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Which is the Better Burger Choice: Meat or Plant-Based?

Updated: Jun 6

Spicy bean burger in a bun

Navigating the Meat vs. Plant-Based Burger Dilemma

One common question I often hear from clients is whether they should switch from a traditional meat burger to a plant-based alternative. It's a great question, and the answer isn’t always straightforward. While the term 'plant-based' may sound healthier because it comes from plants, the nutritional quality can vary significantly based on the ingredients and level of processing involved.


Understanding Ultra-Processed Foods

Many veggie burger options feature wholesome ingredients like vegetables, whole grains, and legumes such as beans or lentils, providing valuable fibre, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals. However, some 'meat alternative' burgers fall into the category of "ultra-processed food." These undergo extensive processing and often contain additives like preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial colours, and flavourings.


Unpacking Ultra-Processed Foods

The concept of ultra-processed food has gained significant attention in nutrition and public health. Although there is no universally agreed-upon definition, the NOVA classification system, embraced by organisations like the World Health Organization (WHO), defines ultra-processed foods as industrially produced products typically containing five or more ingredients. These foods often include additives not commonly used in homemade cooking, undergo extensive processing, and are designed for extended shelf life.


The Impact on Health

Ultra-processed foods are generally considered less healthy due to their high levels of added sugars, unhealthy fats, salt, and artificial additives. Additionally, these foods are engineered to be highly palatable and moorish, leading to overconsumption. Research indicates that diets high in ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases.


Finding Balance in Your Diet

While it is important to be mindful of the ultra-processed nature of some plant-based meat replacements and how they fit into your eating habits, it doesn't necessarily mean you should never eat them. As always, finding a balance is key.


These products offer convenience and incorporating them into meals alongside a variety of whole foods, such as roasted vegetables, salads, or as part of a nutritious stew or casserole can impact overall dietary quality. By taking a step back and evaluating the composition of the entire plate and the broader dietary pattern, we can better understand how individual food choices contribute to our well-being.


Opting for healthier swaps whenever possible is a helpful strategy. Cooking simpler meals at home using fresh ingredients not only gives you control over the quality of your food but also reduces your intake of fast foods and ultra-processed items high in fat and sugar.

For meat eaters, it is important to be mindful of the total amount of red meat consumed. However, if you are undergoing treatment, red meat can be a valuable source of protein and nutrients that help maintain your lean body mass. Enjoying a homemade burger made with quality lean mince and wholesome ingredients such as onions, herbs, and chilli can be both enjoyable and beneficial. Additionally, alternatives like Cajun-spiced chicken breast, chicken with chipotle, or a salmon burger provide excellent sources of protein and good nutrition without the concerns associated with excessive red meat consumption.


Whether choosing plant-based or animal-based options, prioritising less processed foods is generally the best approach.

Celebrating Plant-Based Diversity

Not all plant-based burgers are created equal. With a wide selection of options available, some are less processed and more nutritious than others. Incorporating a variety of plant-based options in your diet can enhance its balance and offer numerous health benefits, promoting overall wellness.


Spotting Ultra-Processed Foods

To tell if a food is ultra-processed, keep these tips in mind:

1.    Check the ingredients list – if there are more than five ingredients, it's likely ultra-processed.

2.    Watch out for unexpected additives like colourings, preservatives (such as potassium lactate), thickeners (like methyl cellulose or carrageenan), or additives with E numbers.

3.    Pay attention to the traffic light labels on the front of the packaging – lots of red means the food is high in sugar, fat, and salt, which are common in ultra-processed foods.


Homemade Plant-Based Burgers

Making your own plant-based burgers at home allows you to promote a whole-food, minimally processed approach to nutrition. These homemade alternatives are likely to be better for you and can be more cost-effective than store-bought options. Take a look at the delicious spicy bean burger recipe below from World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).


In Conclusion

Maintaining balance is key. Whether you prefer meat or plant-based burgers, aim for informed choices that align with your health and lifestyle. Check ingredient lists, opt for whole foods where you can, and explore various options to discover what suits you best. Also, remember that not all foods labelled as "ultra-processed" are the same, so be discerning about which foods positively contribute to your diet.

Additionally, if you are undergoing treatment, it is crucial to meet your needs for protein to maintain your lean body mass. Including animal proteins can be beneficial if you enjoy them, as they are a rich source of essential nutrients. Including lean options like chicken or fish rather than large amounts of red meat can provide the necessary protein without some of the health concerns associated with excessive red meat consumption.


Spicy Bean Burger Recipe from World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)

Serves: 2


  • 1 x 400g can mixed beans or kidney beans, drained

  • 100g sweetcorn, frozen or canned

  • 1 tablespoon coriander, chopped

  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder (to taste)

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 medium egg, yolk only

  • 30g wholemeal breadcrumbs


  1. Tip the beans into a mixing bowl and, using a large fork or hand blender, mash to form a rough paste. Mix in the sweetcorn, coriander, chilli powder and black pepper.

  2. Add the egg yolk and breadcrumbs, then use your hands to blend the ingredients so that they are mixed evenly. Shape into two burgers.

  3. Heat a griddle pan or non-stick frying pan. Cook the burgers until they are well griddled and hot all the way through. Once hot, they are ready to be served!

The choice is yours on how to enjoy the burgers best. You can place them in a bun of your choice for a classic burger experience, or go bun-free for a lighter option. These burgers pair well with sweet potato wedges and a vibrant coleslaw made from shredded vegetables like carrot, red cabbage, and onion (or apple).

Creative Side Dishes and Toppings to Try:

  • Leafy Greens: Add a bed of fresh lettuce, spinach, or kale.

  • Sliced Cucumber: Adds a refreshing crunch to your burger.

  • Grilled Portobello Mushrooms.

  • Sliced Bell Peppers: Provide sweetness and crunch.

  • Red Onion Rings.

  • Sliced Tomato or Sun-dried Tomato.

  • Sliced Gherkins.

  • Roasted Red Pepper Strips: Bring a sweet and smoky taste.

  • Sliced Jalapeños: For those who enjoy heat, jalapeños can further spice up your burger!

  • Avocado Slices or Guacamole: Adds creaminess and beneficial fats.

  • Salsa: Made from fresh tomatoes, onions, coriander, and lime juice.

  • Hummus: Spread a dollop of hummus on your bun for extra creaminess, protein and flavour.

  • A Spoonful of Greek Yoghurt or Tzatziki Sauce: Adds a cool and tangy contrast.

  • Pesto: A drizzle of basil or sun-dried tomato pesto.

  • Feta Cheese: Adds a creamy, tangy element.

  • Sliced Apple or Pear: For a different twist, try adding thin slices of apple or pear.

  • Sautéed Greens: Such as spinach or Swiss Chard can provide a hearty and nutritious topping.

  • Slow-cooked Caramelised Onions: Add sweetness and depth of flavour.

  • Sunflower or Pumpkin Seeds: Sprinkle some seeds for an extra crunch and beneficial fats.

  • Sliced Hard-Boiled Eggs: Hard-boiled egg slices add protein and a creamy texture.

Feel free to mix and match these suggestions to your heart's content!

If you are aiming to lower your cancer risk, or need support for yourself or a loved one affected by cancer, please do not hesitate to get in touch for personalised nutritional guidance.


Telephone: 020 8064 2865

Appointments: book here

The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered personalised nutrition, dietetic, or medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for personalised advice and guidance regarding your specific medical condition or dietary needs.


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