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Are ‘Meatless Meats’ Better for You?

By: Christine Jones, M.D.

Plant-based meat substitutes are booming in popularity, with grocery stores and restaurants offering meatless “hamburger” and “sausage” that look and taste like the real thing. Some people eat these products because they fit their vegetarian or vegan diets, but many others are trying them because they think “meatless meat” is healthier and will even help them lose weight.

How plant-based burgers compare to beef

When it comes to your health, meat-substitute burgers do have an advantage over beef. They’re plant-based – for example, Beyond Meat uses pea protein and Impossible Foods uses soy and potato protein – so they provide healthy fiber and cut out the cholesterol found in animal products. But their health benefits are not across the board as shown in the chart below, which compares the nutrition of a beef burger to an Impossible Burger and a Beyond Burger.

4 Oz. Patty Calories Fat Carbs Protein Sodium
85% Lean Ground Beef 192* 12* 0 grams 20 grams 55 milligrams
Impossible Burger 240 14 grams 9 grams 9 grams 370 milligrams
Beyond Burger 250 18 grams 3 grams 20 grams 390 milligrams

Nutrition data from the USDA, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. * Calories and fat after cooking. Pre-cooking calories were 283.

Beef and meatless burgers contain about the same amount of protein. However, beef patties can give you fewer calories and less fat since you can squeeze fat out of a beef burger by cooking it longer, as shown in the example above. (Cooking doesn’t affect the calories in meatless patties.) Plant-based burgers are also higher in carbs since they are made of vegetables, and they contain significantly more sodium since salt is one of their ingredients. (You have the option of not salting a beef patty.)

Also remember that adding a bun and condiments, such as cheese, ketchup and mayo, can greatly increase any burger’s fat and calories.

Nutritionists have noted two cautions about Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers. First, both are made with processed plant-based ingredients rather than whole foods, which are a more healthful option. Second, both products contain coconut oil, which is high in saturated fat and can raise LDL (“bad” cholesterol) just like beef fat. Coconut oil gives Beyond Burgers and Impossible burgers comparable saturated fat levels to beef.

Bottom line on burgers

You’re not automatically eating healthier by choosing plant-based meat, and if you think eating meatless will make you lose weight, think again. But if you choose a plant-based burger, you can do so knowing that you’re getting comparable taste and nutrition to beef.

Dr. Christine Jones earned her medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine and is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She cares for patients at MPCP’s Annapolis office.