Veggie burgers that look and taste like beef have hit it big

How the Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger, and others compare to the real thing

“At Beyond Meat, we started with simple questions,” says the Beyond Burger package. “Why do you need an animal to create meat? Why can’t you build meat directly from plants? It turns out you can. So we did.”

One bite of a Beyond Burger—and one look at its red-beet-tinged raw “meat”—might fool some carnivores. Ditto for the Impossible Burger, which has been sold in select restaurants since 2016 and is now starting to hit supermarket shelves.

Both up-and-comers will help the planet more than your health, but that’s no small potatoes.

Saturated fat. Mimicking beef’s rich, fatty mouthfeel calls for a solid fat: coconut oil. But that adds saturated fat (6 grams to the Beyond Burger and 8 grams to the Impossible Burger), along with about 250 calories in a 4 oz. patty. Those numbers are very, um, beef-like. And Beyond Meat’s claims (like “fueling athletes to perform better & recover faster”) are a stretch. But going beyond beef is a big win for the planet.

For meaty taste that comes close to Beyond but cuts the sat fat to 2½ grams, try Lightlife’s new Plant-Based Burger. It’s 270 calories of mostly pea protein and canola oil, though the sodium (540 milligrams) is higher than Beyond.

Heme. “Heme is what makes meat taste like meat,” says Impossible Foods, maker of the Impossible Burger. The company adds soy leghemoglobin, which Impossible makes from genetically engineered yeast, to replicate the heme in red meat. (Leghemoglobin is naturally found in soybean roots but not soybeans.)

But red meat’s heme can help form N-nitroso compounds in your gut. And those compounds may help explain why a diet heavy in red meat is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Does soy’s heme behave like beef’s? The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called on the company—and the Food and Drug Administration, which conducted only a brief review of the ingredient’s safety—to determine whether Impossible’s leghemoglobin could increase cancer risk like red meat’s heme does. Stay tuned.

On the menu

Impossible Whoppers, Beyond Tacos. The new breed of beef-like veggie meats has hit restaurants big time. And—no surprise—corporate chefs have managed to make them as unhealthy as red meat. Below we compare veggie-meat menu items to the beef or pork versions (in purple).

Take TGI Fridays. Its Beyond Meat Cheeseburger is served on a white-flour bun with enough cheddar, “Fridays sauce,” and pickles to reach 890 calories plus over a day’s saturated fat (24 grams) and a 1½-day supply of sodium (3,350 milligrams).

Our advice: At Fridays, go “green-style”—swap the bun for lettuce to save 260 calories’ worth of white flour. Or ax the cheese.

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.

Photos: Beyond Meat, Lightlife, TGI Fridays.