It’s not a secret that Americans love meat. According to the Department of Agriculture, the average American ate 222.2 pounds of meat in 2018. And is there anything more American than a grill full of burgers and hot dogs sizzling away on the 4th of July? Of course not. That’s why the idea of a veggie burger has never been an easy sell. When someone mentions “non-meat” burgers, the image of frozen brownish-green hockey pucks comes to mind. They do not sizzle, and they do not feel very American.
But times are changing. Whether it’s a concern for the environment, animal welfare, or a desire for better personal wellness, many people are giving plant-based burgers a fair shot. It doesn’t hurt that a handful of companies have introduced something, well, impossible – a delicious plant-based burger. One that smells like meat, sizzles like meat, and most important of all – tastes like meat. And these burgers aren’t regulated to the back corner of the frozen food section. You can find them at many of your favorite fast-food restaurants today with many more companies hurrying to jump on the plant-based meatwagon. But before you load your freezer with these patties and declare every night “burger night,” remember just because something is plant-based, doesn’t make it healthy.
When comparing a plant-based burger to your typical 80/20 ground beef burger, it’s essential to understand that there is a tradeoff. Plant-based burgers contain little to no cholesterol compared to the 80-100 mg of cholesterol in a typical fast-food burger. A cholesterol-free burger sounds excellent for a country that eats around 50 billion burgers a year and where heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans. But what these burgers lack in cholesterol they more than make up for in sodium. Too much sodium increases your blood pressure due to your body holding excess fluid, making your heart work harder. This can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer, and kidney disease.
At this point, it’s understandable to want to throw your hands up in the air in frustration. Beef burgers aren’t healthy for you, plant-based burgers aren’t healthy for you, what is a red-blooded American to do? Quit eating burgers? Of course not. The best possible solution is to eat whichever burger you prefer but eat it less often. There is plenty of research about the effects of too much red meat on the human body over a lifetime, and doctors have been suggesting we lower our red meat intake for years. Opting for a plant-based burger every now and then is a good way to cut down your red meat intake. The bottom line, like everything good in life, moderation is key. And if you think of burgers as a treat, meant for special occasions and events instead of a weekly staple, then it doesn’t matter which you eat, even on the 4th of July.