Every year vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more and more mainstream. As this plant-based movement grows, the motive behind these dietary choices has come into question.
While some choose these diets for ethical reasons in an attempt to better the environment, others are motivated to live a healthier lifestyle. Although it’s true that an increase in vegetarianism and veganism will save the lives of more animals, there have been arguments against those who identify many vegetarian staples as “healthy.” One of these vegetarian staples is the veggie burger.
Everybody loves a nice, juicy hamburger. So it’s no surprise that many restaurants and grocery stores are beginning to offer a variety of plant-based alternatives to this American classic. However, meatless does not mean healthier.
The key to determining the nutritional value of these burgers is to check the ingredients. Many of the meatless burgers sold to consumers are highly processed and contain high amounts of sodium and saturated fat. They are not too far behind in calorie count in comparison to a burger made of raw meat, according to an article published by CNN in August 2019.
One of the most popular meatless burgers sold in stores and restaurants is the Beyond Burger, which contains high amounts of processed ingredients and additives. The Beyond Burger’s four main ingredients are water, pea protein isolate, canola oil and refined coconut oil. In addition to these four ingredients, it also contains a heavy amount of other additives such as potato starch, yeast extract and beet juice extract according to a Women’s Health article.
Kip Jones, executive chef at UGA’s Pi Beta Phi house, knows about these additives and steers clear of the filler ingredients when making veggie burgers of his own.
“The chemicals used to preserve these burgers are common. There's real food in [the burger], but there can sometimes be all sorts of fillers and additives,” Jones said. “Your body has a more difficult time digesting these fillers.”
Some missing components which stand out to health-conscious consumers are vegetables. While many foods are labeled as “plant-based,” it doesn’t mean those foods are necessarily healthy and full of whole, organic ingredients.
Margaret Timberlake, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, has been a vegetarian for a year and a half. She said at first she was unaware that many vegetarian staples lacked important nutritional value, but Timberlake now knows the importance of natural ingredients within her burgers.
“I think packaged veggie burgers should not be a staple,” Timberlake said. “I think different kinds of whole foods like veggies or legumes should be chosen over pre-packaged veggie patties.”
When a plant-based burger is made of natural ingredients such as rice, vegetables and beans, it can contain high amounts of nutritional value including protein. But there are many local restaurants that offer homemade burgers. For example, The Grit, a completely vegetarian restaurant on Prince Avenue, produces all of its veggie burgers in house.
“There are a lot of vegans that work at The Grit who are very serious about veganism,” said Toby Cole, the general manager and chef at The Grit. “So even if eating this way is going to hurt them health-wise, being vegan is more important. But being vegan isn't always necessary healthy.”
There are versions of vegetarian burgers that are less processed-base, and health-conscious vegetarians may want to check the ingredients list before buying meatless burgers.