Our guide to the best veggie burgers & other veggie “meats”

“Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner,” proclaims the ad campaign that began in 1992. These days, plants-only brands like Beyond Meat are surging, and Big Beef is worried.

Brands like Beyond Meat are chasing beef’s taste, texture, and color.

Ranchers want to ban the word “meat” from faux-meat labels. At the same time, meat processors are investing in their own plant-based brands.

Shopping for veggie meat? Here’s our 10-step guide.

1. Protect the planet. More plants, fewer animals. That’s the gist of a flexitarian-style diet, which can help curb the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change. And it’s not just about protecting our children’s and grandchildren’s future. A plant-heavy diet that’s light on meat—especially red and processed—is also healthy for eaters.

2. Mix it up. Some plant-based meats—like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger—are not much healthier than beef, especially when restaurants gussy them up. But most veggie meats beat the real thing. Granted, you’re better off with beans, nuts, tofu, and other largely unprocessed plant foods.

3. Get enough protein. If you’re replacing meat, poultry, fish, or dairy, look for at least 10 grams of protein per serving (roughly 3 oz.). Don’t need protein from your burger? Don’t worry about it.

4. Watch the salt. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to replicate the taste of meat without a decent dose of salt. Tip: Serve your plant-based meat with salad or stir-fried or roasted vegetables to bump up the potassium. Getting enough helps keep a lid on blood pressure.

5. Check the oil. Many veggie meats are made with liquid oils like sunflower, avocado, canola, or soybean. So they’re not only lower in saturated fat than beef or pork, they’re higher in heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Win-win.

But brands like Beyond Meat and Field Roast also use solid (saturated) fats like coconut or palm oil.

6. Pick your protein. Soy, pea, wheat. Veggie meats may get their protein from one, two, or all three. Does it matter which? Only if you have allergies.

“Peas are legumes,” says the small print on the Beyond Meat Beyond Burger label. “People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy.” (The burgers have no peanuts.)

Need to avoid gluten? Field Roast (“grain meat” made from wheat gluten) and many other brands are off the table. But Beyond Meat—and a handful of products from Lightlife, Gardein, Amy’s, and Dr. Praeger’s—are gluten-free.

7. Look out for Quorn. In some people, Quorn’s “mycoprotein” (processed mold) triggers reactions like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Rarely, it causes hives or trouble breathing.

Thanks in part to a court filing by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action’s publisher, U.S. Quorn labels now say “Mycoprotein is a mold (member of the fungi family). There have been rare cases of allergic reactions to products that contain Mycoprotein.”

8. Is it vegan? Veggie meats (or foods made with them) may contain egg whites, cheese, and other animal products. If you want “vegan,” look for the word on the label.

9. Shop around. Beyond Meat and its ilk could show up in the meat case or near the tofu, dairy, or frozen foods. Since many brands can be refrigerated or frozen, don’t forget to check the freezer case.

10. Follow your taste buds. Brands (and tastes) vary, so hang in there. Our favorites: Gardein, Beyond Meat, and MorningStar Farms.

Nutrition Action doesn’t accept any paid advertising or corporate or government donations. Any products recommended by Nutrition Action have been vetted by our staff of nutritionists and are not advertisements by the manufacturers. The information in this post first appeared in the November 2019 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

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