One of the biggest food trends we’ve seen recently is an increase in the popularity of something called “plant-based eating” (ie. the Beyond Meat burger patty). Often synonymous with a vegan diet, plant-based eating is exactly what it sounds like… a diet made from mostly plants!
Now, to some people, a plant-based diet IS the same thing as a vegan diet. To me though, they aren’t quite the same; as a diet that contains MOSTLY plants with a smaller amount of animal foods is still plant-based. But that’s just my opinion!
A diet that contains more plant foods (such as fruits and vegetables) has been shown in many studies to be better for our health, and more research is consistently coming out suggesting that a diet high in plant protein and fibre is beneficial for us. Even our new Canada’s Food Guide is promoting more plant-based eating, encouraging Canadians to fill their plates with more plant foods than animal foods.
Plant-based eating has been on the rise for several years now, and as with any dietary trend, restaurants and food companies are always quick to hop on board and start cashing in. In July 2018, A&W was no different as they launched their ‘Beyond Meat’ burger here in Canada. One press release called it their most successful product launch EVER. Like, it was actually selling out in stores it was so popular. Now, part of this certainly could be because people are trying to reduce their meat consumption, but I suspect part of the popularity too is because anything plant-based these days comes with a bit of a health halo.
What’s a health halo?
It’s when we assume a food to be healthy simply based on a single fact about it (such as something being organic, or all-natural, or in this case, plant-based).
Now, as a Dietitian I’m always looking past the marketing materials. I want to know what food companies DON’T tell you on the advertisements about their products. Their dirty little secrets so to speak. Fast food companies in particular are notorious for this. They love to choose a feature of their product (such as the fact that their Beyond Meat Burger is made from plants!), then just omit the actual nutrition facts that might suggest their burger isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.
So, let’s take a look!
Here are the nutrition facts for the Beyond Meat Burger, taken from the A&W website:
So, 500 calories, 29 grams of fat, 22 grams of protein, and whopping 1110mg of sodium! For comparison’s sake, that’s more than half the sodium most people should be eating in an entire day, and more than half of the calories in this burger are coming from fat (Plant-proteins aren’t typically high in fat so I was quite surprised to see 29 grams in this burger).
What really strikes me as odd here too is the measly 3 grams of fibre! Only 3 grams?!
The burger patty itself is 231 grams by weight. 231 grams of a REAL plant-based protein source (like beans or chickpeas) would contain at least 15 grams of fibre (and only one gram of fat!) Even if the burger was say, 50% beans and 50% ‘other stuff’ it should still contain at LEAST 8 grams of fibre.
So, all of this made me suspicious that this burger isn’t exactly made from whole foods…
And here is the ingredient list:
…Yup, basically a bunch of oils, protein powders, and binders. Pretty unimpressive actually, considering how healthy they make this burger out to be in their ads.
So I was curious. How does this 500 calorie, 29 gram of fat, sodium-packed “plant burger” compare to just ordering say, a Teen burger?
Well, let’s compare! Here are the nutrition facts for a plain old Teen burger from the A&W Website:
… am I reading this right? 500 calories, with LESS fat and LESS sodium than the Beyond Meat Burger?
But I mean, the ingredient list has GOTTA be full of fillers and additives too right?
And here is the ingredient list:
(Now, both burgers come topped with A&W’s seasoning blend, and it’s listed as a separate item which is why they can state that their burger is 100% pure beef, but the above nutrition facts account for the seasoning as well)
Frankly, I think that the Beyond Meat Burger is just a sneaky marketing ploy, aimed at people who are honestly trying reduce their meat consumption and transition to a more plant-based diet. Food marketing is notorious for being full of BS, and A&W has proved time and time again that they’re no different, marketing themselves as healthier than other fast food joints because they’re more ‘natural’ and ‘close to the farm’ (remember when they used to advertise that their root beer is made of REAL, natural cane sugar? EYE ROLL!).
Unfortunately, the fact that this burger isn’t made of meat is about all it has going for it – if you choose to not eat meat for ethical reasons then it certainly makes sense to have this burger as an option. But from a health perspective you’re not doing yourself any real favours. If you think the flavour is great, great! But don’t choose the Beyond Meat Burger over a Teen burger if you don’t really love it. And maybe, just maybe, try to eat less fast food overall!
The Bottom Line
So, the bottom line is that if you are trying to eat a more whole foods, plant-based diet, A&W is probably not the place to go. There are plenty of fabulous restaurants that make great veggie burgers made from real ingredients that actually give you the benefit of eating more plants (or maybe try making some yourself at home, like my recipe for these delicious Beet and Black Bean Burgers!)
Want to read more about optimizing your plant-based diet? Click here!
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About the Author: Stephanie Hnatiuk is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer who specializes in helping athletes reach their peak potential with nutrition.