In a day and age where we're in an ongoing conversation about climate change, one thing is becoming clear: Eating meat—specifically beef—is thought to be harmful to the environment. According to nutritionist and Byrdie Advisory Board member, Brooke Alpert, "The newer theories are that it's the industrial meat and agriculture practices that are the real issue; grass-fed organic beef is being shown to be better for the environment than a lot of the conventional farming done in the US." As a result, plant-based eating is seriously on the rise, and grocery stores, upscale restaurants and fast food chains alike are rolling out a more environmentally-friendly alternative: Impossible and Beyond Meats, which taste a whole lot like the real thing.
While it's great that an imitation meat exists that doesn't actually make you miss a delicious, juicy burger, there's a lot of (conflicting) information out there about red meat and how it impacts our bodies. But imitation meats? Those remain a bit of a mystery, especially because their ingredient lists can be miles long. We spoke to nutritionist Tamar Samuels to find out exactly how these burgers stack up nutrition-wise, and whether or not they're bad for us. Scroll ahead to see what she had to say.
What is Impossible and Beyond Meat?
Beyond and Impossible meats are two different brands of plant-based meats that taste exactly like real meat—or close enough. The Impossible Burger even "bleeds" like meat, and is made mostly from soy, coconut oil, sunflower oil and natural flavors. Beyond Meat's key ingredients include water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil and rice protein.
Are Impossible and Beyond Meats Bad For You?
While these meat alternatives won't kill you, they aren't exactly winning the most nutritious and healthy food awards. According to Samuels, Impossible meats are particularly problematic. "This product is highly processed," she says. "Ultra or highly processed foods are foods that have additional artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives to promote shelf stability, preserve texture, and increase palatability. They usually undergo several processing steps using multiple ultra-processed ingredients."
Meet the Expert
Tamar Samuels, RD, is a certified dietitian nutritionist and the founder of All Great Nutrition.
Samuels adds that while Impossible Meats have been fortified with vitamins and minerals and do contain some micronutrients, but the reality is that processed foods are not as nutritious as unprocessed foods. "Fresh foods found in their whole and natural form have the perfect balance of macro, micro, and phytonutrients that cannot currently be replicated in 'healthy processed foods,'" she says.
Beyond Meat is a little better. "It has a similar nutrition profile to Impossible Meat, but does not contain soy and has less micronutrients because it's not fortified with as many vitamins and minerals," Samuels says. "Per their website, Beyond Meat also does not contain any genetically modified ingredients. For those reasons, I would recommend Beyond Meat over Impossible Meat."
Ultimately, though, both products are highly processed and engineered in a lab. "There's no denying that natural and whole foods are superior from a nutritional standpoint.
If your goal is to eat healthier, you may not be doing your body much of a favor when you fill up on Impossible and Beyond Meats.
If you are going to go with one of the two, though, Beyond is your best bet. "Beyond Meat is definitely superior to Impossible Meat," says Samuels. "But both of these products are highly processed and don't offer much in terms of health benefits."
Your best bet if you're avoiding meat and going plant-based? Opt for real, high-protein foods. "While it may not have that same 'meaty' flavor, I recommend making your own veggie burgers made from all natural ingredients like chickpeas, lentils or other beans," Samuels says. "Adding nutritional yeast, kombu (a type of seaweed), and dried mushrooms is a great way to get the umami flavor we all love from meat."
Here's hoping we can find a plant-based solution that's both better for the environment and our bodies.
Macdiarmid JI, Douglas F, Campbell J. Eating like there’s no tomorrow: Public awareness of the environmental impact of food and reluctance to eat less meat as part of a sustainable diet. Appetite. 2016;96:487-493. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.011