Fact: Americans eat about 50 billion beef burgers a year.
Fact: Every year, the average American eats enough red meat to make 800 quarter-pound burgers!
Fact: Red meat such as hamburger delivers health risks from too much carnitine, lecithin and choline, which change the bacteria in your gut to produce inflammation in your body. That can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, cancer and brain dysfunction. A large study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that eating one additional serving a day of unprocessed red meat over the decades-long course of the study raised the risk of mortality by 13%. An extra daily serving of processed red meat (bacon, hot dogs, salami) raised the risk by 20%.
Enter the processed, meat-imitating veggie burger. Sounds like a good idea. After all, it’s made from plants. Because some of the most popular versions are designed to imitate the taste of beef — for example, through the genetic engineering of heme (aka soy leghemoglobin), which conveys a meaty flavor — red-meat lovers might be persuaded to reduce or eliminate beef burgers from their diet.
But these processed patties have as much saturated fat and calories as an equivalent-sized 85% lean beef burger! And we don’t know whether these substitutes are just as bad for your long-term health as a beef burger. They contain coconut oil, and Dr. Mike thinks the data showing that coconut oil is an accelerator of brain inflammation and dementia is substantial. Plus, these veggie burgers are doing nothing to promote veggie love. Instead they are saying veggies are good only if they taste like red meat. Not true.
So, here are the facts about the two most popular brands of “veggies masquerading as meat” burgers:
Beyond Meat Burgers contain water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder and beet juice extract (for color).
One 4-ounce burger delivers 250 calories, 18 total grams of fat, with 6 grams of saturated fat, 390 milligrams of sodium, only 2 grams of fiber, 20 grams of protein and 25% of your recommended daily value for iron.
The Impossible Burger ingredients are water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors and 2% or less of potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B12.
One 4-ounce patty contains 240 calories, 14 grams of total fat, with 8 grams of saturated fat, 370 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of fiber and 19 grams of protein, plus 1 gram added sugar, and, weirdly, 5.3 milligrams of the B vitamin thiamine — 2,350% of your recommended daily value (a high intake is 50 milligrams a day) — and 130% of B12.
Four ounces of 85% lean, all-beef burger contains 260 calories, 15.6 grams of total fat with 6 grams of saturated fat, 88 milligrams sodium, between 1 and 13% of daily values for many vitamins (except A and C) and minerals.
So, while you can opt for a meaty-flavored veggie burger occasionally, they may not be the healthy alternative you’re seeking. Here are some substitutes:
>> When eating out, opt for a veggie meal that’s upfront about what it is: A kale salad with walnuts and avocados or vegetable pasta with 100% whole-wheat spaghetti, garlic and olive oil (skip the cheese).
>> At home, why not whip up a tasty quinoa black bean burger (recipe at doctoroz.com/recipe/quinoa-black-bean-veggie-burgers) that’s loaded with protein and fiber from the beans and quinoa, plus egg whites, and seasoned with garlic, onion, tomato and extra-virgin olive oil.
>> And if you want some animal protein, try Dr. Mike’s favorite salmon burger made with canned wild salmon, Dijon mustard, onions and whole-wheat breadcrumbs. Get the recipe at doctoroz.com/recipe/salmon-burger.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.