lean/20% fat beef)
|0 mg. cholesterol||80 mg. cholesterol|
|370 mg. sodium||55 mg. of sodium per 3 oz.|
|19 grams of protein||19 grams of protein per 4 oz.|
|So, which product do nutritionists recommend?|
|Nutritionists agree that eating plant-based burgers occasionally is okay, but do not encourage the consumption of these products as a healthy alternative to traditional meat.|
In conclusion, it appears that fiber content is the major nutritional benefit to consuming plant-based burgers versus traditional burgers.
Curtain, Felicity, and Sara Grafenauer. 2019. “Plant-Based Meat Substitutes in the Flexitarian Age: An Audit of Products on Supermarket Shelves.” Nutrients, Volume 11, 2603. doi.org/10.3390/nu11112603.
Reiley, Laura. 2019. “Impossible Burger: Here’s What’s Really in It.” The Washington Post, October 23, 2019.
Seehafer, Astrid, and Marvin Bartels. 2019. “Meat 2.0—The Regulatory Environment of Plant-Based and Cultured Meat.” European Food and Feed Law Review, Volume 14, Issue 4: 323–331.