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Are Plant-Based Burgers Healthy? A Comparative Analysis

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Nabil Besri photo
Nabil Besri

August 25, 2023
Who can resist a good burger? I know I can't. Pair it with some sweet potato fries and a cold drink, and I'm all set for a meal I'll savor. But here's the catch—while it's super tasty, it's also becoming a health concern that I can't ignore.Why the worry? Because burgers have morphed into highly processed food items, making it tough to know what you're actually eating. I'm no health guru, but I am someone who wants to make smarter choices about my food. So, I decided to dig a little deeper. Here's what I found: I mentioned that burgers have turned into a sort of health hazard because they've become so processed. But what's the big deal with processed foods, anyway?Well, when we mess too much with our food, we're actually playing with fire—healthwise, that is. Add in things like processed proteins, industrial oils, fake flavors, and you've got a recipe for health issues like inflammation, which is a big red flag in a bunch of chronic diseases. Let's look at some specific concerns:

The Issue with Conventional Non-Grass-Fed Meat: 

While organic grass-fed meat offers health benefits like higher omega-3 fatty acids and less harmful additives, non-grass-fed meat from intensive conventional farming is often a different story. It may contain synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics that the animals were treated with, which messes-up with our hormones and gut flora – nowadays, it’s called the gut microbiome. These hormonal imbalances and gut microbiome dysbiosis could contribute to a range of health issues, from digestive problems to even more serious conditions like hormone-dependent cancers.

Quality of Meat in Commercial Burgers: 

Another concern is the quality of meat used in most commercial burgers. Often, these burgers are made from the less desirable parts of the animal. It’s not just about a high fat-to-meat ratio, but also the inclusion of fillers and extenders like soy protein, fructose-corn-syrup, and even ammonia-treated beef trimmings—commonly known as ‘pink slime.’ These not only dilute the nutritional value of the burger but also introduce a host of other potential health risks, such as excessive saturated fats and chemical additives. 

Cost-Cutting at the Expense of Health: 

In an industrial setting, the primary focus is often on reducing production costs. This means additives, preservatives, and other non-meat elements might be included to extend shelf life and improve texture, but at the expense of your health. These additives can lead to an array of health problems, including inflammation, leaky gut and therefore to other chronic diseases.So when we’re talking about burgers, especially those that aren’t made from high-quality, organic grass-fed meat, there are multiple layers of health concerns to consider. From the quality of the meat to the additives and extenders used, we’re looking at a dish that has moved far from its simple, nutritious origins!

 A Look at Plant-Based Burgers

OK, so if a traditional commercial burger isn’t so good, what about these new plant-based ones? They should represent less problems since there is no meat involved and therefore we shouldn’t worry anymore about the danger of non-grass-fed low quality meat, right?Well, you’re right to ask the question. Let’s take a closer look. • Many plant-based burgers contain proteins extracted from soy or peas. 

These proteins undergo heavy processing, losing most of their nutritional value.

Some studies have raised concerns about potential allergenic properties. Moreover, most of the conventional soy out there is genetically modified (GMO) which raised another array of health issues. 

• Plant-based burgers are often made with ingredients that are high in anti-nutrients: lectins, phytates and oxalates. So you may end-up not absorbing all the greatness you are eating and over months and years, you could end up with nutrient deficiencies. There is a way to reduce them by soaking, sprouting, cooking but commercial plant-based burgers as any processed food manufacturing won’t take time and energy to go through this extra food preparation phase. 

• The oils used in processed food are highly inflammatory as they are oxidized through the industrial production process, here I’m referring to like canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil or rapeseed oil. And in case coconut oil is used instead, it’s usually the unhealthy version: highly refined and deodorized chemically in addition to the fact that it contains saturated fats. Excessive consumption has been linked to increased LDL cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease. 

• The commercial plant-based burger unfortunately use artificial flavors and additives, like MSG, phosphates, colorants which can have adverse health effects, including headaches and kidney problems. 

• Recent research emphasizes how processed food with all sorts of additives, bad oil, refined sugar and carbohydrates (here I’m referring to the buns usually used for the burgers) candisrupt gut microbiome, leading to inflammation

• Highly processed foodsoften lack nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, leading to deficiencies and negatively impacting overall health.

Nutritional Comparison

Plant-based burgers typically have a protein content similar to that of traditional beef burgers, but the latter often contain higher amounts of saturated fats That could be problematic! Saturated fats have been demonized for years because we thought they would clog our arteries and lead to cardiovascular problems and heart disease, which is not true, inflammation is the culprit here but in excess, saturated fats are definitely not healthy.

When we compare plant-based burgers to non-grass-fed meat, which may contain harmful hormones and medicines, plant-based options appear healthier. But organic grass-fed meat is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and free from those concerning additives. 

Homemade Plant-Based Burgers: A Healthy Alternative? If the idea of a store-bought plant-based burger gives you pause, why not go the homemade route? You get to pick what goes in, using only real, whole ingredients, prepare them correctly. Sure, it won’t perfectly mimic a meat burger, but is that really the point? If I’m craving that meaty texture and not following a special diet, I’ll just opt for a high-quality, organic grass-fed meat burger from time to time. But if that’s not my goal, a homemade plant-based burger can be just as satisfying and tasty, but with its own unique flair. I will Give our Dubai-based naturopathic chef a hint and ask her to share with us her killer recipe to try if you promise to share your comments and thoughts in the community, deal 😊?  (community post link), don’t have access, no worries, just follow the instructions on the Academy and register. 

Conclusion 

So, are commercial plant-based burgers healthy? It’s a bit complicated. While they offer an alternative to the potential dangers of non-grass-fed quality meat, they come with their own concerns. But don’t fret; there’s always the option of making your own wholesome, natural plant-based burger at home for a fraction of the cost. Here’s to enjoying our favorite foods without compromising our health. Let’s keep exploring, learning, and nourishing ourselves the right way!