Exploring Nutrition & Trends Behind Plant-Based Meat

Plant-based meats may not be an entirely new trend but, thanks to advancements in food science and a growing desire to eat more sustainably grown foods, they are easier to find and more enjoyable than ever before.

This is especially true when it comes to burgers. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have developed products that taste and even bleed like beef burgers. Restaurants have, in recent years, begun serving up hybrids that mix meat and mushrooms such as the Blended Burger, which are also tickling the taste buds of adventurous eaters everywhere.

But how do these plant-based and veggie-enhanced alternatives stack up against classic beef? Curious Plot advisory board member, registered dietitian and founder of AgriNutrition Edge, Marianne Smith-Edge sat down with us to share some insights on the alternative meat scene.

Q: What do you think is driving the growth of plant-based meats?

Research from the Hartman Group suggests a few consumer trends at play here. The first is that protein is hot right now. Keto diets that are high in fat and protein are trending due to reported short term weight loss. This makes sense from a nutritional perspective because protein is digested slowly and helps us feel fuller longer, but it’s not exactly a balanced approach.

On the flip side, people question if they want animals to provide their protein. Some perceive animals to be raised in ways that negatively impact the environment or their welfare. They’re looking for options they perceive to be healthier, more sustainable and in line with their personal standards. This is especially true for people in their mid-30s and younger.

Q: Is there a nutritional difference between animal-based and plant-based protein?

Yes. Animal-basesd protein provides us with all the essential amino acids our bodies need to build bone, muscle and maintain overall health. Plant-based proteins on their own aren’t a complete protein, although soy comes close. However, we can combine them to create a complete package. That’s why the Beyond Burger™ consists of pea, rice and mung beans. Rice and beans are one combination that provides a complete protein source.

Q: How do plant-based burgers and beef burgers compare? 

Plant-based burgers are comparable to beef when it comes to calories, fat and protein. That’s why they’re also pretty comparable in taste. They’re very different from traditional veggie burgers made from vegetables, which are low calorie and contain no saturated fats.

Here’s a basic rundown on how they stack up.

  • Calories: A 3 oz. serving of 93% lean beef is 155 calories, compared to 240 calories in a 4 oz. serving of Impossible Burger and 250 calories in a 4 oz serving of Beyond Burger.
  • Fat: The same lean ground beef contains almost 7 grams of fat. Impossible Burger has 14 grams of fat per serving, which comes from coconut and sunflower oils. Beyond Burger has 18 grams of fat from canola and coconut oils as well as cocoa butter.
  • Protein: A serving of beef provides 22-29 grams of protein. The Impossible Burger provides 19 grams and Beyond burger is 20 grams.
  • Sodium: Beef is naturally sodium free, while Beyond Burger is 390 milligrams and Impossible burger is 370 milligrams.

One advantage plant-based burgers offer over meat is fiber. It’s something none of us get enough of, and there is 3-6 grams of fiber in plants. However, it’s also important to point out that they are highly processed so those looking for a more natural choice may actually discover that beef or a blended burger is a better option.

Q: Are there any other options for sustainably minded carnivores?

Yes! Blended Burgers, which combine meat and mushrooms, are a great concept. Mushrooms are high in antioxidants and vitamins, plus they’re very sustainable. Blending the two helps meat go further, infuses more nutrients and flavor into the burger and has lower environmental impacts. It’s the best of both worlds for those who enjoy meat.

Q: What’s your favorite meat or plant-based alternative to throw on the grill? 

My first choice is salmon. If I eat a burger, I want it to be made with real beef. However, I appreciate the science that’s gone into creating plant-based meats as well as the simplicity and creativity of a blended burger.

It’s important to remember that we call it a balanced diet for a reason. No one source of food provides all the nutrients you need. Vegetables, fruits, dairy, whole grains and protein all contribute to us staying healthy and nutritionally balanced. What you eat to get that balance is up to you.