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Everywhere from fast food chains to local supermarkets, Canadians are seeing a new wave of burgers that look like beef, taste like beef, and yet are missing one crucial ingredient: the beef.

This new plant-based burger craze could not come at a better time. Canada’s new Food Guide encourages Canadians to eat more plant-based proteins rather than proteins from other sources (such as meats).

And last year, in the first comprehensive study of the impact of various diets on our nutrition and on the planet, researchers at the University of Oxford found that plant-based diets can improve both our health and the planet’s health. Canadians are listening: According to a survey from Dalhousie University, more and more Canadians are eating (or at least thinking about eating) less meat.

Are meatless burgers healthy?

So the new meatless burgers in your grocery aisle and in restaurants would seem to be a win-win. But it is worth a closer look to determine whether the hype about these new products is all sizzle. “Meatless burgers are not necessarily unhealthy,” says Stephanie Boutette, a registered dietitian and manager of healthcare provider education with Diabetes Canada. “[But] they may not be more healthy than a regular beef burger.

“The nutrition profile for the new plant-based burgers are slightly better, if not similar, when compared to other burgers,” she explains. “They are still high in saturated fats and sodium—they are similar or higher in these values when compared to lean meat burgers, but compared to regular meat burgers they are lower.” Saturated fat can increase both cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, while sodium can increase blood pressure, upping the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.

As examples, Boutette points to the Beyond Meat Beyond Burger, which has 250 calories, six grams of saturated fat, and 390 milligrams—or 16 per cent of the daily value—of sodium. Gram for gram, that is more calories, saturated fat, and sodium than a PC Blue Menu Angus Thick & Juicy Lean Beef Burger, which is roughly 10 per cent larger by weight and contains only 200 calories, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 370 milligrams of sodium.

It is not just the burger itself; you also need to consider the toppings you will be adding, says Boutette. That is especially true if you are eating at a fast-food restaurant, where high-sodium toppings are automatically included on the burger unless you specifically request otherwise. “When you make them at home, you can control what is added to them,” she says.

Take your pick

It is important to comparison shop with all plant-based burgers. “There are a lot of different types of veggie burgers…[with] ingredients like black beans, chickpeas, corn, quinoa, oats, kale, or sweet potato,” says Boutette. Whatever your choice, she says, read the Nutrition Facts Table and the ingredient list. Compare the saturated fat, calories, sodium, and, if you are carb counting, the number of carbs.

As well, people with diabetes should consume more fibre compared to the general public, as it is important for blood sugar and cholesterol control—so check that number in the Nutrition Facts table too. For example, the PC Beef Burger contains one gram of fibre, compared to the two grams in the smaller Beyond Burger.

The last word

“If you are starting to reduce the amount of meat you are eating, then these [plant-based] burgers may be an option. But is it advisable to have one every day? Since these new burgers are still somewhat comparable to a beef burger nutritionally, probably not.”—Stephanie Boutette, registered dietitian and manager of healthcare provider education, Diabetes Canada

Did you know?

You can make tasty, plant-based burgers at home with our recipe for Falafel Burgers with Creamy Sesame Sauce. Looking for other tasty meal ideas? Visit Recipes.

This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Winter 2020)

Author: Alyssa Schwartz

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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