BOSTON — Recent critiques on the nutritional qualities of plant-based burgers have come from several sources: a viewpoint shared in JAMA, statements from John Mackey, the founder of Whole Foods Market, and an article in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.
The viewpoint of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston was published online Aug. 26 in JAMA. They pointed out two companies, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, dominate the new generation of plant-based meat alternatives. Both companies, however, offer products that are more processed than other plant-based protein foods like nuts and legumes. The Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat contains pea protein isolate while the Impossible Burger contains soy protein isolate. Food processing has been shown to lead to the loss of some nutrients and phytochemicals naturally present in plant foods, according to the viewpoint.
The plant-based burger patties are lower in total fat and saturated fat than a beef burger patty, and they contain no cholesterol, but the Beyond Burger (390 mg per serving) and the Impossible Burger (370 mg per serving) both contain high amounts of sodium, according to the viewpoint. The Impossible Burger also contains heme iron, which has been associated with increased body iron stores and elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The researchers in the viewpoint agreed the products have environmental benefits, citing an assessment commissioned by Beyond Meat showing its Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy and 93% less land use when compared with a burger made from beef.
“To meet the unprecedented challenge of feeding a healthy and sustainable diet to an estimated 10 billion people by 2050, recent reports recommend a substantial reduction in red meat consumption and shifting toward mostly plant-based dietary patterns,” the researchers summarized in the viewpoint. “Technological innovations are vital to creating this system, but it will be important to remain vigilant to ensure that these new products are beneficial to human health as well as the health of the planet, and to understand and consider any unintended consequences.”
The viewpoint may be found here.
The processing of plant-based burgers came up when Mr. Mackey spoke to “CNBC Make It” on Aug. 21.
“The (brands) who are capturing the imagination of people, and I’m not going to name brands because I’m afraid I will be associated with the critique of it, but some of these that are extremely popular now that are taking the world by storm, if you look at the ingredients, they are super, highly processed foods,” he said.
Mr. Mackey said he did not think eating highly processed foods is healthy.
“I think people thrive on eating whole foods,” he said.
The article published on Aug. 29 in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health mainly focused on choline. Emma Derbyshire, Ph.D., the article’s author and director of Nutritional Insight Ltd., a consultancy specializing in nutrition and biomedical science, pushed for the United Kingdom to begin including choline in its food composition databases, main nutrition databases, main nutrition surveys and official recommendations.
Choline is found in beef, eggs, fish, chicken, nuts, milk and certain plant foods such as cruciferous broccoli. The nutrient is particularly critical during fetal development since it modifies brain and spinal cord structure, Dr. Derbyshire wrote. The Institute of Medicine recommends daily choline intake levels of 450 mg for pregnant women and 550 mg for lactating women. Recommended daily choline intakes levels are 550 mg for adult men and 425 mg for adult women who are not pregnant or lactating.
“The mounting evidence of choline’s importance makes it essential that it does not continue to be overlooked in the U.K.,” Dr. Derbyshire wrote. “This is now more important than ever given that accelerated food trends towards plant-based diets/veganism could have further ramifications on choline intake/status.”