Are Plant-Based Burgers Really Better Than Red Meat?

It's the battle of the burgers.

When Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger first dropped their plant-based products, they could barely stay on the supermarket shelves—people went crazy for them. Finally, a meat alternative that provided the same satisfaction as a big juicy burger with just as much protein. These innovative "burgers" truly changed the game for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone trying to limit red meat in their diet. The appearance, texture, and taste are as close as it gets to the real deal.

Just like many others, my husband and I immediately joined the plant-based burger bandwagon. We subbed out our typical red meat burgers and grilled chicken for Impossible burgers and sausages. We encouraged our friends to try them and even brought them to family barbecues, hoping to convert our loved ones with one single bite. Admittedly, It wasn't until a few months later that I turned over the Impossible Burger package and noticed the lengthy list of ingredients. Even though it was my own fault for not reading the nutritional information sooner, I felt duped. Was eating a classic red meat burger healthier than eating something processed?

I met with Rebecca Ditkoff, a New York-based registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition by RD, to get more information on the topic. The first thing Ditkoff mentioned was that many products claiming to be plant-based are perceived with a 'health halo.' "Just because something is 'plant-based' or 'vegan' doesn't always mean it's healthier," says Ditkoff. "You need to look at the whole picture and read ingredient lists in addition to looking closely at nutrition facts."

Bottom line: when it comes to eating plant-based meals, Ditkoff recommends more whole ingredients such as beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—rather than processed ingredients replacements, including vegan burgers.

And while a classic burger usually contains just beef and spices, red meat should obviously still be eaten in moderation. The World Cancer Research Fund suggests consuming no more than three portions of red meat per week, totaling about 12 to 18 ounces.

When I asked Ditkoff if there was a better option between red meat and plant-based burgers, she said that "all burgers can fit into a healthy diet, but they should be considered indulgence food rather than health food."

Ditkoff also mentioned that it's important to take note of what you're pairing your burger with. "Adding condiments, like mayo and a side of French fries, can quickly escalate the meal calories and fat counts."

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