Animal agriculture is one of the leading contributors to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and within that category, beef is the top contributor (climate accounting is tricky, but more here). Making a dent in using animals for food production could be a game-changer for the climate, but is it a game changer for human health?
While these burgers were not designed to achieve that goal, we tried to figure it out by looking at the offerings from Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and a local grocery store.
Short history of plant-based, meat companies
Beyond Meat (BM) was founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown, and investigated meat “as a composition” rather than the source it came from. Ten years later they’re a public company and partner with national brands like Taco Bell and Dunkin Donuts.
Impossible Foods (IF) was founded in 2011 by biochemistry professor Patrick Brown (no relation to the aforementioned Ethan Brown). During a sabbatical, P. Brown set out toward the same goal as E.Brown, with a greater emphasis on a biochemical approach; IF uses yeast to make a molecule called heme, which gives their burgers the characteristic meaty taste.
Price, taste, and nutrition of vegan burgers
Ground beef production is at an industrial scale, with American eating the equivalent of 2.4 burgers per day. The economies of scale, commodity inputs, government subsidies, and mature ‘technology’ of meat processing all lead to a price of $3.57 per serving.
For the same serving size, Beyond Meat costs $9.62 and Impossible $8.62. Impossible recently lowered all of their prices to make their burgers more accessible.
The Impossible burger tastes the most like meat, while Beyond has a “meat-like” taste. Although not exactly like ground beef, one of us actually preferred the “meat-like” taste of Beyond over the others. You might say the taste is…beyond the taste of meat.
Nutrition is surprisingly similar! Each serving has around 250 calories with 15-17g fat and 20g protein. However, the source of the fat is obviously different (plants v animals). While the type of saturated fat is important, generally you want to avoid saturated fat if you can. Animal saturated fat also brings along cholesterol, although the jury is still out on whether dietary cholesterol impacts your circulating levels. Finally, animal products are mostly carb-free, whereas the plant-based burgers do provide some fiber, giving them a slight nutritional advantage.
What is plant based meat made of?
While the first ingredient for all the burgers (and most food!) is water, protein dominates, and both burgers use different types. Beyond uses pea and brown rice protein while Impossible uses a yeast produced soy protein. Nutritionally, both plant-derived protein sources are ‘complete’ sources, equivalent to their meat counterparts and containing all essential amino acids.
One small step better-for-you, one giant leap better for the planet.
Plant-based meats are moving boldly and quickly in the right direction. While price is still a barrier, the macro-level nutritional profile of these products and their flavor composition are comparable to ground beef with room to expand.
However, from a health standpoint, meat alternatives won’t help you lose weight and definitely aren’t something you should eat daily, but with added fiber, we think these meats are a little bit better for you than their animal counterparts.