Plant-based burgers aren’t any healthier than eating beef – Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat just offer meat-free fast food which tastes the same
Plant-based meat substitutes may be making belated inroads onto fast food menus – but that doesn’t necessarily mean your lunch is getting healthier.
Fast food menu items created in partnership with leading brands Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are typically nutritionally similar to the originals they are imitating.
The Impossible Whopper has 630 calories; the Whopper has 660. The Impossible Whopper has 12 grams of saturated fat; the Whopper has 11. The Impossible Whopper has 1,240 grams of sodium; the Whopper has 980.
“Processed foods, whether they’re meat-based or plant-based, aren’t a nutritional need in our diet, especially when they involve low-quality oils,” said Whitney Stuart, a certified and licensed dietitian-nutritionist.
While some people are seeking plant-based products because they want healthier options, nutrition isn’t at the core of these new menu items. As one chain after another rolls out new menu items, the similarity is clear: These aren’t intended to reinvent the menu, but imitate it.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods aren’t trying to make fast food something it isn't
A few years ago, chains began adding the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger to their menus. Now, companies are creating new versions of fast-food classics, while keeping the branding.
Jose Cil, the CEO of Burger King’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, says that there was a lot of internal discussion about whether the chain should roll out a plant-based “Whopper” or an entirely new burger to avoid accidentally tarnishing the Whopper’s reputation.
“When we use the Whopper brand, it needs to be a really exceptional product,” Cil said. “The Whopper brand and heritage is so strong. People know it so well and associate it with a good, high-quality, great-tasting burger. It’s really hard to put that label on anything else.”
When imitation is the goal, pushing for a lower-calorie or lower-fat option comes second to recreating textures and flavours. The new menu items don’t have to be healthier or even 100 per cent vegan – they just need to pull off the magic trick of swapping flesh for plants.
For many people, plant-based meat isn’t tied to health at all, but reducing meat consumption to combat climate change and factory farming. Others are just curious about whether chains can turn meat into plants without anyone noticing.
Chains see people’s curiosity and have translated it into sales. The Beyond Taco and the Impossible Whopper have significantly boosted sales at Del Taco and Burger King. Down the line, chains may see another benefit of plant-based meat: lower prices.
While for now making plant-based menu items is more expensive, Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown said that in the next five years the company plans to create products that cost less than comparable animal proteins. If meat prices rise, having a plant-based option on the menu could be a way for fast-food chains to keep prices low and win over budget diners.
The makers of plant-based “meat” aren't trying to turn fast food into something it isn’t. Instead, with plant-based copycats, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are doing the opposite: betting that people want fast food that tastes exactly the same, without changing much beyond the meat. The true test is always the taste.
For many vegan and vegetarian eaters, switching to plant-based meat isn’t tied to health at all, but reducing meat consumption to combat climate change and factory farming