Burgers are great to have on hand for meal prep in the week. Make a batch at once, heat them up, stuff them in bread, lettuce, or pair with whatever you’ve got, and you’re set! Plus, they’re so versatile, since you can enjoy them as a big chunk of protein to go with any sides, starches, or veggies.
You can enjoy burgers for lunch and dinner, or make slides for appetizers. You can even pair with eggs for breakfast that’s high in protein. Yet, most burgers are made from beef or even turkey, and so if you are vegetarian or vegan, you’ll need a plant-based option instead.
And some veggie patties can be actually NOT so great for you after all. It really depends on the ingredients inside, how they are made, and how they’re processed.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts when choosing the right type of plant-based burger for your diet. We even included tips for making your own patties from scratch from veggies, like mushrooms, and grains and legumes, like quinoa and beans. As long as you are careful to check the labels and know what to look for, you can totally enjoy a healthy plant-based burger whenever you like!
Do: Go for simple
“When plant-based ‘meats’ are done right, in the form of vegetable burgers made with simple ingredients like lentils and vegetables, they can be a good addition to your meal,” says Sam Presicci, RD and lead dietitian at Snap Kitchen.
While this type of burger is simply not as nutritious or absorbable as actual meat, it is a good substitute for those who choose not to eat meat! The trouble starts when these burgers or meats are made too closely to resemble actual meat, which leads to a long list of less-than-stellar ingredients compared to single-ingredient animal protein.
“A burger is no longer ‘plant-based’ when it has been heavily processed and includes many different highly-processed ingredients,” one being soy, Presicci says. “Snap Kitchen makes a true veggie burger using organic beans, organic brown rice and veggies — zero soy or mega-processed ingredients — and ships across the country.”
For example, some of the most recognized brands use highly processed vegetable oils, like canola oil, and potentially inflammatory ingredients like gluten, grains, and soy, which can cause issues in some, she says.
“To make matters worse, some brands use non-organic ingredients that are either genetically modified, highly sprayed with pesticides, or both,” Presicci explains. For example, more than 90 percent of soy in the U.S. is genetically modified.
“Not only is this soy more processed and less nutritious, but it is also often heavily sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate, which has been linked to health issues including cancer,” Presicci says.
Don’t: Go by protein count
“To me, the nutrition facts panel (with macros) is less important, since the higher protein veggie burgers often have lots of fake ingredients and shouldn’t really be called veggie burgers at all,” Presicci says.
So, don’t go looking for burgers with a whopping 20 grams of protein. Instead, go with ones that are low in sodium and added sugars and have good ingredients like lentils, spices, veggies, and other legumes.
“When reading a nutrition facts panel, I recommend looking for an option with at least 5-10g of protein, <30g of carbs and some fat (we don’t need to fear it!),” Presicci advises. That’s all you need for a good plant-based option.
Do: Keep toppings clean
If you have a great veggie or plant-based burger to avoid the excess saturated fat and calories from beef or turkey, then don’t throw on unhealthy toppings like loads of condiments, fried onions, and five slices of American cheese.
Instead, go with one slice of cheese if you want, a small amount of sauce of dressing (try making your own over using globs of store-bought, processed condiments) and fresh veggies for toppings, like pickles, tomato slices, and lettuce.
Don’t: Eat several of them
You might limit yourself to one patty when it’s beef because you feel like it is heartier, higher in calories and protein, and will be more filling. And that’s the right thing to do—eat one burger for protein and then add in other sources like veggies, grains, and avocado to help add more nutrition that’s plant-based. Yet, if you are ditching meat you might think you can eat two or three plant-based burgers instead!
Whether or not they’re lower in calories than beef counterparts, this isn’t the healthy thing to do. You are not practicing portion control and there could be lots of sodium in each patty, too! Instead, keep the same rules—stick with one and then add in more ingredients for nutrition elsewhere.