Veggie Burgers taking over menus

As more and more restaurants add veggie burgers to the menu, it’s worth asking – are they healthier?  Certainly the trend capitalizes on the belief that they are.  Vegetarians and vegans are estimated to total less than 10% of the population.  So meat eaters are also buying them, thanks to the Health Halo.

Smashburger now offers a black bean burger, made with beans, blue corn tortillas and bread crumbs.  Compared to a Boca Burger, it’s bigger, but still a modest 230 calories per burger.  It’s higher in sodium and fiber, and has a modest protein and fat content compared to meat burgers.  The Boca Burger is higher in protein, probably because it’s made with soy.  The Luna Grill in southern California offers a very popular 1/3 lb veggie burger, but it only has a reported 5 grams of protein.  Considering it’s topped with hummus, this sandwich could be high calorie.

Whether you get your veggie burger at a restaurant or the grocery store, some nutritional issues will be significant:

  • a veggie burger will contain fiber, possibly significant amounts.  Meat-based burgers will not
  • depending on what vegetables are used, it may contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals not found in a meat burger
  • a veggie burger may be relatively high sodium, depending on how many seasonings were used to make it tasty
  • it will probably be low fat, unless lots of higher fat toppings are added (hummus, mayo-based sauces, cheese)
  • protein will vary from one burger to another, and will likely be lower than a meat burger.  The protein content will depend on how much of the burger is beans, whether soybeans were used and how much of the burger is vegetables, which are low protein.
  • the texture will be more crumbly than that of meat-based burgers.
  • the taste will be unique to the recipe used by the restaurant or manufacturer.  While beef patties pretty much all start out tasting like beef, the flavor of veggie burgers will be unpredictable.  You might love the burger at one restaurant, but dislike grocery stores varieties and other restaurant versions.
So are they healthier?  They can be in many ways, compared to meat burgers: higher fiber, lower fat and full of plant-based vitamins.  But they’re likely lower in protein, and they can be just as high calorie if they’re loaded up with cheese, hummus, quacamole and mayonnaise sauces.  One thing is certain, veggie burgers are here to stay, and the varieties will increase as restaurants experiment with ingredients and flavors.
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