Vegetarian Soy Burger with Spinach

The Science Behind Plant-Based Meats

Plant-based burgers are on the rise again. Marketed as a healthier alternative to beef, they often mimic its taste, smell and even texture. How does that work? The general public’s still unclear on the science behind the sensation.

Vegetarian burgers have been around for decades. But eye-catching titles like “Impossible” and “Beyond,” have pushed them to the forefront. Plant-based meats appeal to a variety of people including vegans, pescatarians, and flexitarians. As consumers, it’s important to look beyond branding and examine their origins.

“The main one that tricked my palette was ‘Impossible,’” reveals Brandon Burbank, vegetarian and producer of A Healthier Michigan Podcast. “I think that was the one that made me go, ‘Did they mix up my order?’ I think most people that haven’t eaten meat in a while, they could swear by some of these things… it tastes just like meat.”

Regardless of the base (i.e. soy bean or black bean), the finished product typically looks and feels the same. This is intentional and by design. “These plant-based meats are processed,” says Grace Derocha, registered dietitian and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “I mean, ultra-processed essentially, because of what they’re going through to become a burger or a chicken nugget that doesn’t have chicken.”

On the latest episode of the A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica, he, Burbank and Derocha discuss the nutritional value of plant-based meats.

“Here’s my thing in general,” explains Derocha. “When you break down nutritionally the contents of a burger versus a plant-based meat burger, it’s pretty equal in the respect of macronutrients.” In a lot of cases, it has the same amount, if not more, saturated fat. It can also be high in sodium, which increases one’s risk of hypertension and stroke.

Plant-based products do have positive attributes. They’re naturally high in fiber and can provide adequate protein. “Impossible uses a soy base and Beyond uses a few different proteins, pea, rice and mung bean protein. So, there are different sources, both vegan, both plant-based.”

For years, soy has been a popular meat-alternative. Yet, it’s link to the hormone, estrogen, has been an ongoing cause for concern. “Soy can build extra estrogen in the body,” warns Derocha. “But most soy, especially in this country, is pretty clean.”

Before adding or removing anything from your diet, talk to your doctor. Get tested periodically, monitor your levels, and see if there are any noticeable changes.

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Photo credit: LauriPatterson

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