For many, adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet is a no-brainer way to eat healthier, as well as to help the environment. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming every vegan or vegetarian food item is healthy. Sure, they might not contain any meat or animal byproducts, but they could contain other ingredients that you simply don’t want to consume.
If you’re firing up the grill this season to cook up some plant-based burgers, take a look at that ingredient list on the box first. You might find a few things lurking there that surprise you — like this handful of ingredients (some of which you might not even be able to pronounce!).
A controversial ingredient, carrageenan is a popular additive found in a range of foods, both vegan and not. Derived from seaweed, the product improves foods’ textures, but it’s not necessarily as safe as just any ol’ plant.
While some organizations say carrageenan is entirely safe for human consumption, other research disagrees, linking carrageenan to inflammation and cancer. This is one food that you’ll definitely want to eat at your own risk, weighing the pros and cons for yourself after a little bit of reading up on the research.
A similarly controversial additive, methylcellulose acts as a binding agent in several popular plant-based burgers. Unfortunately, methylcellulose is considered “ultra-processed” and, because it’s a relatively unstable ingredient, it requires the addition of even more additives wherever it’s used, in order to achieve the desired texture for a plant-based meat product.
Another difficult-to-pronounce additive, propylene glycol is generally considered safe to consume, but once you found out what else it’s in, you might think twice about eating anything that contains it. It’s also an ingredient in antifreeze, cosmetics, and e-cigarettes.
Gluten, sodium, saturated fats, and allergens
Beyond ingredients like those above that are definitely not a part of a healthful, clean, whole foods diet, it’s worth noting that you’ll find a few things in a plant-based burger that just aren’t naturally found in the burgers’ all-natural alternatives — such as gluten, excess sodium, and allergens such as soybeans. While these aren’t a concern for everyone, they are a concern for those who need to be aware of ingredients like these for existing health reasons, such as gluten intolerance, cardiovascular worries, or allergies.
Picking the Best Plant-Based Burger
Luckily, not every plant-based burger contains eyebrow-raising long lists of ingredients. As you shop for plant-based burgers in the store, look at ingredient lists and search out those burgers that are actually made with items you can pronounce and recognize. Additionally, keep an eye out for excess sodium and saturated fats.
Your best bet for the best, healthiest plant-based burgers? Just make them yourself at home. Using veggies, grains, and ingredients like beans, quinoa, walnuts, and beets, you can put together a delicious burger that hides no secrets.