Plant- vs. soy-based burgers: Which one is healthier?

Click to play video: 'A look inside veggie burgers: What you need to know about soy-, plant-based burgers'
A look inside veggie burgers: What you need to know about soy-, plant-based burgers
WATCH: A look inside veggie burgers – May 7, 2019

Meatless burgers are having a moment, and one burger brand in particular is leading the conversation.

Last week, U.S.-based company Beyond Meat — a brand that specializes in plant-based products — started selling its burgers in 3,000 Canadian grocery stores on May 1.

Although the burgers were already available at some grocery stores in cities like Toronto, the burgers will now be sold in Loblaws, Longos, Metro, Fresh Street Market, Co-op Food Stores, Save on Foods, Sobeys and Whole Foods Market.

READ MORE: Beyond Meat launching in Canadian stores amid race to build a better veggie burger

The brand previously partnered with fast-food chain A&W to create a line of vegetarian burgers. After success and high demand, the burgers made their way into grocery stores.

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Meatless burgers are nothing new — vegetarian and vegan burgers have been around for years — but recently, brands have been experimenting with soy-free options.

The Beyond Burger. Credit: Getty Images.

Abbey Sharp, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook, said this is the best time to look into plant-based burgers or meatless burgers in general.

“The main difference is the protein source — it’s often either soy and/or wheat protein or pea protein (with brown rice and mung beans) in the case of Beyond Meat burgers,” she explained.

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“Other burgers (especially homemade ones) may utilize beans, nuts and other grains in their base. Beyond Burger has also differentiated itself in that it ‘bleeds’ like a burger because it has beet juice in it for colour.”

Several brands already offer plant-based burgers: Amy’s Kitchen, Wholly Veggies, Sol Cuisine and more.

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Is one healthier?

Sharp said one is not healthier than the other. In fact, it comes down to personal preference and your body’s needs and goals.

“Some people have an intolerance to wheat or soy and would want to choose an option without those ingredients,” she said. “However, people with severe nut allergies may want to be cautious with introducing pea protein as they are both legumes so there is a possibility of allergy.”

And while soy may have gotten a bad reputation in the past, Sharp added there is nothing unhealthy about soy-based protein.

“Soy protein is nutrient-dense and a great vegan option. Assuming there are no allergies or an intolerance, I think there’s absolutely room for enjoying a wide range of plant-based protein, including soy, wheat, rice, and pea, in your diet.”

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Speaking with Global News previously, Vancouver-based registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen said consumers should be more concerned about what soy promises for your overall health.

For example, health claims state that eating 25 grams of soy can improve your heart health, evidence has to show this can happen, she said.

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“The FDA didn’t have much solid human clinical evidence to support the claim in the first place,” she previously said. “Because of the claim, it was desirable for manufacturers to add isolated soy proteins to all manner of food — bread, protein bars and cereals — in order to garner the health halo the claim offers. Now, they can no longer do that.”

She recommended eating whole, non-GMO soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame and soy milk made from whole beans. And instead of just focusing on soy-based burgers, hot dogs or other meat alternatives, aim for a variety of protein sources.

Buying vegetarian/vegan burgers

When choosing a veggie or vegan burger, Sharp said we should always carefully read packaging.

“I would compare labels to look for an option with higher amounts of protein and fibre and lower amounts of sodium and saturated fat,” she said.

But how often should we be eating these types of burgers — plant-based and soy-based?

“I am a big fan of including more plant-based options and meals in your week — it’s not just for meatless Mondays,” she said. “The plant-based burgers on the market today are generally nutrient-dense and lower in fat and calories than fast-food beef burgers so if they stand in for a few weekly drive-thru visits, I think we’re in great shape.”

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READ MORE: Is soy healthy? While it’s not a ‘magic bullet,’ it can still be good for you

Sharp said we should also be more mindful of our toppings when it comes to choosing a “healthier” burger.

“Choose lower-sugar, lower-fat condiments like grainy mustard and fresh veggies instead of mayo or ketchup, and serve it with a colourful salad and a whole-grain bun for a really well-balanced meal,” she said. “With grilling season upon us, I would have no qualms about serving a meal like this to my family as often as the craving hits.”

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