Dr. Joseph Sirven: Is The Impossible Whopper Healthier Than Beef?
A patient recently asked me: “Dr. Sirven, I heard about these new plant-based meat alternative products, and I wondered should give it a try to help prevent stroke as that runs in my family?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t tried them,” I said.
She said, “Can you give me an answer when I see you next time?”
Being curious, one lazy Sunday evening, my wife and I weren’t in the mood to cook and so under the guise of research, we went to a nearby Burger King drive-up to sample their “Impossible Whopper,” which is their new plant-based patty. We both ordered it with all the bells and whistles. From a taste perspective, we were astonished. It tasted just like the Whoppers that I remember. I couldn’t tell the difference between the meat version I recalled.
We both felt an odd sense of gratification that we had done our part for Mother Earth that day by avoiding meat. I even turned to my wife after the meal and told her we had consumed a "healthy" Whopper.
That glow of satisfaction slowly faded when we read the recent editorial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association from a group of Boston researchers addressing the question: How healthy are pseudo meats? The answer: not very.
There’s no cholesterol in these products — a very good thing — but at the end of the day, this is still fast food. There is a lot of salt thrown in for flavoring that still contributes to high blood pressure and kidney disease.
In order to give this food the appearance and smell of meat, heme — an iron-based compound — is added to the patty. Increased amounts of heme may lead to increased iron in the body, which has been linked to diabetes. In addition, I still had all the sides associated with these meals, which are the fries and the cheese, none of which one would consider dietetic.
So, in this very public response to my patient’s question, the fact of the matter is although we may be helping the planet, these plant-based meat alternative products may not be the healthiest choice for our individual survival.
Like everything in health, moderation is key. So the next time that we try plant-based alternative meat products, it may be: "Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce!" And while we’re at it: "Hold the fries;" "Hold the cheese;" "Hold the buns."
In sum, have it the healthy way.
Dr. Joseph Sirven is a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic.