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Dietitian debunks veggie burgers as a health food

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In college, I shared a dorm room with a vegetarian. Fundamentally, we had some differences; after all, she believed ranching harmed animals, damaged the planet and produced unhealthy foods, and well, I knew the exact opposite to be true.

Nonetheless, we got along pretty well, but I still couldn’t get past how stinky her beloved veggie burgers were when cooked in our small apartment. The smell alone was enough to convince me that I would happily stick to my beef burgers. Plus, I knew that my beef burgers were the healthier option.

Turns out, my feelings about veggie burgers 10 years ago are being validated today. In a recent column, registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom compares some well-marketed processed foods, like veggie burgers, to their “real” counterparts, like beef.

In the article, Rosenbloom writes, “You probably already know that real food is healthier than processed food. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real because of the way foods are marketed. Once-healthy items such as vegetables, beans and nuts can become processed foods. Even if they start out as something good, what matters most is how they end up. Foods are manipulated and then advertised with words such as “healthy,” “real” and “contains vegetables” to make them sound more nutritious than they really are — but don’t be fooled.”

Looking at popular items such as gluten free bread, veggie sticks, veggie burgers, trail mix bars, smartfood, and baked potato chips, Rosenbloom reminds consumers not to fall for the marketing hype of highly processed foods as health food.

Here is what she had to say about veggie burgers:

She writes, “Plant-based diets are healthy, so it’s a safe assumption that a veggie burger is a healthier choice than a hamburger, right? Not always. Hamburgers can be as simple as beef and salt. Veggie burgers often have 20 or more ingredients, including non-nutritive cornstarch and thickeners such as methyl cellulose.

“And although beef burgers are naturally high in protein, most veggie burgers contain wheat gluten, a cheap protein substitute (and one that’s considered a potential contributor to the increase in celiac disease diagnoses in the past decade). Some veggie burgers are made of good-quality protein from beans, lentils and soy, but they may be so highly processed that the health benefits fade away. Read ingredient lists to compare brands, and don’t make your decision based on marketing words such as ‘vegan’ and ‘all-natural.’”

Spread the word. Beef will always trump vegetable substitutes. That’s news worth celebrating, don’t you think?

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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