Not So Impossible: Are Meat-Alternatives For You?

By –Wendy Wesley

Special for News Talk Florida

Many of my patients and clients want to know about plant-based eating and a typical follow-up question is, “What about those Impossible Burgers?”

“Are they good for me?”

“What’s so wrong with meat, anyway?”

“Are they really high in sodium?”

“Will I get enough protein?”

I spend a lot of time helping people determine their unique health goals. Common goals are weight loss, reduction of medication, management of heart disease and diabetes and “see my grandkids grow up.”

Increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and whole grains – plant-based foods- will help with all these goals. But will switching to meat alternatives move the needle? Read on.

Sodium

It is true that meat alternatives are higher in sodium: up to five times higher. If management of heart disease and reduction of sodium are among your goals I’d advise you to pass. Processed, multi-ingredient foods are very high in sodium and counted among those are meat-alternatives.

Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and the old school beef Whopper are similar on all nutrients, with the exception of sodium. Your choice for beef vs. plants in the fast food arena may come down to morals or environmental concerns.

The meatless version has a whopping 1240 mg of sodium which is 83 percent of all the sodium you should have in one day if you have cardiovascular disease per American Heart Association guidelines.

Plant-based Diets?

People adopt a vegetarian or vegan pattern of eating for myriad reasons some of which are moral, ethical, religious and increasingly environmental. Plus, a vast amount of research supports that plant-based, plant-majority and vegan diets can help people better manage chronic diseases and prolong life.

Plant-majority is an idea that’s catching interest where the eater looks for ways to replace animal proteins like meat and dairy with plant proteins like beans and nuts. It’s a gentle approach to a change in eating habits and discards all-or-nothing thinking.

Protein

Almost gram for gram the Impossible Whopper will give you the same amount of protein as a beef Whopper (25 grams and 28 grams, respectively) which speaks volumes to the power of plants in general. Plus, plants are packed with cholesterol-free protein, fiber and antioxidants. Something about which meat cannot boast.

The rub with plants has always been taste and lack of exposure to great-tasting plant proteins. Americans simply have not been exposed to the abundance of the plant kingdom with the USDA only recently advising Americans to make half of their meals fruits and vegetables reserving one quarter for grains and the other quarter for meat or a plant protein.

Are Meat Alternatives Bad for Me?

This is a tough question to answer because the answer is “sort of.” Let me explain.

I always advise my patients and clients to derive as many of their calories as possible from single ingredient, unprocessed, unadulterated foods. “A fruit, a vegetable, a nut, a seed, a bean, a legume” is what I say ad nauseum. Seeking highly processed and expensive “Impossible” and “Beyond” sources of plant proteins is unnecessary when the abundance of plants is no further than your grocery store or produce stand.

Eat food from the earth and not the factory. While meat-alternatives are novel and somewhat interesting, there’s really nothing new to see here. Keep it simple, affordable, unadulterated and not developed in a science lab.

Black Bean Burgers
½ onion finely diced
1 clove garlic minced (1 tsp jarred, OK)
½ red, green or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
2 tbs oil
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 egg
½ cup breadcrumbs
salt, pepper to taste

Sauté onion, garlic and peppers in the oil over low heat until fragrant and translucent. Cool. Drain and rinse beans and place in a bowl. With a potato masher or the back of a fork mash the beans. Add the egg, bread crumbs and seasoning. Hot sauce can also be used for flavor. Blend well. Form the mixture into palm-sized patties and pan fry in a little oil over medium heat until charred on the outside and hot on the inside. Other vegetables that will work in this recipe are mushrooms, carrots, scallions, shallots or spinach. Sweat these with the onions. Serve just like you would any hamburger. For additional fiber, choose a bun that 100% whole wheat.


Wendy Wesley is a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and expert on weight loss, healthy eating and cardiac and diabetes nutrition. She is the host of “Not the Food Police,” a podcast and You Tube channel which offers simple, straight-up and non-judgemental nutrition talk.

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News Talk Florida Staff