The Meat vs. Plant-Based Burger Dilemma
One common question my clients often ask is whether they should swap out a meat burger for a plant-based meat alternative burger. It's a great question, and the answer is, "not necessarily."
Unpacking Ultra-Processed Foods
Many of these 'meat alternative' burgers fall into the category of "ultra-processed food." The concept of ultra-processed food has gained significant attention in the field of nutrition and public health recently.
The Characteristics of Ultra-Processed Foods
While there isn't a universally agreed-upon definition, a widely accepted definition of ultra-processed food comes from the NOVA classification system, developed by nutrition researchers, and embraced by organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Ultra-processed foods are industrially produced products that typically contain five or more ingredients. These ingredients often include additives not commonly used in homemade cooking, such as preservatives, emulsifiers, artificial colours, and flavourings. These foods undergo extensive processing, are pre-packaged, and can be ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat items. They are designed to have extended shelf life.
The Impact on Health
In terms of their impact on health, ultra-processed foods are generally considered less healthy because they tend to be high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, salt, and artificial additives while lacking essential nutrients like fibre. Additionally, these foods are intentionally crafted to be highly palatable and moreish, often resulting in excessive consumption.
Finding Balance in Your Diet
But does this mean we should never enjoy these foods? As always, it's all about moderation – how frequently we include them and how they fit into the overall balance of our eating habits. Excessive consumption of these foods can leave little room in our diets for more nourishing options. A valuable strategy is to prioritise healthier swaps whenever feasible. Aim to incorporate more whole foods into your diet, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils. Additionally, consider preparing simpler meals at home if this feels manageable for you.
If you are a meat eater, while it’s important to be mindful of the amount of red meat in your diet, occasionally enjoying a homemade burger (quality lean mince, onion, herbs, and a hint of chilli) can be a pleasurable choice for those who enjoy meat. If you are looking for an alternative to the classic beef burger, consider Cajun-spiced chicken breast, chicken with chipotle, or a salmon burger - all nourishing, satisfying, and unprocessed options.
Celebrating Plant-Based Diversity
It is important to remember that not all plant-based burgers are created equal. There is a wide range of plant-based burger options available, some of which may be less processed and more nutritious than others. A variety of plant-based options can contribute to a well-balanced diet and offer a multitude of benefits, enhancing your dietary diversity and supporting your health and wellness.
Homemade Plant-Based Burgers
Making your own plant-based burgers at home is an excellent way to promote a whole-food, minimally processed approach to nutrition. These homemade alternatives are likely to be better for you, as they allow you to create burgers using nutrient-rich ingredients such as peas, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Additionally, this approach can be a more cost-effective option, helping you maintain a balanced and budget-friendly diet.
The key takeaway is balance. Embrace plant-based options and consider making your own burgers as a wholesome choice. When choosing plant-based alternatives in the shops, check the ingredient list. Look for products with shorter, more natural ingredient lists, avoiding items with excessive sugar, salt, and fat. Simpler ingredients often indicate a less processed choice. Also provided are animal protein suggestions to diversify your diet for those who enjoy these foods. The choice between meat and plant-based burgers depends on your unique dietary requirements and personal preferences. Keep exploring and experimenting to find what best aligns with your health and lifestyle.
A Tasty Recommendation from World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)
I really like the simplicity and ease of preparation of these spicy bean burgers recommended by WCRF.
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
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.
Add the egg yolk and breadcrumbs, then use your hands to blend the ingredients so that they are mixed evenly. Shape into two burgers.
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).
Elevate Your Burger: 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.
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!