Beyond meat, is healthier than beef

How new plant-based burgers are compared to beef

If you want to go without meat, a new era of options has dawned. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are among the companies contending for the massive U.S. meat-eaters market by mimicking the taste of beef more closely than vegetarian patties of the past. Others are working on growing meat in laboratories.

So are the plant-based tarts better for you or the planet? Here's what you might want to know before taking a bite:

Are you healthier?

As with many questions about nutrition, it comes down to it. For better or worse, patties made from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods can be nutritionally similar to beef.

Beyond meat, the 4-ounce patty is listed as 270 calories while Impossible Foods' is listed as 240 calories. The nutritional profile of ground beef can vary, but a similarly sized 80% lean meat patty has around 290 calories.

The protein content is about the same while other nutrients vary. Some may like that the plant-based patties have fiber, but don't like that they are higher in sodium.

For the general diet, how the patties are served could be more important, be it at Burger King, White Castle, or elsewhere.

At Umami Burger in New York, for example, a burger with two impossible patties, cheese, and fixations exceeds 1,000 calories. Few would consider it healthy, especially when served with french fries and a lemonade.

"People will think that these are not only better but also healthy," said Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert at the University of Ottawa.

Neither can people realize that the saturated fat content can be anything like beef burgers, he said.

What's in them?

Beyond Meat ingredients include pea protein and rapeseed oil. Impossible Food's patties contain soy protein and coconut oil. Impossible says its patties have a taste and hue similar to beef, in part because of soy leghemoglobin, a protein the company makes by genetically altering the yeast.

The meat industry appeals to people who prefer simpler ingredient lists.

"A beef patty is a natural ingredient: beef," says the North American Meat Institute, which represents meat manufacturers.

How do they taste

Taste is subjective, but reviews generally say that Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers taste similar to meat.

Christian Acosta, who works in New York, said he has eaten the impossible burger several times and cannot tell the difference.

"It tastes just like meat," he said, standing in line to get the burger for lunch.

In contrast to a steak, differences in taste between beef and the plant-based burgers can be masked by rolls, cheese and toppings. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have updated their recipes too, and can continue to do so to become even more like meat.

How much do they cost

The idea is that Beyond and Impossible Burgers end up costing the same or less than beef. For now, expect to pay more.

At a Whole Foods in New York, two Beyond Meat patties cost $ 5.99, about twice as much as two ground beef patties. Impossible burgers aren't available in the grocery store just yet. But at a bareburger restaurant in New York, it costs an extra $ 3 for one of the plant-based patties.

Are They Better For The Earth?

Beef is considered polluting because of the resources needed to grow crops to feed cows. Cows also produce the greenhouse gas methane, mostly by belching.

While grazing animals can play a positive role in the ecosystem, most animals in the US are not raised that way, said Christopher Field, who works at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and knows the founder of Impossible Foods. But he noted that people don't have to go without meat entirely to make a difference, and that pork and chicken have much smaller environmental footprints than beef.

What's next?

On the horizon is meat grown in laboratories by cultivating animal cells, but it will be some time before people get a taste of it.

Right now, the solutions used to help cells grow are expensive and limited as they are primarily made for medical therapy purposes, said Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, which advocates meat alternatives.

However, regulators have taken notice and the meat industry is watching and mobilizing to "protect beef nomenclature".

Beyond Meat's debut as a public company could confirm the concerns of the meat industry. Years ago, a beef group listed Beyond Meat as a topic to watch, according to the Associated Press public record.