You’ll flip once you try some of the many mock-meat burgers grocery stores now offer. Plant-based meat has come a long way from the hockey puck-like patties of the 1990s.
“The meat substitutes of the past were really geared toward vegetarians or vegans who were looking for a way to incorporate non-animal protein sources into their diets,” explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
“Some were grain- and rice-based, while others were soy-based and more closely resembled meat. The new generation of faux meats are designed to recreate an experience of eating meat not only for people who avoid animal products but also for consumers who are looking to reduce the amount of meat in their diets for health or environmental reasons.”
But just because they’re meat-free, doesn’t mean all plant-based burgers are good for you.
Are Plant-Based Burgers Healthy?
About 45 percent of those surveyed believe that plant alternatives are healthier than animal meat, May 2020 research from the International Food Information Council states.
While plant-based meat requires less water to produce, it’s not necessarily better for your body. So you have to read the nutrition facts label and ingredients list closely and choose wisely.
“Plant-based burgers can absolutely be a part of a healthy diet. However, just because they are made of plant-based proteins does not inherently make them ‘better’ than their meat counterparts,” says Lauren Smith, RD, lead dietitian at Happy Strong Healthy.
“Many of the new plant burgers that taste like real meat and are very similar to a beef burger from a macronutrient perspective.” Their protein content is comparable to meat burgers, but many plant-based burgers have more sodium and less cholesterol, adds Samantha Previte, RD, a dietitian with Dietitians of Palm Valley.
And keep in mind, though, that meatless doesn’t necessarily mean lower in calories. Many plant-based burgers are comparable — and in some cases higher — in calories to a lean beef burger, Harris-Pincus says.
To help you parse the good plant patties from the bad, dietitians explain what to look for in mock meat — and then offer some healthy meatless burgers to buy.
What to Look for When Choosing a Plant-Based Burger
- Under 300 calories: A cooked 3-ounce, 85-percent lean ground beef patty has around 212 calories, according to the USDA. Look for a plant-based burger with a similar amount of calories.
- More than 10 grams of protein: If you’re making this the main portion of your meal, your meat-like patty should offer at least 10 grams of protein, Smith says.
- Fiber: Many plant-based burgers out there contain fiber, so try going with one that does. If your pick doesn’t have any fiber, pair it with a side of veggies and a whole grain.
- Sodium: The FDA considers any product with 20 percent or more of your recommended daily sodium limit (460 milligrams) to be high in sodium. Buy a burger that falls below that level, or at least below 560 milligrams if the burger is your main meal.
- Saturated fat: To mimic the consistency of ground beef, many brands replace the animal fat with coconut oil, which is “very high in saturated fat and might increase cholesterol levels,” Harris-Pincus says, adding that she prefers sources of unsaturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that 5 to 6 percent of total calories come from saturated fats (on a 2,000-calorie diet, this works out to 13 grams of saturated fat or less daily), so choose a burger with a maximum of 10 grams of saturated fat — the lower, the better — and limit your saturated fat intake the rest of the day if your burger is on the higher end.
- Gluten: “Those with diet restrictions and food allergies need to be careful and read the ingredient labels,” Harris-Pincus says. If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, note that many meatless burgers include wheat gluten or other wheat binders.
8 Healthy-ish Plant-Based Burgers to Try
1. Before the Butcher Uncut Plant-Based Burger
Per serving: 260 calories, 17 grams fat (9 grams saturated fat), 260 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar), 19 grams protein
Soy takes center stage in these gluten-free, fairly low-sodium and high-fiber quarter-pound patties.
Also available in turkey, chicken and sausage substitute varieties, these taste like they just came off the grill even if you cook them inside thanks to their smokey flavor.
Buy it: Use the Btbfoods.com product finder to locate nearby retailers; Price: Varies based on location
2. Morningstar Farms Incogmeato Burger
Per serving: 250 calories, 18 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 370 milligrams sodium, 12 grams carbohydrates (8 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, <1 gram added sugar), 20 grams protein
This one’s 100-percent vegan (made with no dairy or eggs, in addition to zero beef). These burgers do contain gluten for consistency purposes, plus soy protein, canola oil and palm oil.
Apple and vegetable juices mimic the color of meat, while potato starch and other hearty ingredients pump up each patty with a respectable 8 grams of fiber.
Per serving: 240 calories, 14 grams fat (8 grams saturated fat), 370 milligrams sodium, 9 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, <1 gram sugar, <1 gram added sugar), 19 grams protein
Since 2016, these burgers were known for their smoky, gamey flavor by way of heme, an iron-containing feature found normally only in meat. (Impossible’s heme is made with soy and yeast.)
The patty’s 19 grams of protein is the result of soy and potato protein. A dose of coconut oil and sunflower oil makes the texture beefier, although this means each quarter-pound patty has 40 percent of your saturated fat quota for the day.
Per serving: 260 calories, 18 grams fat (5 grams saturated fat), 350 milligrams sodium, 5 grams carbohydrates (2 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar), 20 grams protein
As the first plant-based burger that mocks real meat ever sold in the States, the Beyond Burger browns nicely while staying medium rare-ish on the inside thanks to beet juice.
Compared to other burgers on this list, these are reasonable in the saturated fat department and have zero sugar. Free of soy and gluten, each quarter-pound burger is stoked with pea, mung bean, fava beans and brown rice to offer 20 grams of protein.
5. Ozo Plant-Based Burger
Per serving: 210 calories, 10 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat), 350 milligrams sodium, 6 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, 1 gram sugar, <1 gram added sugar), 22 grams protein
“Ozo’s burger has way less saturated fat than the other options while maintaining relatively the same protein, calories and sodium as the other brands,” Previte says.
That’s because it’s made with a mix of canola and sustainable palm oil, along with pea and rice proteins. The brand says its unique fermentation process might make the plant-based protein easier for your body to digest, process and put to use building muscle.
Buy it: Wildforkfoods.com (currently only shipping to select states); Price: $5.48 for two 4-ounce burgers
6. Sweet Earth Awesome Burger
Per serving: 260 calories, 15 grams fat (7 grams saturated fat), 400 milligrams sodium, 9 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 26 grams protein
Pea protein and wheat gluten in the mix mean that each 4-ounce portion has 26 grams of protein — the most on this plant-based burger list. This burger’s also high in fiber.
7. Gardein Ultimate Plant-Based Burger
Per serving: 240 calories, 15 grams fat (10 grams saturated fat), 450 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrates (1 gram fiber, <1 gram sugar, <1 gram added sugar), 19 grams protein
Joining chik’n, turk’y, porkless and fishless products in Gardein’s line-up are these new quarter-pound patties that are made with pea and wheat protein, plus beet juice to give them a beef-like look.
Palm oil and coconut oil and salt crank up the saturated fat and sodium counts, respectively, so keep that in mind as you balance the rest of your day’s menu.
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $4.19 for two 8-ounce burgers
8. Tofurky Plant-Based Burger
Per serving: 250 calories, 16 grams fat (7 grams saturated fat), 540 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrates (0 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 19 grams protein
No longer just selling tofu turkeys for a vegetarian Thanksgiving centerpiece, Tofurkey has whipped up a soy and vegetable protein burger that’s fairly low in carbs and sugar. It does pack a sodium and saturated fat punch, though.
“One burger has about 50 percent of your daily value of saturated fat on a 2,000 calorie diet,” Previte says. While it doesn’t have any fiber, it does boast a respectable 19 grams of plant-based protein.