Plant-based veggie burgers have officially hit the big time. These days, you can find hearty, satisfying vegan patties on the menu everywhere from fast-food chains and food trucks to upscale restaurants and wine bars. They boast a significantly smaller carbon footprint and far fewer ethical concerns than their ground-beef counterparts, but how nutritious are they? Here, we look at the most popular plant-based veggie burger options right now.
Since launching in 2016, the Impossible Burger has rocketed to fame, with a demand so high it recently led to a temporary shortage. The plant-based patty, which is served at more than 15,000 restaurants and launched in select grocery stores last month, looks and tastes like a real hamburger, thanks to an iron-rich compound called heme. (Unlike the heme iron in meat, which has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome, the Impossible Burger’s heme is derived from soy.) Its saturated fat levels, notably, are similar to those of beef: “The main issue is the coconut oil, which raises saturated fat levels and is linked with higher blood cholesterol levels,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of The Plant-Powered Diet, adding that the Impossible Burger provides 40 percent of the daily value (DV) for saturated fat. (That’s after its creators lightened up the formula in January 2019.) Additionally, the Impossible Burger has 370 mg of sodium—more than four times as much as a beef patty.
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Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger, which first hit grocery store shelves in 2016 and is now carried at fast-food restaurants such as Carl’s Jr., has a similar nutritional profile to the Impossible Burger.
It’s worth noting that the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger both contain protein and fiber (beef has none), and they have no cholesterol. “This is a great gateway choice into a more plant-based lifestyle,” notes Palmer. But if improving your health is your primary reason for going plant-based, the safest choice is to avoid the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger.
Browsing your menu for the best bet? It can be tricky to tell if a restaurant veggie burger is healthy, let alone plant-based. Egg may have been used as a binder, and an otherwise plant-based patty could be piled high with cheese, mayo, and other fatty toppings. Will your burger be prepared on the same grill as meat products, and if so, are you comfortable with that?
To eliminate surprises, ask key questions when ordering a plant-based meal and don’t be afraid to make special requests and ingredient swaps. “Include a lot of veggies with your veggie burger, as many as they’ll give you,” advises Palmer. “Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, avocados, peppers. Enjoy it with a whole-grain bun, if possible, and have a side salad instead of fries.”
Surprise: Homemade veggie burgers can be way more nutritious than eating a beef burger or a vegan patty from your local restaurant or grocery store. That’s because you decide which whole-food, plant-based ingredients to add and which cooking method to use, giving you total control over calories, fat, and sodium. And making your own veggie burgers can be quick, simple, and affordable.
The healthiest veggie burger is one you make from scratch. Here are a few favorite veggie burger recipes from Forks Over Knives that will guide you through every step of the process. Enjoy!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tami Fertig is a longtime writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon, covering food and nutrition. She loves hiking, biking, and discovering new farmers’ markets with her husband and 2-year-old.