The Impossible Whopper: Is a Healthy Fast-Food Vegan Burger Really Possible?
The patty drips blood-red and juicy. The mouthfeel is unmistakably chewy and bonafide comfort food, just like a burger is supposed to be. Only this fast food chain’s version is 100% vegan—provided you hold the mayo.
In case you haven’t heard the news, Burger King, aka “Home of the Whopper,” has teamed up with the plant-based faux-meat company, Impossible Foods, to offer the meatless “Impossible Whopper.”
By the end of 2019, all 7,400-plus Burger King locations throughout the U.S. will offer the plant-based Impossible Burger.
If you’re vegan, or simply want to reduce your intake of animal protein, is this gustatory great news? Should you hop in your car, drive to the nearest BK and sink your teeth into the plant patty with carnivorous relish (condiment pun not intended)?
Benefits of the Impossible Whopper
Let’s start with reasons why the Impossible Burger (Impossible Food’s brand-name vegan patty) should be applauded. Any foodstuff that has the potential to introduce the benefits of a plant-based diet to Americans is a step in the right direction. After all, an estimated 9 out of 10 Americans do not consume enough fruits and vegetables.
However, don’t mistake the Impossible Whopper as a surrogate for a healthy salad. As you’ll see shortly, the ingredients in the Burger King vegan patty aren’t exactly a cornucopia of green leafy veggies and cruciferous, antioxidant-rich plants.
But let’s get back to praising, rather than burying, the pairing of Impossible Foods and Burger King. In addition to the potential of getting more Americans to eat a diet primarily consisting of plants, the Impossible Whopper has a healthier environmental blueprint.
The industrial farming of beef cattle is unsustainable. It requires an inordinate amount of land, water, and feedstuff. Not to mention conventionally-raised cattle are administered antibiotics so that they can grow more quickly. In fact, an estimated 70% of all antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to farm animals for non-therapeutic purposes, says FarmSanctuary.org.
Factory farms are also prime breeding grounds for dangerous strains of e. Coli and salmonella bacteria, which collectively kill thousands and sicken over 70 million Americans a year.
For the environmental and health benefits associated with consuming less processed meat, the Impossible Burger is a boon for both vegans and carnivores.
Impossible Burger Ingredients
Before you pinch yourself and make sure you haven’t woken up in vegan heaven, proceed with caution if you plan on making the Impossible Burger a regular treat.
That’s because the ingredient that mimics the bloodiness of a meat patty—soy leghemoglobin—is essentially a genetically-modified organism. It’s a soy that’s been created in a lab to give the vegan patty the same bloody and oozing, caveman aesthetic.
Regular soy protein concentrate (the second-most used ingredient in an Impossible Burger) is problematic to begin with. Soy is one of the most common food allergens.
And although soy protein in edamame and fermented soy foods such as miso soup and tempeh, contain health-benefiting plant chemicals called isoflavones, soy leghemoglobin is not the same as fermented or whole soybean.
In fact, the Center for Science in the Public Interest was very concerned about the FDA fast-tracking and approving heme as a nutrient that’s “Generally Regarded as Safe” (GRAS). The CSPI was concerned about the potential carcinogenic effects about this Frankenfood soy product. The consumer advocacy group states in an online letter that there is “Strong evidence that heme contributes to the carcinogenic mechanisms associated with red and processed meats.” The bottom line is that since soy heme is a new ingredient, there’s no long-term studies to assess whether it’s safe when consumed in large amounts.
Are Vegan Burgers Healthy?
Plant-based meat substitutes have sure come a long way. Remember when the only alternative in supermarket shelves was garden burgers? Garden burgers are guilty of containing processed soy, which is a nutrient of concern for women because it has estrogen-like properties and binds to estrogen receptors, potentially causing the hormonal imbalance known as estrogen dominance. Certain cancers such as breast and ovarian are linked to estrogen dominance.
But in the mission to create the impossible, a plant-based burger that looks, tastes and feels just like a regular beef patty, have the good-intentioned folks at Impossible Foods forgotten a key tenet of healthy eating? And that main principle is to eat real food, not highly-processed food.
Considering the immense popularity of the Impossible Whopper, perhaps nutrition experts need to adjust their advice to eat a plant-based diet, and instead advocate eating a diet rich in unprocessed, plant foods.
If you’re craving an Impossible Burger, go ahead and have one. Just don’t make it a frequent addition to your diet. If it’s something bloody-looking and plant-based you desire, go with the other leading brand of mock meats: Beyond Burger from the company, Beyond Meat. Beyond Burger patties owe their red tint to beet juice rather than soy heme.
And good news if you like Beyond Meat. Carl’s Jr., another fast-food giant, has recently announced that it will feature Beyond Burger patties in an upcoming plant-based burger.
If you really want the healthiest vegan burger, make one at home with SmartBuns and Beyond Burgers. Choose our Alternasweets Ketchup that is sugar and carb free. High fructose corn syrup is found in most ketchup which prevents your brain from recognizing signals from leptin, the so-called “satiety hormone.”
There are also other ingredients of concern in the Impossible Whopper. The bun contains highly-processed wheat. And the two primary oils in the burger are coconut and sunflower. Now, many people believe coconut oil is healthy. While it may be a healthier alternative to highly-processed vegetable oils, for certain people, the large amount of saturated fat may be harmful for cardiovascular health. As for sunflower oil, it’s high in omega-6 fatty acids, a nutrient that Americans consume far too much.
Nonetheless, it’s exciting that a massive fast food chain like Burger King has seemingly done the impossible. However, be aware that your patty will most likely be cooked on the same revolving broiler that cooks beef patties; cross-contamination is possible. Most likely, Burger King will eventually reserve non-meat broilers. Until then, ask the cashier if it’s possible to have your Impossible Whopper cooked sans broiler. Life is short, enjoy an Impossible Whopper every now and then if you must have your plant-based comfort food and eat it, too.
Judd Handler is a health writer and certified Metabolic Typing Advisor and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition therapist.