When the Beyond Burger first arrived in supermarkets and restaurants in 2016, it completely revolutionized the plant-based burger market. Before that, a “veggie burger” could have meant anything from a mushy mixture of black beans to a crispy fried portobello mushroom to any combo of seeds, nuts and tofu. But the Beyond Burger was something else entirely, a juicy patty that looks and tastes just like a big old hunk of ground beef. The big difference — no animals were harmed to make it.
Now, a few years later, these plant-based burgers have become available for non-meat-eaters (and curious omnivores) all across the country, including fine-dining restaurants as well as fast-food and casual-dining chains such as Carl’s Jr.,and TGIFridays. (Beyond’s competitor, the Impossible Burger, is also widely available, notably as a Burger King Whopper.) If you’d prefer to eat your cruelty-free burger at home, you can buy a pack of Beyond Burgers at Whole Foods, Target and numerous other major supermarkets and grocery stores.
The widespread availability of these meat alternatives is great news for vegetarians, but are Beyond Burgers a healthier choice? And what the heck is actually in them?
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What is Beyond Meat made of?
Ethan Brown, the creator of Beyond Meat (the company that makes the Beyond Burger as well as Beyond Sausage, Beyond Beef Crumbles, Beyond Ground Beef and the newest additions, Beyond Jerky, Beyond Chicken Tenders, and Beyond Steak) told an NPR podcaster that his a-ha moment came when he realized that meat is made of five basic elements: amino acids, lipids, a small amount of carbohydrates, trace minerals and water. And all these elements are present in plants. The trick, he explained, was figuring out how to turn those into a fibrous, meaty substance without using an animal’s digestive system as the processing machine.
The end result is a product that uses vegetable proteins to create the same juicy, chewy, “bloody” meat as animal flesh — without actually harming any animals.
In a basic hamburger, all you’ll find is ground beef, and perhaps some seasoning and an egg to bind it. A Beyond Burger, however, includes: water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, dried yeast, cocoa butter and methylcellulose; it also contains less than 1% of potato starch, salt, potassium chloride, beet juice color, apple extract, pomegranate concentrate, sunflower lecithin, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, vitamins and minerals (zinc sulfate, niacinamide [vitamin B3], pyridoxine hydrochloride [vitamin B6], cyanocobalamin [vitamin B12], and calcium pantothenate). FYI: The beet juice and pomegranate give the burger its meat-like “blood.”
“The newest version is packed with vitamins and minerals, most notably providing 20% of the daily value for iron and 100% of the daily value for vitamin B12, which are two nutrients of concern for vegans and vegetarians,” says the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Nutrition Lab Director, Stefani Sassos, RDN.
Two things Beyond Burgers don’t have that some animal meat might contain: antibiotics and hormones.
Are Beyond Burgers healthy?
“The Beyond Burger has changed and improved over the years, so the newest version actually has fewer calories and total fat than its predecessor,” adds Sassos. “In our tests, we found the latest Beyond Burger to have a more substantial bite and meaty texture too.”
The latest variation of the Beyond Burger has 14 g of fat, including 5 g of saturated fat, which puts in about on par with a grass-fed beef burger (Beyond’s saturated fat comes from coconut oil and cocoa butter). Both burgers have a good amount of protein, and the Beyond has an added boost of 2 g of fiber (though Blatner points out that you can add more fiber by topping your hamburger with lettuce and tomato).
One big difference is the amount of sodium, but Sassos points out that this has to be looked at in context. “While it may appear that a Beyond Burger has more sodium than its animal-based counterpart, it’s important to note that the Beyond Burger is a fully seasoned product,” she says. “When it comes to beef, you’re likely seasoning it with salt so the sodium counts of the finished beef patty may be comparable to that of the Beyond Burger.”
Beyond Burger nutrition vs. beef burger nutrition
Blatner created a side-by-side comparison of the Beyond Burger vs. a grass-fed beef burger. Here’s how they stack up:
4 oz. Beyond Burger:
- Calories: 230
- Total fat: 14 g
- Saturated fat: 5 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 390 mg
- Carbohydrate: 7 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 20 g
4 oz. Grass-fed beef burger:
- Calories: 220
- Total fat: 14 g
- Saturated fat: 6 g
- Cholesterol: 60.5 mg
- Sodium: 65 mg
- Carbohydrate: 0 g
- Fiber: 0 g
- Protein: 23 g
Which is healthier: a Beyond Burger or hamburger?
“It all comes down to your eating style,” says Blatner. “If you’re a vegetarian because of animal rights or because it’s better for the planet, and you miss the taste of a burger, this is a great option once in a while, though a bean- or veggie-based burger is going to have less fat. If you are going to eat animal protein, you should find the best meat you can afford — organic if possible — keep to small patties of four ounces or less.”
It’s also crucial to pay attention to the rest of your plate, says Taub-Dix. “If you make the Beyond Burger at home on a whole-grain bun, with vegetables on the side, that’s very different than ordering it in a restaurant with a big white bun, a soda, and fries,” she says. “It’s not just about the burger, it’s about the company it keeps.”
Bottom line: “A Beyond Burger should by no means be a substitute for whole fruits and vegetables in a plant-based diet,” says Sassos. “But it can be a great alternative to animal-based foods whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or just looking to cut down on your meat consumption.”
Marisa Cohen is a contributing editor in the Hearst Lifestyle Group’s Health Newsroom, who has covered health, nutrition, parenting, and the arts for dozens of magazines and websites over the past two decades. She has also appeared on two game shows, has seen more than 400 Broadway shows, and really wishes she knew how to tap dance.