Plant-based burgers aren’t a new concept, but they have soared in popularity within the past few years with the ever-increasing adoption of plant-based diets.
And while plant-based foods are known to offer many benefits, are these meatless alternatives to burgers any good for your health? Or are these unhealthy, too, like their conventional counterparts?
This is exactly what we will attempt to find out today.
Are Vegan Burgers Healthy?
For better or for worse, there is no single answer to this. Whether or not a vegan burger is healthy depends on what it is made with.
To determine if the vegan burger you’re considering buying is healthy, pay attention to its ingredients (which most vegans are used to doing anyway).
What Are Vegan Burgers Made Of? A Breakdown of What’s Inside Your Meatless Burger
Like any other burger, there are multiple components of a vegan burger. These include:
The patty is the foundation of a burger. It is what gives it its character and where the burger draws its most flavors from.
Unlike traditional burgers, where there are just a few core ingredients the patty can be made from – beef, chicken, fish – there are several options for a vegan patty.
A plant-based patty can be made with your good ol’ veggies, lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, grains, seitan (wheat protein), or a combination of several of these ingredients. Many vegan burger patties also contain nuts. And obviously, there is seasoning.
The two most popular plant-based patty options, Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger, are made with soy and peas, respectively.
The Good News – All these plant-based ingredients that make the core of your vegan burger patties are good sources of nutrients. They contain protein, vitamins, and minerals and are healthy.
The Bad News – Most commercially produced vegan burger patties are heavily processed and high in sodium and saturated fat, both of which are bad for your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and can put you at an increased risk for heart disease.
Too much sodium is bad for your kidneys, bones, and muscles, too.
Just so you can have an idea, a 4oz vegan Impossible Burger patty contains 370mg of sodium, Beyond Burger has 390mg, and an 85% lean ground beef patty of the same size has just 80mg of sodium. The difference is too high to be ignored.
Vegan burger patties that are produced commercially may also contain added flavors – natural or artificial – which, as most of us already know, are controversial ingredients in the vegan community.
In case you aren’t aware of the vegan debate surrounding food flavors, check out my article Are Sour Patch Kids Vegan to know the deets.
MorningStar Farms’ vegan burger patties are examples of meatless burgers that contain natural flavors:
Plant-based meats are also often genetically modified to taste similar to regular meat.
The Verdict – Most often than not, commercially produced plant-based burger patties do not rank high on health metrics.
The second core component of a burger is the bun. The buns traditionally used in burgers are not vegan as they contain milk, animal fat (butter or lard), and sometimes, eggs, too.
Moreover, they are high in carbs and low in micronutrients, so they aren’t the most healthy food choice.
The Good News – There are several vegan-friendly and healthy alternatives available. Whole-wheat, whole-grain, low-carb, sugar-free, gluten-free, and organic buns are some of the healthy varieties available on the market.
There are endless varieties of burger sauces available out there, so it’s impossible to pinpoint their ingredients.
The Good News – There are plenty of vegan options available. Even if you can’t get your hands on a readymade vegan burger sauce, you can make your own at home with just a few ingredients.
Here’s a recipe for you to try out:
Bonus Tip: Burger sauce recipes generally use mayonnaise. Get a pack of vegan mayo on your next grocery run, and you can adjust most burger sauce recipes according to your vegan diet.
The Bad News – Most store-bought burger sauces are packed with sugar, artificial colors, and flavors. And even if they are vegan, most (if not all) are not healthy.
Homemade burger sauces also have mayonnaise as the basic ingredient, which is anything but healthy.
The Verdict – Most burger sauce varieties have high caloric content. They also contain several synthetic ingredients, chemicals, and preservatives, all of which make them unhealthy.
Tip: You may swap mayonnaise with non-fat Greek yogurt to give your homemade vegan burger sauce a healthier spin.
There is an endless variety of toppings being used in burgers, ranging from veggies to bacon, egg, and cheese.
The Good News – There are plenty of vegan-friendly burger toppings available. And the basic veggie toppings – raw or grilled – are healthier too.
The Bad News – Beware of what toppings you choose when ordering a burger at a restaurant. Toppings that are essentially vegan and healthy can become non-vegan due to how they are prepared.
For example, many restaurants use animal fat to sauté or grill vegetables. Fried toppings, like onion rings, are deep-fried and hence, rich in calories and unhealthy.
The Verdict – When eating outside, your best bet is to choose raw veggie toppings. They are not only confirmed vegan (without the shadow of a doubt) but are also healthy.
If opting for grilled vegetable toppings, make sure to confirm they don’t use any animal fat in them.
Grilling only requires a tiny amount of fat, so it isn’t a concern from a health perspective, but you would want to ensure that you do not accidentally consume animal ingredients with your burger toppings.
The Sum Up – Are Plant-Based Burgers Healthier Than Their Meat-Based Counterparts?
Vegan food is often equated with healthy food. And while we all wish it to be true, it isn’t always the case. Just because a food is made with all plant-based ingredients doesn’t always mean it’s healthy. It’s the same with vegan burgers.
Vegan burgers can be healthy and not. It all comes down to the ingredients they are made with.
Having said that, most commercially available vegan burgers aren’t the healthiest. You may find healthy vegan burger options at some restaurants.
But if you’re not willing to spend time searching for them or take any risk with your health, your best option is to make your own vegan burger at home from scratch.
Did you find this article helpful? Interested to learn more about healthy vegan food options? Check out my article Best Vegan Granola Brands to stock up on healthy plant-based snacks.