Plant-based burgers are big business.
After introducing the Impossible Whopper, a version of their iconic burger made with a 100-percent plant-based Impossible Burger patty, Burger King had their best quarter in four years.
Due to the fact it comes topped with mayonnaise and that the patties are cooked on the same grill as Burger King’s traditional beef burgers, the Impossible Whopper isn’t vegan.
However, there’s no arguing its popularity.
Jose Cil, CEO of Restaurant Brands, Burger King’s parent company, recently called the Impossible Whopper one of the most successful rollouts in Burger King’s 65-year history.
Plant-based diets have never been hotter, nor more closely associated with good health. Most people assume that swapping out a beef burger for a burger made from plants is a no-brainer nutritional upgrade.
But when it comes to nutrition facts, just how different are these plant-based fast food burgers from their traditional versions?
The short answer: not very.
Consider that Burger King’s standard Whopper contains 660 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat, 11 grams of sugar and 980 milligrams of sodium.
The Impossible Whopper contains just 30 fewer calories, 1 fewer gram of saturated fat, an extra gram of sugar, and 100 more milligrams of sodium.
There’s little-to-no meaningful difference between the two burgers in terms of their nutrition facts, so swapping one for the other is unlikely to help you lose weight.
And it’s not just Burger King, either.
Carl’s Jr. is another large chain restaurant which has rolled out plant-based burgers. Their Beyond Famous Star with Cheese features a 100-percent plant-based Beyond Burger patty. Again, it’s not vegan, but Carl’s Jr. calls it “a healthier option especially for those that do not want to sacrifice burgers but want to eat less meat.”
Yet this “healthier option” packs 710 calories and 1550mg of sodium.
While it contains no saturated fat, that’s 40 more calories and 340mg more sodium than a Famous Star with Cheese prepared with an all-beef patty.
And consider this: the five main ingredients in an Impossible Burger are water, soy-protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil and natural flavors. The five main ingredients in a Beyond Burger are water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil and rice protein.
So while they’re technically “plant-based,” it’s not like you’re chomping on ground-up carrots and kale.
The closer vegetables are to their whole, natural forms, the better they are for you, and what vegetables are in these plant-based burgers are not very close to their natural forms.
Furthermore, health concerns associated with overconsumption of red meat have been muddled by recent research.
“There is no strong evidence linking red meat to disease in humans,” concluded Healthline‘s Kris Gunnars in a recent review of the topic. Burger King switching to grass-fed beef would be an undoubted upgrade for your health, but the impact of going from a normal Whopper to an Impossible Whopper is a bit less clear.
There are many noble reasons someone would like to minimize their meat intake, but if you’re automatically categorizing plant-based foods as being “healthier” for you, you should remember that fast food is still fast food—even if it’s plant-based.
Instead of falling prey to perceptions and marketing, it’s best to always check the nutrition facts and do your own research.
Want to know the single sentence of eating advice that helped hundreds of people lose an average of 13 pounds in one year? Read this.