Are The Latest Faux Beef Burgers Healthier?

Veggie burgers have been around for many decades and they generally cater to vegetarians and vegans who do not want to have any kind of meat. Such burgers may be made from ingredients like grains, beans (especially soybeans and tofu), nuts, seeds, or mushrooms. When it comes to taste and texture, veggie burgers seldom get the attention nor the rave reviews.

Then in 2019, plant-based meats suddenly sprang into the limelight. Two companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, introduced faux beef burgers that look and taste like beef. Also, young people prefer to eat less meat because they are concerned about the environmental impact of industrial animal agriculture.

More and more companies are making meatless meat tastes like meat. New brands of faux meats are cropping up across the market. Consumers are faced with more choices and decisions than ever before. Are the faux meats really healthier and better for the environment?

The following will look into the two most popular faux meat options on the market, Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, and how they stack up with a grass-fed beef burger. Conventional beef burgers using meats from concentrated animal feeding operations is not recommended because of their inhumane growing methods, destruction to the environment, and use of antibiotics, hormones, and GMO feed.

Company Background

Beyond Meat

  • The company was started in 2009 by Ethan Brown to lessen humans’ reliance on livestock as a source of protein. Its stated core mission is to improve human health, have a positive impact on climate change, address global resource constraints, and improve animal welfare.
  • Beyond Meat has several plant-based products, including burger, ground meat, sausage, and crumbles.
  • The company had its IPO on May 2, 2019 at $25 and its share price shot up to almost $240 within 2-3 months. The share price has since come off from its peak but the company still commands a market capitalization of around $10 billion.
  • Beyond Meat is sold in grocery stores (such as Kroger, Safeway, Sprouts, and Whole Foods) and available in many fast-food chains (like Del Taco, A&W, Carl’s Jr., and Tim Hortons), restaurants, hotels, and universities.

Impossible Foods

  • The company was founded in 2011 by Stanford biochemistry professor, Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., who is driven by the desire to end the use of animals to make food and to make the global food system truly sustainable.
  • He spent years trying to understand everything people love about meat – from its sizzle and smell to its taste and nutrition. After several years of development, the first Impossible Burger was released in July 2016. In 2019, the company changed its formula and debuted a new Impossible Burger with new ingredients, which it claims to be tastier, juicer, and more nutritious.
  • The company intends to introduce other meats, dairy, and fish in the future – all from plants.
  • Impossible Foods is still a private company but with the latest round of funding in early 2019, the company is now valued at $2 billion.
  • Impossible Burgers are available in fast-food chains (such as Burger King) and many restaurants. It will soon be on sale in grocery stores as well.

Ingredients

Beyond Burger ingredients:

Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Cocoa Butter, Mung Bean Protein, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Pomegranate Fruit Powder, Beet Juice Extract (for color).

Impossible Burger ingredients:

Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

  • The major difference between the two faux meat brands is the source of protein. Beyond Meat uses pea, rice, and mung bean proteins, whereas Impossible Burgers are made from a blend of soy and potato proteins. All these are processed proteins vs natural, unprocessed protein from real beef.
  • Beyond Burger contains beet juice which gives the burger a red color, imitating rare beef. Impossible Burger consists of heme, an iron-containing molecule found in all plants and animals. Heme is what makes our blood red and allows our blood the ability to carry oxygen. This ingredient gives the Impossible Burger a meaty flavor and makes it “bleed”.
  • Beyond Burger uses canola and coconut oils while Impossible Burger uses coconut and sunflower oils. Coconut oil is a healthy oil but canola and sunflower oils are not. They are higher in omega-6 fats, which are inflammatory for our bodies.
  • Both faux beef burgers contain quite a bit of sodium. Beyond Meat has 390 mg and Impossible Burger has 370 mg. A grass-fed beef burger has only 76 mg.
  • Both burgers include a number of additives. Apart from water, Beyond Burger has 17 ingredients and Impossible Burger has 12. A grass-fed beef burger has only one ingredient- beef. Impossible Burger is fortified with some vitamins (B, C, and E) and the mineral zinc, whereas grass-fed beef naturally contains omega-3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Both faux beef burgers are vegan. Beyond Burger is non-GMO. Impossible Burger is Halal and Kosher but it contains GMO ingredients and used animal testing to evaluate the safety of its product.

Major Concerns

Genetic Engineering

Impossible Foods considers itself as a food technology company. Its approach is to look at proteins, textures, and flavors at a molecular level and find plant ingredients that behave the same way. They found that heme is the magic ingredient that makes meat taste like meat.

By using the heme-containing protein from the roots of soy plants called soy leghemoglobin, scientists at the company took the DNA from soy plants and inserted it into a genetically engineered yeast. The yeast went through fermentation, multiplied, and produced a lot of heme, the key ingredient that makes the burger “bleed”.

Impossible Foods claims that its genetically-modified burger is not toxic and safe to eat, based on the company’s rat feeding study. However, there are major concerns:-

  • Glyphosate load. 93% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. GM soy is loaded with glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. Recent court cases have demonstrated that glyphosate is a cancer-causing carcinogen. The consumer advocacy group Moms Across America revealed that recent testing by Health Research Institute Laboratories showed concerning levels of glyphosate in the Impossible Burger – it contained 11.3 ppb of glyphosate (Beyond Burger was 1 ppb). In rats, just 0.1 ppb of glyphosate has been shown to alter the gene function of over 4,000 genes in the livers and kidneys and cause severe organ damage.
  • Environmentally unsustainable. Glyphosate herbicide is extensively sprayed on GMO soy and corn crops that are commonly used for animal feed, which harms the health of animals, not to mention the humans who consume them. It has also decimated many bee colonies and almost 90% of the monarch butterflies and created super weeds that require even more toxic chemicals to control. The founder of Impossible Foods wanted to create a truly sustainable global food system. By opting to use GMO soy as a major ingredient and indirectly supporting the use of glyphosate, the company’s business model does not contribute to a sustainable environment at all.
  • Allergy from GM ingredients. The GM ingredients of the Impossible Burger, which includes a GM yeast and GM soy leghemoglobin proteins, may cause allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. These ingredients have never appeared in the human food supply before and have not been properly safety tested for long-term consumption.

Processed Foods With Additives

Both faux beef burgers contain processed protein with many additives. These burgers are created in a lab made from plant products and additives designed to emulate the taste and texture of real beef. Therefore, they cannot be considered as wholesome, real food.

Which Tastes Better?

The general opinion is that the Impossible Burger definitely tastes and looks more like beef, probably to the point that it can gross out the vegans. It charrs on the outside, has a pink center and is juicy.

The Beyond Burger has more of a coconut aftertaste and is not as beefy. The patty is a little bit spongier and the flavor of different veggie proteins is more apparent. The meat does not bleed or has the same kind of juiciness. It has the same consistency and flavor throughout despite being cooked on a grill.

Which Is Better For You And The Environment?

Impossible Burger

  • Contains GMO ingredients and has a high glyphosate load.
  • GMOs and the toxic chemicals used along with them pose a serious threat to the environment as well as our health.
  • GMO soy is a monoculture crop. Its agricultural model works against nature and depletes nutrients in the soil.
  • The company’s soy-based burger is still a carbon emitter. According to the World Food LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) Database, soybean has a footprint of 2 kg of carbon for every kg of food produced.

Beyond Burger

  • Has better ingredients than the Impossible Burger but it is still processed food with many additives.
  • The company’s pea protein burger is even a bigger carbon emitter. It produces 4 kg of carbon for every kg of food it produces.

Grass-Fed Beef Burger

  • Unless one is absolutely against eating meat, the grass-fed beef burger is still the healthiest option.
  • In terms of calories, the grass-fed beef burger is similar to the two faux beef burgers.
  • It has about the same amount of fat but the fat also contains omega-3 and conjugated linoleum acid, which have many health benefits.
  • It has substantially less sodium than the faux beef burgers.
  • According to a study done by Quantis, a global environmental consulting firm, the carbon emission of a small, truly regenerative and humane farm (White Oaks Pastures was used in this study) is negative 3.5 kg for each kg of fresh meat. Regenerative grazing allows for optimal resting time of the land to prevent overgrazing and enables regeneration of degraded land. This regenerative system effectively captures soil carbon, offsetting a majority of the emissions related to beef production. (For reference, the carbon footprint of conventional beef is 33 kg for each kg of fresh meat.)

In conclusion, the notion to have less meat and eat a more plant-based diet is a great one. However, this does not equate to eating more processed plant-based foods. One should instead focus on adding more fresh vegetables of different colors to the daily diet. If you are not a vegan, your source of protein should come from grass-fed animals and wild-caught seafood.

Food is life. Food holds the potential for both health and disease, depending on how it is grown and processed. As Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine”, said “Let food be thy medicine’.

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