Caroline Shugart column mug

Caroline Shugart column mug

There’s been a recent surge in promotions for vegetarian burgers. Veggie burgers aren’t new. For centuries, vegetarians experimented with combinations of grains, nuts, and oils to perfect a tasteful patty. The original Gardenburger (a blending of brown rice, mushrooms, and rolled oats) was a staple in my home for years. More recently, we’ve switched to one of many varieties of MorningStar Farms patties (a combination of wheat gluten, vegetable oil, and soy protein isolate). There’s a wide assortment of veggie burgers available to the consumer today. Some are vegan (containing no animal products), while others contain eggs and dairy products.

Today, a shopper can find an assortment of burgers, sausages, chicken bits, crumbles, and bacon strips, all made with veggies. You can find products made of quinoa, black beans, soybeans, mushrooms, and wheat. Some state regulatory agencies are taking a hard look at the names of these products. Can you have a “veggie bacon strip” that contains no pork? A burger than contains no beef? The meat industry seems to want strict labeling guidelines to protect their turf. Regardless of what they are called, I am confident that consumers will be able to find these versatile meat alternatives.

Two burger products have made a big splash in the marketplace this year, Impossible Food’s Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger. These are products you can now find being served in national chains like Carl’s Jr. and Burger King, and you may have noticed the ads on television for these products. A major difference between these burgers and other veggie burgers is that these were engineered to mimic meat in taste, texture, and appearance. They even bleed like meat!

The Impossible Burger (top 3 ingredients: soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, and sunflower oil) has 19 grams of protein and 240 calories in a 4-ounce patty. The Beyond Burger (top 3 ingredients: pea protein isolate, canola oil, and coconut oil) has 20 grams of protein and 250 calories in their 4-ounce patty. For comparison, your average beef burger (top 3 ingredients: beef, beef, and beef) has 21 grams of protein and 250 calories in a 4-ounce patty. My MorningStar Farms Grillers Prime burger has 16 grams of protein and 150 calories in a 2.5-ounce patty.

Side note: I’m sorry about combining English and metric units here. Consumers are familiar with English units for quantity, while nutrition labels use metric units. So, a 4-ounce patty is 113 grams, and a 2.5-ounce patty is 71 grams.

It’s been many years since I’ve tasted a beef burger (I think 30 years!), so I may not be the best judge of whether these new burgers taste like a beef burger. I think it has a “meaty” taste. Heck, most of a Whopper from Burger King probably tastes like the tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and onions that come with it. Those additions, plus a bun, turn this beef burger into a 660-calorie sandwich with 40 g of fat and 28 g of protein. Add medium fries and a medium sugar soda, and your meal is now a whopper whopping 1300 calories, or more than half of the calories many people need in a day.

For that Impossible Whopper (according to the Burger King website), the sandwich itself is 630 calories, 34 g fat, and 25 g of protein. Have that burger-fries-sugar soda combo and it adds up to 1270 calories. Again, this meal is more than half of what the average person needs in a day.

Don’t look at these meat alternatives as a great way to reduce your caloric intake. Beware of those hidden extras. For either meat or non-meat burgers, refuse the mayonnaise (saves you 160 calories), ask for extra lettuce and tomato (more fiber) and choose a whole grain bun if possible. And always snub the sugary, high-calorie beverages.

So, why choose a veggie burger option? I suspect people choose this option either because of ethical concerns about the treatment and abuse of food animals, because of concerns about the impacts of food animal production on the global climate (greenhouse gas production and deforestation), or to protect their health. Eating less meat, replacing meat with plant-based meat alternatives, and eating more grains, nuts, veggies, and fruits are all terrific steps in the right direction.

Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. Her new grandson gives her even more reason to live a long and healthy life.

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