Plant-based burgers fall into two main categories: veggie or black bean burgers, and meatless “meat” burgers. Veggie and black bean burgers have been around since the 1970’s. These burgers typically have a long list of ingredients with a foundation of vegetables, grains, and/or beans. They are found in the freezer section of the grocery store. Meatless burgers are a newer item and have only been around for about five years. They start with a foundation of processed protein isolates, followed by many flavorings, artery-clogging saturated fats, and binders. These ultra-processed alternatives can be found in the refrigerator case next to real beef.

The most popular veggie burger brands are Morning Star Farms and Boca, and the newer, most popular meatless burgers are Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. These days, everyone wants to know: “Are plant-based burgers healthier that real meat?”

For heart disease risk reduction and many other chronic diseases, limiting saturated fat and limiting sodium are key. Moving away from red meat is an important step towards lowering intake of saturated fat. But, we need to make sure the alternative is truly a better choice. In the chart below, you will see how real meat compares to meatless “meat” burgers, veggie burgers, and black bean burgers. With the exception of the Pritikin Foods burgers and real beef, all of these options are very high in sodium. And on top of that, all of the meatless burgers are high in saturated fat. In fact, when it comes to saturated fat, meatless burgers are comparable to real beef!

As you can see, the Pritikin Foods burgers are low in saturated fat (zero grams!) and low in sodium, placing them in the green “Go” category. An excellent guideline for sodium is to choose foods that have fewer milligrams of sodium than calories. You will notice that both Pritikin burgers – black bean and veggie – contain less sodium than calories.

The Boca and Morning Star Veggie and Black Bean Burgers belong in the yellow “Caution” category. They are low in saturated fat, but extremely high in sodium.  Real ground beef is also in the “Caution” category due to its high saturated fat.

Despite their marketed health claims, I had to place both the Beyond and Impossible meatless burgers in the “Stop” category because they are high in saturated fat AND sodium, not to mention many additives.

While the Pritikin burgers do contain less protein than their counterparts, on a plant-based diet like the Pritikin Eating Plan, protein comes from many other sources like beans, legumes, nuts, nut butters, soy, broccoli, and whole grains. If you also eat animal protein, be sure to choose options like lean white poultry, egg whites, omega-3 rich fish, and nonfat dairy.

The bottom line? Watch out for those meat imposters marketing themselves as healthy. For optimal heart disease risk reduction, choose burgers that make the grade…ones in the “Go” category that are low in sodium andsaturated fat.

Read those labels,