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Beyond Burger - Is It Healthier Than Beef?

Beyond_Burger

What Is It?

The Beyond Burger is an all-plant, gluten-free patty with protein from peas, mung beans, and rice, plus beet and pomegranate to provide meatlike redness.

It gets its fat from canola oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter; those last two ingredients also give the product its marbled look, the company says. Further, the burger, made by Beyond Meat, has no genetically modified organisms. The company also makes other plant-based “meats,” such as a sausage and "crumbles" (think ground beef).

Is It Healthier Than Beef?

Not necessarily. It does have zero dietary cholesterol—though that has less effect on the cholesterol levels in your blood than does saturated fat. And on that more important measure, as well as for total fat and calories, a Beyond Burger and a typical 80 percent lean beef burger are similar.

The Beyond Burger has much more sodium, too. Plus, "while its starting materials may be plants, the main ingredients are all highly processed concentrates, oils, and flavors," says Amy Keating, R.D., a CR nutritionist and taste tester. Research links such foods to obesity and heart disease. "If you want the health benefits of plants, eat them as whole foods with their nutrients and fiber naturally present."

Is It Better for the Environment?

Probably, but how much is debatable. Replacing meat raised in feedlots with plant-based foods is a win for the environment, says Charlotte Vallaeys, senior food policy analyst at CR.

That's in part because cows release methane, a greenhouse gas. And industrial beef production creates runoff that contaminates water. Feedlot farming also tends to sicken cows, contributing to the overuse of antibiotics, which breeds superbugs and undermines the effectiveness of those lifesaving medications.

An analysis commissioned by Beyond Meat concluded that one of its burgers generates 90 percent fewer greenhouse gases and requires 46 percent less nonrenewable energy than a comparable feedlot-raised beef burger.

“Those are reliable estimates,” says Nicole Tichenor Blackstone, Ph.D., at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, who has conducted similar research but was not involved in this analysis.

But “switching to grass-fed animals can also be beneficial,” Vallaeys says. One farm that raises such animals, White Oak Pastures, in Bluffton, Ga., commissioned the same kind of analysis (PDF) as Beyond Meat.

It concluded that White Oak's methods may have a net positive effect on the climate by taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil. But note that these analyses involve controversial assumptions and require additional study.

Where Can You Buy It?

Restaurants and grocery stores, often in the meat counter.

How Much Does It Cost?

Two ¼-pound patties at the grocery store costs about $6 to $7, or $12 to $14 a pound, compared with about $4 a pound for regular ground beef and $6 for organic. Restaurant prices vary by location and toppings. We paid about $14 for our Beyond Burger at Bareburger. 

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