Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat have exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. It’s noteable that you can now get a plant-based option at most major fast-food establishments. As someone who has followed a meatless diet for over 20 years, the emergence of plant-based products in recent years still astounds me. But many people ask me, and wonder: Is Beyond Meat Healthy? Is Impossible Meat Healthy?
I’ve seen a lot of back and fourth on the internet about this. I’ve also overheard arguments on the topic. So, I thought it could make for an interesting blog post.
Now, before I get any further, I just want to acknowledge that yes, I am a vegan, and I have been for about 6 years. And I haven’t touched meat since I was around 7 years old.
I would also like to acknowledge that I personally do not care for Beyond Meat and/or Impossible Meat. To me, they are too realistic and I honestly find them…well…they’re not for me.
That said, I plan to be as objective as possible in this post. Scientific integrity is of utmost importance to me.
If you want to read more about what you need to know about nutrition on a plant-based diet, please see this post.
Okay, Now Let’s Look at the Nutrition Facts:
I created the chart below from nutrition labels found on the Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat websites, and compared these two burgers to 80% lean ground beef and low sodium cooked white beans. I sourced the nutrition information of the later two on the USDA food database (see links).
Looking over the comparison chart above, a couple of things jump out at me. First of all, it caloric content of both plant-based, imitation meat patties are about on par with a beef burger.
While both imitation meats are lower in fat that the beef burger, none of the three “meat” options are low fat foods. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is recommended that 20-35% of total calories come from fat, provided that these are consumed as part of a healthful, diverse, and balanced diet.
That said, all three have substantial amounts of saturated fat. Impossible Meat contains the most per 4 ounce serving (8 grams), followed by beef (7.6 grams) and Beyond Meat (6 grams per serving). The saturated fat in the plant-based meats seems to come from the oils (like coconut oil) used in their production.
It is recommended that individuals consume no more than 7% of total caloric intake from saturated fat; for adults on a 2,000 calorie diet, this equates to about 22 grams of saturated fat.
Those with risks of cardiovascular disease are encouraged to consume even less (5-6%). This means that while these 3 burger patties can indeed be part of a healthful diet, consumption of other saturated fat-rich foods (such as full fat dairy, coconut products, and packaged snacks and desserts), should be balanced.
All three “meat” patties are very low in or void of carbohydrates. The protein content between the three burgers is roughly the same, with each containing 19-20 grams per serving.
Both plant-based patties, like most packaged or processed foods, contain a considerable amount of sodium (16-17% of what is recommended). The beef patty on its own is lower in sodium; however, it’s worth noting that many people season meat before or after cooking it, which would likely increase the sodium content.
When it comes to micronutrients typically found in meat products, the Impossible Burger appears to be fortified with iron (25% DV), zinc (50% DV) and B-12 (130% DV). These nutrients may be harder for those on a plant-based diet to get enough of, so it was wise of Impossible to add them to their product.
Beyond Meat also has added iron (25% DV), but the nutrition label did not list B-12, so it’s not clear how much is in the product. However, seeing as the micronutrient is not listed as an ingredient on the ingredient label, I’d venture to guess it lacks the micronutrient.
The beef burger contains 2.19mg iron, which fulfills roughly 27% of an adult male’s daily requirement, and 12.16% of an adult female’s daily requirement. The beef burger also contains 2.42 ug of vitamin B-12, which fulfills the daily requirement for healthy adults. The beef burger also has 4.72 mg zinc per serving, which fulfills just over half the daily requirement for adult females, and roughly 43% of the daily requirement for adult males.
Both plant burgers have a very small amount of fiber (2 grams for the Beyond Burger, and 3 grams in the Impossible Burger), and the beef burger contains no fiber.
Now, just for fun, I compared these burger patties to an alternative plant-based protein source: white beans. One cup of white beans is lower in calories, and fat compared to all ‘meat’ options. White beans also contain no saturated fat.
When it comes to protein, the beans contain roughly the same amount per calorie. Beans are richer in carbohydrates compared to all three burger patty options, but contain a substantially larger amount of fiber (8.58grams).
While the beans contain no vitamin B-12, they do contain a noteworthy amount of iron (2.75mg) that exceeds the content found in the beef patty. That said, the iron found in beans is mostly non-heme iron, and beans contain phytates, which inhibit iron absorption, making the bioavailability is lower.
Now Let’s Look at the Ingredients:
Looking at the ingredient lists, it is clear that the Beyond Meat Burger and Impossible Burger patties are heavily processed foods. And it’s no secret that ultra-processed foods are not great for human health when consumed in large amounts.
Both plant-burgers get their protein from legumes: the Beyond Burger from pea protein, and the Impossible Burger from soy protein. Both plant burgers also contain plant and coconut oil.
I did see one rather interesting rant video from a doctor about the soy content of the Impossible meat. To be clear, soy does not cause men to suffer hormonal issues or exert ‘feminizing effects’, nor does it increase the risk of breast cancer in females.
These fear-mongering claims are not substantiated by science; there is no conclusive evidence linking soy consumption to breast cancer, and the vast majority of soy research done in humans shows that consuming soy does not increase cancer risk. In fact, most human evidence suggests soy consumption is beneficial to human health, and this 2019 meta-analysis actually suggests soy consumption reduces the risks of breast cancer.
The Beyond Burger gets its color from beet juice, and the Impossible Burger gets its color from leghemoglobin, which is a plant-based hemoprotein. The Impossible burger has a variety of micronutrients added, which the Beyond Burger does not seem to have as many micronutrients added.
I reject the notion that a food can be simply labeled as “good” or “bad.” Nutrition is complicated, as is the human body, and we all have different needs and medical statuses.
While certain foods definitely offer greater levels of nutritional benefits compared to others, as I always say, the dose makes the poison, and all foods can be part of a healthful diet.
When it comes to comparing beef versus the above mentioned plant-based meat patties, I like to liken the choice to the comparison of diet to regular soda: neither is the best option, but when an individual is making the choice to consume the product, health is rarely the desired primary outcome (more often, it’s taste or experience).
When it comes to the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger, both plant-based patties offer a realistic, meat-like, yet meat-free alternative to beef. Both are processed foods, and contain a noteworthy amount of saturated fat and sodium.
That said, they both deliver a substantial amount of protein and iron, and the Impossible Burger also contains a full day’s worth of vitamin B-12, which is a difficult nutrient for vegans to obtain enough of.
The beef burger also contains a similar amount of protein with a comparable amount of calories, fat, and saturated fat. Of course, beef is considered red meat, and limited consumption of red meat is recommended, as high levels of consumption is associated with cardiovascular disease risk and colon cancer.
Nutrition-wise, white beans offer a protein and fiber punch, and a substantial amount of a variety of micronutrients, antioxidants, and other healthful plant-compounds, without a large dose of saturated fat, and are probably the wisest choice most of the time (as part of a balanced diet, with another source of vitamin B-12, of course).
Nutrition aside, some may consider other factors when selecting their entree.
If you read the mission statements of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, it seems like sustainability is a large goal for both companies. Animal welfare and human health also seems to be of importance to Beyond Meat.
Livestock foods carry a higher carbon and water footprint than most other foods, and the Beyond and Impossible Burgers are less carbon and water-intensive compared to beef. In fact, a recently published lifecycle assessment (funded by Impossible Burger), showed that the Impossible Burger boasted the plant-based meat uses 96% less land, 87% less water, and emits 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to beef.
Studies assessing the carbon and water outputs of Beyond and Impossible have thus far only funded by the companies, and it would be interesting to see a third party life cycle assessment of their carbon and water footprints. That said, it is feasible that these products have much lower water and carbon footprints compared to beef, given that the footprints of beef burgers are so large.
Minimally-processed beans likely carry the lowest carbon and water footprint of them all, and are probably the wisest choice among the above foods compared when it comes to climate impact.
That said, it is unlikely that those who desire meat will want to swap beef for beans 100% of the time, and the Beyond and Impossible Meats offer a realistic, and more eco-friendly alternative for those who crave animal flesh.
And of course, speaking of animal flesh, for those who avoid meat for ethical or religious reasons, the plant-based patties made my Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are the clear winners. While some vegans do not consider Impossible meat truly “vegan,” after news surfaced that they had at one time engaged in animal testing, their products are currently made without animal inputs.
Take Home: Is Beyond Meat Healthy? Is Impossible Meat Healthy? Is that even the point?
The recent emergence of hyper-realistic mock-meats has sparked conversations about nutrition, the environment, and animal welfare.
When it comes to nutrition, each burger patty comes with its own benefits and shortcomings. If you’re looking to make the most nutritious choice, beans, lentils, tofu, or tempeh probably pack the most nutrient bang-for-your-buck.
That said, not everyone wants tofu all the time, and the Impossible and Beyond Burgers offer consumers a realistic taste and mouthfeel to deliver the sensation of eating meat without actually consuming animal flesh.
In terms of eco-impact, Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat seem to be the best choice. Beans and legumes, of course, are an even wiser choice.
And in terms of animal welfare, well, there’s no contest there. Meats made from plants instead of agriculturally raised animals clearly inflict less animal suffering.
From what I can tell, Impossible Foods and the Beyond Burger are often advertised as “plant-based,” and the companies seem to use sustainability as a major selling point. Understanding their nutritional profiles can be useful to consumers trying to integrate their products into a healthful diet.
Personally, I don’t like any of the three burger patties mentioned in this post, so I’ll stick to beans and tofu. But hey, you do you!
You may also like:
- Nutrition for Vegans
- What You Need to Know about Vitamin B-12, Especially If You’re Vegan
- How Much Protein Do You Really Need?