By Corinne Glazer, RDN and Carine Sidhom, MS, RDN
Have you noticed the recent billboards advertising meat alternatives such
as Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger? Within this past year, plant-based
meat alternatives have considerably gained popularity. It is not uncommon
to see these products at drive-thrus, restaurants and supermarkets.
Meat substitutes are nothing new, but as their popularity and accessibility
are on the rise, it can be a little tricky navigating options and selecting
the best choice while keeping health, budget and the environment in mind.
For many consumers, the motivation to adopt a plant-based lifestyle is
born out of a desire to eat a healthful, balanced diet. Increased plant
consumption is associated with a positive effect on human health. Many
research studies have found that a diet rich in plants, namely whole grains,
vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds and beans, leads to improved weight management,
lower cholesterol levels and decreased blood pressure – all of which
contribute to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Further, as pollution has become more of a concern, people have been citing
concern over the environment and animal welfare as a primary reason for
choosing meat alternatives. With a growing population, the increased demand
for meat and animal proteins lends itself to practices that involve factory
farms, use of antibiotics, and inhumane practices. There are sustainable
and responsible ways to eat meat, but we run into trouble with overconsumption
of animals and animal byproducts. Adding some variety in our diets can
help consumers take a step in the right direction to combat some of the
So where does the protein in these meat-mimicking products come from and
how does it compare to animal meat? One ingredient of particular interest
is soy leghemoglobin (SLH), which is found in the Impossible Burger. SLH
is derived from genetically modified yeast. SLH is responsible for the
burger’s meaty taste and even makes the patty appear to ‘bleed’
like meat does when it’s cut. The soy this product uses may contain
residual glyphosate, which is considered a “probable carcinogen”
and is the main ingredient of the herbicide used on genetically modified
soy. For this reason, along with the fact that it is not certified organic,
this protein source has lost some of its popularity among consumers in
Another source of plant-based protein found in meat alternatives is pea
protein, which is found in the Beyond Meat burger. Interestingly enough,
the Beyond Meat burger uses beet juice extract to make the burger appear
like it is ‘bleeding.’ Unlike the Impossible Burger, the Beyond
Meat burger is strictly labeled non-GMO (genetically modified organism).
Although some of these meat alternatives are often strictly labeled non-GMO,
these products are typically highly processed and contain high amounts
of sodium. Manufacturers of these meatless burgers will commonly use coconut
oil, which is high in saturated fat, to give the products a mouth feel
similar to ground beef and to be able to withstand the high temperature
of the grill.
There is still much research that needs to be done with regards to the
long-term effects of these products. With all this said, meat consumption
in the United States is still too high. In 2017, it was researched that
the average American (based on a 2,000kcal/day diet) is consuming about
140% more meat and eggs than the recommended amount and only about 70%
of the recommended amount for vegetables. What do Registered Dietitians
Corinne Glazer and Carine Sidhom recommend?
- Try making your own veggie burgers at home by using beans, grains and chopped
vegetables! Recipe located below.
- Focus on increasing the plant-based food groups: whole grains, vegetables,
fruits, nuts/seeds and legumes. Think of meat as a condiment or side dish,
rather than the entrée.
- Decrease consumption of processed foods. A great start is consuming food
products with five ingredients or less. With so many plant-based meat
alternatives on the market, you’re bound to find a few that suit
your taste and aren’t overly processed. Don’t be afraid to
try new things!
- Animal and meat-mimicking alternatives products are not the only source
of proteins. Try to incorporate plant-based proteins into your meals such
as tofu, beans, nuts and seeds.
- 1 small onion (white or yellow, diced)
- 1 clove garlic (minced)
- 3 green onions (diced)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 3/4 cup mushrooms (fresh, diced small)
- 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans
- 1 teaspoon parsley
- Salt (to taste)
- Black pepper (to taste)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- First, sauté the diced white or yellow onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp
vegetable oil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.
- Next, add the green onions, cumin and chopped mushrooms and cook for another
5 minutes, or until mushrooms are cooked. You can add a bit more oil if
needed. Set the onion and mushroom mixture aside.
- Next, use a fork or potato masher to mash the beans until well mashed.
You can also pulse them in a food processor until smooth if you prefer.
- In a large bowl, combine the mashed beans with the onion and mushroom mixture
and add the parsley, salt and pepper. Make sure the ingredients are well combined.
- Shape the mixture into patties about one inch thick. If you make them too
thin, they may fall apart, but if you make them too thick, it will be
more difficult to get them to cook all the way through.
- Heat about two tablespoons of oil and cook each patty until the veggie
burgers are done—about 3 minutes on each side. You can also use
an indoor grill pan to grill your veggie burgers if you have one. The
onion and mushroom flavor is excellent when grilled.
- Serve with your choice toppings!
Interested in learning more techniques to build a healthy and nutritious
lifestyle? Call Torrance Memorial Specialty Center to learn more about
meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist through our NEW (Nutrition
Education and Wellness) program at (310)-891-6707.