Last week, Burger King announced that a vegan version of its signature Whopper was going to be rolled out nationally by the end of the year.
The Impossible Whopper – which uses a plant-based patty from Impossible Foods – is meant to target both vegetarians and meat-eating customers who want a more balanced diet.
However, experts’ reactions to and opinions of the new menu item have varied.
Some say it’s a good option for those who want to eat less red meat and that it will help tackle greenhouse gases that affect climate change.
Others say that the burgers are high in fat and sodium and that, at the end of the day, it’s no healthier as a classic beef burger.
Some experts believe Burger King’s new Impossible Whopper (left) is more environmentally friendly and will help cut down on greenhouse gases while nutritionists argue that it’s not much healthier than a beef burger (right)
WHAT IS THE IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER?
The Impossible Whopper is a vegetarian version of Burger King’s famous sandwich.
There’s controversy on whether or not the burger is actually vegan because one of its ingredients was reportedly tested on rats, but the company insists it is vegan.
In April, the burger chain began testing the new sandwich in certain locations in St Louis, Missouri.
Last week, Burger King announced it will be offering the burger in all of its stores by the end of the year.
The burger uses a patty from Impossible Foods, a California-based company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products.
Here is a list of the 21 ingredients that make up the new burger, which debuted in 2019:
- Soy Protein Concentrate
- Coconut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Natural Flavors
- Two percent or less of all the following: Potato Protein
- Yeast Extract
- Cultured Dextrose
- Food Starch Modified
- Soy Leghemoglobin
- Soy Protein Isolate
- Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E)
- Zinc Gluconate
- Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
- Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C)
- Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Vitamin B12
HOW HEALTHY IS IT COMPARED TO RED MEAT?
There has been a nearly 600 percent increase in Americans who identify as vegan over the last three years.
In 2014, just one percent of Americans did compared to six percent in 2017, according to a report from analytics company GlobalData.
Research has long shown that a diet high in red meat, such as burgers, steaks, sausages and pork chops, can trigger cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, the World Health Organization says that eating large amounts of processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
However, Adena Neglia, a registered dietitian at Brown & Medina Nutrition in New York City, told DailyMail.com that she leans towards beef burgers from a health perspective.
Impossible Food’s four-ounce patty is listed at 240 calories and, while ground beef can vary, the same size patty with about 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fatty is roughly 290 calories.
‘With the plant-based burgers, they do a decent job of getting a good amount of protein,’ Neglia said. ‘They get typically 19 to 20 grams in there – similar to beef, which may have a few grams more.’
NUTRITIONAL FACTS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER…
Serving size: Four ounces
Calories: 240 calories
…AND NUTRITIONAL FACTS OF A BEEF BURGER
Serving size: Four ounces
Calories: 290 calories
An Impossible Whopper contains about 19 grams of protein and while the traditional Whopper contains about 31 grams of protein.
‘The fat is pretty much the same but the Impossible Burger is high in saturated fat, which isn’t great,’ said Neglia.
Research that has shown that saturated fats raise your LDL, or ‘bad’, cholesterol, which is a marker of heart disease.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER INGREDIENTS?
Another ingredient is soy leghemoglobin, a protein that comes from genetically modified yeast.
Impossible Foods uses to make its burger get that ‘bloody’ look and to make it taste similarly to meat, unlike traditional veggie patties.
‘That’s [the ingredient] I’m concerned with,’ Rochelle Sirota, a registered dietitian at Roc Nutrition in New York, told DailyMail.com
“When you get into soy, if it isn’t GMO-free, it has been modified to withstand application of Roundup.’
The weedkiller has been at the center of the news after juries in two high-profile court cases declared that Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
At the end of the day, the nutritionists say that the Impossible Whopper is a processed food.
‘I would not say they’re not much healthier than beef burgers,’ Neglia said.
‘They’re so much good nutrition we’re getting from grass-fed beef and with the Impossible Burger, we’re getting GMO foods, colors, flavorings. I would recommend going with the simple cleanest option.’
Registered dietitian Tammy Lakatos Shames, one half of the the Nutrition Twins in New York City, is a fan of the new burger. but told DailyMail.com that all the trimmings can add up in calories.
‘You’re probably getting it with condiments, with a bun, with fries on the side, with a soda,’ she said. ‘So although it’s a step in the right direction, you may not be getting something so waist-line friendly.
IS IT MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY?
Health experts say that limiting red meat consumption not only is better for a longer lifespan but better for the planet.
‘The Impossible burger is an important starting point when we look at climate change because agriculture is huge contributor,’ Dr Chris Field, a professor for interdisciplinary environmental studies at Stanford University in California, told DailyMail.com
Dr Field estimates that about 25 percent of global warming comes from meat-based agriculture.
‘It’s a combination of deforestation, the methane from cattle and sheep, and the emissions from fertilizer,’ he said.
Reports have found that about 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, 20 percent from soil fertilization and seven percent from manure management.
‘If cattle are grass-fed and they’re not bred to too many per area, then it doesn’t leave as much of an environmental footprint,’ said Dr Field, who says the founder of Impossible Foods is a former Stanford colleague.
‘People do need to understand that the impact of meat-based agriculture is really large and, personally, I’m thrilled to see range of options to help address the issue,’ he said.
But Sirota, the dietitian, said she doesn’t believe the Impossible Whopper is so environmentally friendly.
‘From what I’ve read, soy itself is bad for climate change and one of the ingredients is soy protein concentrate,’ she said. ‘I believe we’re going in the wrong direction.’
According to a 2016 report from think tank Chatham House, between 70 and 75 percent of global soy is used as feed for animals such as pigs and cows.
This resulted in tropical deforestation, particularly in the Brazilian Amazon.
‘I just don’t understand the point of someone trying not to consume meat and then eating something that tastes just like meat,’ Sirota said.