Is the Beyond Meat Burger Good for You?

Rich JacobsArticles, Nutrition24 Comments

What is the Beyond Meat Burger?

Vegan eating seems to be more and more prevalent these days.  Most people go vegan for health reasons whether it is to lose weight or decrease inflammation and then the few who just don’t want to eat meat.  What’s funny is that even though vegans and vegetarians want to avoid meat, they still want burgers.  Go figure.  Before you judge, I am not against vegan or vegetarian eating.  In fact I think it could be helpful in reducing inflammation and healing people who are chronically sick.  None of us eat enough vegetables, so this style of eating would force more vegetables into the diet.  However, does that mean that processed food, even though it is vegan, is good for you?  Let’s continue…

A brand called “Beyond Meat” has developed a burger that is being touted as tasting just like a real burger!  Although they are not claiming any health benefits by eating their burger, according to Harvard Health Publications, vegetarians believe that they are healthier by avoiding meat.1 Is that necessarily true?  Can you eat this meatless burger without any health consequences?  Let’s breakdown these ingredients and see!

Beyond Meat: The Beyond Burger ingredients: Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Water, Yeast Extract, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Gum Arabic, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Succinic Acid, Acetic Acid, Non-GMO Modified Food Starch, Cellulose From Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Beet Juice Extract (for color), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Annatto Extract (for color), Citrus Fruit Extract (to maintain quality), Vegetable Glycerin.

OK!  Seems like a lot of effort and ingredients to get a burger versus beef, and I’m a believer that less is more.  Now, let’s see what the purpose and function is of each ingredient in regards to food.

The Ingredients: Broken Down

Pea protein isolate: an almost complete protein that is the main source of protein in the product.1

Expeller pressed canola oil: Canola oil is extracted from rapeseed, a plant in the cabbage family.  Adds fat and texture.2

Refined coconut oil: extracted from coconuts then bleached and deodorized to eliminate flavor and smell.  Used for fat and texture.3

Water: colorless and odorless substance.  Used for moisture.

Yeast extract: Hydrolyzed yeast containing free glutamates. Also known as monosodium glutamate (MSG).  Flavor enhancer.4

Maltodextrin: white powder derived from corn, rice, potato starch or wheat.  Used as a thickener or filler.5

Natural flavors: The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.6

Gum Arabic: This is a complex polysaccharide (carbohydrate).  Used for fiber and texture.7

Sunflower oil: An omega-6 oil derived from sunflower seeds.  Used for texture and preservative.8

Salt: flavor enhancer and preservative.

Succinic Acid: A colorless crystal with an acid taste.  Used in perfume esters. Used in food as a buffer and neutralizing agent.9

Acetic Acid: A product of ethanol.  Used as an antibacterial and counterirritant.10 Gives products a vinegar type flavor.

Non-GMO Modified Food Starch: Usually developed from corn.  Used as a stabilizer in food providing desirable texture, consistency and storage ability.11

Cellulose from Bamboo: Obtained by bleaching and chemically treating bamboo.  Used as a stabilizer, fiber and for texture.12

Methylcellulose: Derived from a plant origin.  Used to add bulk to the product and is not digested.13

Potato Starch: Derived from potatoes.  Used as a binder.14

Beet juice extract (for color): Derived from beets. Used as food coloring and sweetener.15

Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color): Commonly used as a preservative.  In this case to maintain color.16

Annatto Extract (for color): Extracted from annatto seed.  Used for color.17

Citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality): Extract from citrus.  Used as a preservative.18

Vegetable Glycerin: Made from vegetable oils during production of soap or biodiesel.  May be used as a thickener or wetting agent.19

How Good are They for You to Consume?

I’ve laid out the unbiased research of what the ingredients are, so now let’s take a look and see how healthy these ingredients are to consume.

Pea protein isolate: This is an allergen-free protein that is lactose, egg and meat-free.  Often consumed by vegetarians and those with allergies.  Pea protein has a mostly complete amino acid profile and has been shown to be just as effective when compared to whey protein for increasing muscle mass.1, 20

Expeller pressed canola oil: This is an oil that is highly advertised as being heart healthy, and may be acceptable if non-GMO and organic. However, you should know this oil is highly processed and higher in erucic acid than most other oils.  More recent and older studies show that canola oil can cause heart issues, inflammation and lower vitamin E which is an effective antioxidant.  Despite the positive health claims, studies show that consuming this oil can be harmful to your health.21

Refined coconut oil: Coconut oil has recently taken some heat by the press and American Heart Association as a possible risk factor to heart disease.  Despite the minimal research and empty claims, coconut oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and decrease body fat.22,23 All that said, refined coconut oil comes in many forms and this product does not specify how it is made.  Also, burgers are usually grilled at temperatures above 450 degrees, the point at which refined coconut oil burns and could become toxic.24

Yeast extract: Despite what most online bloggers say, and even I am against the use of MSG because of how I feel and have seen others feel, there is no scientific evidence of MSG causing symptoms.  While some people do have symptoms follow consumption of MSG, at this time the literature does not support it.

Maltodextrin: Is relatively safe depending on where it is derived.  It does however, spike blood sugar as it is a polysaccharide and has a glycemic load higher than table sugar.26 Therefore, I would not deem it safe especially for those who have blood sugar management issues.

Natural flavors: We really don’t know what is being used as a “natural flavor”.  Some flavors can induce food cravings and others can be hiding another flavor.  While there are no direct links to health issues, consumers really don’t know what is being used so they are best to be avoided.27

Gum Arabic: This carbohydrate is a mixture of polysaccharides, oligosaccharides and glycoproteins.  Gum Arabic has been shown to decrease body fat.7  However, those with gut issues specifically SIBO, could find that this ingredient will irritate the gut because of the different saccharides.

Sunflower oil: Like canola oil, this oil is high in omega-6’s which have been shown to be inflammatory2,8 and consumers don’t always know the source of the seed used which could be a health concern.

Salt: This could be a health concern depending on your current state of cardiovascular health.

Succinic Acid: This additive is regarded as safe as long as the amount used in food in in accordance to the FDA.9 Like some other additives, this is a chemically derived substance for consumption.

Acetic Acid: Regarded as generally safe.

Non-GMO Modified Food Starch: Regarded as safe.  However, the process in which this starch is made involves chemicals and bleaching.  So, this is a highly processed starch.

Cellulose from Bamboo: This is primarily a fiber and therefore generally safe to eat.

Methylcellulose: Although regarded as safe for consumption, it does act as a laxative and could cause digestive distress.28

Potato Starch: Generally safe.  Potato starch is a resistant starch and could be good for improving gut health through feed good bacteria.29

Beet juice extract (for color): While beet juice extract has potential health benefits,30 beet juice extract for color is basically harmless and has no impact on health in this product.

Ascorbic Acid: is a form of vitamin C and is generally safe.  Having too much of this ingredient could cause digestive distress.31

Annatto Extract: Although just a food coloring, there are some reports of this product causing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and rare cases of anaphylaxis.32,33 In general, I would avoid unnatural food coloring.

Citrus fruit extract: As a preservative, this is nothing more than an antioxidant to prevent rancidity.34 It is regarded as safe.

Vegetable Glycerin: Generally safe although because it is a sugar alcohol could elicit gastric issues such as diarrhea, bloating or nausea.19

Final Thoughts

Beyond Meat has developed a vegan option for those who want to avoid meat in their diet.  They have released what’s called the Beyond Burger as a viable option.  While this product is vegan friendly, I have some reservations about the ingredients.  Most of the ingredients are highly processed and chemically treated.

Although the FDA regards most of these ingredients as generally safe, I have reservations when it comes to any product containing so many processed ingredients.  While they are generally safe individually, we need to think about the combined load of the products.  What are the health effects when all of these processed ingredients are consumed at one time?  Can the body handle the processing of so many chemically produced ingredients?  Other than the pea protein, the top 5 ingredients are highly refined and processed and have been shown to cause a negative reaction in the body according to the studies I’ve referenced.

That said, I would not recommend this product as a viable alternative to beef burgers.  There are no issues with being a vegan or vegetarian.  As a practitioner, I think it can be very helpful in reducing inflammation and living a healthier lifestyle.  Therefore, I recommend adhering to that lifestyle and eating real food within the guidelines of the vegetarian diet.  If one day you want a burger, I recommend eating the real thing as it will be healthier for you than this chemically made food.

 

Picture Source: DailyMail.com https://goo.gl/kD98ro

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Rich Jacobs is a Board Certified Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner who specializes in resolving gut, insomnia, low libido, fatigue and fat issues. He uses a holistic approach and functional lab work to identify root causes such as hormone imbalances or gut pathogens that could be impacting your health.

24 Comments on “Is the Beyond Meat Burger Good for You?”

  1. I feel like this article goes out of its way to avoid the antibiotics one is subject to when consuming meat as well as the fact that these burgers are non-gmo. If the article is solely focused on health, you missed some points.

    And that’s saying nothing about the environmental benefits of non-meat burgers.

  2. Thank you so much for your input. I have a beef allergy and will occasionally eat these when nothing but a burger will satisfy my craving. I definitely don’t think they are healthier, but for me they are safer.

    1. I also have beef allergy, mammalian disease. I cant have any mammal meat of any kind. Have you noticed any reactions of any kind. Dont want to pull out the epipen.

      1. Allergies are different than intolerances. An intolerance is developed over time and can usually be corrected. An allergy is something you are born with or have a genetic disposition.

  3. Just recently tried them, and I liked them. I’m not so much a vegan but more opposed to industrial farmed meat with all conditions the animals are raised in. That and the antibiotics industrial meat production requires to keep the animals alive long enough to butcher seems to make beyond Meat a fair trade off for me, tho I will keep eyes open for a better alternative if one comes along.

  4. i found the beyond meat burger to be the best burger i ever tasted, meat or veggie, i don’t like the look of the ingredients but then again one has to eat something and in the end i have no clue what is in real meat, just because it says beef on the label, what i am trying to get at is that the ground beef in a burger is the result of what the animal has consumed, the illnesses it has had and the medicines and hormones it has been fed, and the stresses of the way it was raised and then slaughtered

  5. Eat the “real thing”? Naw, I don’t eat veggie burgers because I’m concerned about the health benefits. I’m concerned about the mass slaughtering and abuse of animals, and the deforestation of rainforests and other natural areas for crops to feed those animals. Besides, I could just make a veggie burger myself, or buy a different brand? It’s not rocket science. Everyone knows burgers in general are overly processed and it’s better to make your own food from natural ingredients. Or at least, I hope they know. Everyone seems to forget how hamburger meat is made!

  6. Hi my name is Gary from Florida I have been a vegetarian leaning toward being for five years I think the beyond burger taste great it does not have any cholesterol but the oils concerned me some However I do enjoy them usually once or twice a week I consider it my cheating

  7. Nice article Rich, thanks! I wonder what they really use as natural flavor: Could they use meat extract? Many “vegetable” comercial product (for exaple soups) contain meat extract, and I as a vegeterian have to carefully read the ingredients to avoid this deceit. But what can one do when the information is concealed by this label “natural flavor”?

    1. This is the mystery behind “natural flavor” haha! We don’t actually know and they don’t have to disclose! Thanks!

  8. While eating whole, unprocessed foods is always best- everyone wants a treat or splurge now and then. my body can’t process meat. It has always made me sick.

    I agree it’s probably best not to eat these frequently, but the same could be said for a real burger.

    Thanks for breaking down all the ingredients and their risks/benefits!

  9. I eat grass fed beef no antibotics or hormones it’s way beef suppose to be eaten and actually has great benefits but only twice a month I eat them , if you do your research grass fed beef is actually healthy for you . But I’m down with trying beyond burger, I don’t agree with abuse or factory farming at all, but I get my grass fed beef from local farm which actually treats the cows good even when they kill them.

  10. It seems that the author of this post is in denial of the ethical reasons for not eating meat, the cruel treatment of animals, slaughtered in mass. No one wants to die, that includes the animals. There’s no humane way to kill an animal, simply not. If you don’t want to eat veggie burgers eat veggies in some other form. Eating animals is out of the question. This is a step in a good direction for those who crave meat flavor. I’ve been vegan for years and I find these flavors disgusting anyway so it’s just a phase, after not eating near for long time you won’t care about a burger.

    1. The purpose of this article was to just explore and explain ingredients. Your choice, or that of any other reader, is a choice to eat meat or not. I’m simply stating that the ingredients in this burger may not be the best for you. I’m sorry you see this article as pro-meat or a debate on animal rights, but it isn’t. Thanks for your thoughts!

  11. I just love how this article avoids mentioning one of the main reason people don’t want to eat meat. You say several times that people avoid beef burgers for health reasons, and that saying a beef burger would be healthier than these in the end, but I personally don’t want to eat meat because it’s MEAT!! I don’t eat other living things and I also don’t want to contribute to the enormous factory farming nightmare.

    1. You bring up good points. I’m not intentionally avoiding any opinions. I honestly wrote this article as a part of one of my clinical nutrition classes. Thanks for the feedback!

  12. Thanks for posting this well written, unbiased article Rich. I’ve eaten the beyond burger twice now (A&W), and of course it was REALLY good, however your information of what makes up this burger is what will keep me away from indulging further… more “real” homemade veggie patties for me.

  13. Thank you for the ingredients list and for breaking down the effects each individual ingredient can have on the body. I recently tried The Beyond Meat Burger for the first time and 10 minutes after consumption I had terrible cramping, bloating and gas leading me to seek out this very information. I do not see this article as biased for or against a vegan life style, but merely to unveil some of the purposefully veiled ingredients in this healthier or more humane option to animal protein. The thing is, I’ve never had the same physical reaction to let’s say Grass-Fed/Grass-Finished hamburger. I contribute my adverse reaction to the high amounts of processed ingredients, and I will no longer consume this product. I am a fan of vegetables and eating a largely plant based diet, but 2 to 3 times a week I do enjoy non-processed or minimally-processed animal protein

    1. Thank you. I appreciate the honesty and taking the time to write this. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Good luck with your nutrition!

  14. “What’s funny is that even though vegans and vegetarians want to avoid meat, they still want burgers. Go figure.”

    What an insensitive and inane comment. Why is it funny that we want to eat non-meat alternatives to foods that are familiar, foods like those we we grew up with? I never understood the omnivore view that vegans and vegetarians should be somehow forced to eat sprouts, bulgar and couscous and forgo guilty pleasures and comfort food that have always been a part of our lives. We are human just like you and subject to similar desires. We sometimes couldn’t be asked to cook a meal from scratch after a busy day, and sometimes convenience food helps take the edge off a long and arduous day.

    The comment also falls into the trap of generalizing vegans and vegetarians as health nuts. You can call yourself a vegan and eat only Oreo cookies or Sweet Chili Heat Doritos (both of which are vegan). I know a dude who weighed 375 pounds from his unhealthy vegetarian diet. He has since lost half his body weight through exercise and switching to a (mostly) whole foods diet. I’m a vegan and am in the midst of losing the extra 50 pounds I am carrying.

    We’re still human, we still socialize and want to fit in and not be the freak in the corner eating a whole pumpkin at BBQs. Of course we still want burgers, mac & cheese, hot dogs, pizza and all of the other junk foods that everyone indulges in on occasion – we just don’t want the hormones, we don’t want to exploit and objectify other living beings while eating them, we don’t want to fund the highly inefficient meat industry that contributes to 30% of global carbon emissions and pollutes our waterways, and we don’t want to expose ourselves to food borne illnesses (listeria, ecoli, botulism) and the health risks (cancer, heart disease) associated with meat consumption. The WHO has labeled beef as a Class 1 carcinogen, and you believe a beef burger is still the healthier alternative? Really?

    Is Beyond Meat a perfect solution? Of course not; but it’s a step in the right direction, and consumer demand will encourage innovation and even healthier alternatives as time goes on. As long as you approach these meat alternatives with the same caution as you would any other fast food (stick to a whole foods, plant based diet most of the time and don’t fall into being a convenience food or junk food vegan, an easy trap to fall into). But if I had to choose, I would still avoid beef burgers, considering how beef is one of the most polluting and emissions-heavy meat you can eat.

    If you’re going to recommend a meat burger over Beyond Meat, why wouldn’t the author recommend a meat that has fewer carbon emissions, like a chicken, turkey or a salmon burger? I appreciate the breakdown of the ingredients, but the author seems to miss the point behind these meat-free burgers and doesn’t have a solid grasp on the serious issues surrounding beef production.

  15. Yeast extract is not MSG. Yeast Extract contains Glutamates, and is natural. MSG is synthetically produced. It’s fermented from glutamic acid. Glutamates are naturally occurring in many forms. MSG is super concentrated synthetic Glutamates. But yeast extract isn’t MSG, just like moonlight isn’t sunlight. It contains sunlight, but is a very different light. 😁

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