For years, we’ve been told to cut back on red meat to improve health and reduce greenhouse emissions, and to eat more plants instead. For those of us who have, the one thing we can still crave is a big, juicy burger. How excited were we when Beyond Beef and Impossible Burgers hit the shelves? 

But are they truly healthier and is one better than the other? My friend Lexi asked, so I told her I’d investigate, and I really learn a lot. 

Both products are highly processed, and for that reason alone, should be avoided or eaten in moderation – just like red meat. But, I love Impossible Burgers for their juicy texture and satisfying taste, and now I know why.

Turns out the secret ingredient is heme (“heem”), an iron-containing molecule found in humans and plants that makes meat juicy and tasty. “If you were to eat meat raw, that bloody flavor you get, that’s heme,” says Impossible Foods Principal Scientist Rachel Fraser. “All the flavors that you get when you cook meat are catalyzed by heme as well.” She adds that a craving for meat is really a craving for heme and the iron and protein it represents in our diets. Interestingly, Impossible Foods made this discovery and FDA approval of heme as a food and color additive is even newer than their products.

Impossible’s primary source of protein is genetically modified (GMO) soy and potatoes; their source of heme is soy leghemoglobin, found in the root of the plant and fermented in a lab as a scalable means of production. Beyond Beef’s source of protein is peas, mung bean and rice. Beet juice extract provides the red, juicy hue and coconut oil and cocoa butter provide the marbled texture; apple extract is added to help the burgers cook like real meat.

That makes Beyond Burger higher in healthier plant ingredients, non-GMO and soy-free. Their nutrition profiles are similar, although Beyond is six grams lower in carbs and two grams lower in saturated fat per serving; both have about the same amount of protein (and sodium) as ground beef, are free of gluten and nuts, and are halal-and kosher-certified.

After researching, I think I’ll return to actual veggie burgers which contain real ingredients like peas, beans, peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, coconut oil, flax, sunflower and chia seeds. I know I won’t crave them as much, but I’ll feel satisfied in knowing that I am making the healthier choice.

Lauren Del Sarto is founder/publisher of Desert Health and can be reached at
[email protected]. Share your savory substitutes with us online!

Sources: 1); 2); 3)

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