Food, Health and Wellness

Plant-based foods: coming to a fast food chain near you

I’m honestly excited that plant-based meals are becoming more and more the norm in restaurants and grocery stores than they ever have before. It’s easier than ever to eat a plant-based diet and you can find plant-based options coming even to fast food chains these days.

The Impossible Burger (TM) Whopper now available at Burger King

In recent months, we’ve seen Burger King announce their addition of the Impossible Whopper to their menu lineup. I just want to shout out to Burger King here, because they first introduced their BK Veggie burger (not vegan, like the Whopper) in 2002 – way before this trend got legs. I remember enjoying it as a treat in college when I was not eating meat.

It’s also been teased that Subway is rolling out a meatless meatball sub sandwich, and that KFC has a meatless chicken nugget available in the Atlanta market this week. You can now get meatless taco meat in bowls and tacos at Qdoba. Other chains that offer plant-based fast food options include White Castle, Red Robin and Dunkin Donuts (soon to expand nationally with a plant-based breakfast sandwich), and you can find Beyond burgers in grocery stores and Impossible burgers in many other local restaurants.

KFC debuted Beyond Fried Chicken in an Atlanta store and sold out of the product in just five hours this week.

I think it’s great that someone who doesn’t eat meat has options at their disposal in fast food and chain restaurants, but I do think that it reinforces that the only appealing way to eat a plant-based diet is to rely on American staples (tacos, bugers, fried sandwiches) that are far from healthy, even if they are plant-based. At what point can we state that eating so much red meat is not the ONLY health risk that an American diet poses, but that highly processed foods and the way they are prepared are also a contributing issue?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have tried the Impossible and Beyond burgers at restaurants and I’m on-board – they are delicious and a much better duplicate for a burger than most veggie burgers. That being said, they’re not a health food option and I don’t think that they should be treated as such. I think it’s dangerous to convey a message that you’re enjoying the nutritional equivalent of a green salad by eating a processed veggie burger with a side of french fries.

See the nutritional comparison between a beef and Impossible burger from Healthline below:

While equal in calories, the Impossible Burger is highly processed and contains more carbs and a LOT more sodium than a real burger. It contains ingredients you might not be able to pronounce like konjac gum, xanthan gum, and soy protein isolates. I like to know what is in my food, and highly processed foods become questionable when you can’t define what an ingredient is.

I haven’t tried KFC’s Beyond Chicken Nuggets, but if they expand to other markets, I’ll give it a try. My parents actually relocated to Kentucky last month and I’m sure it’ll make an appearance in the Lexington market sooner rather than later. Here’s a nutritional comparison of Beyond nuggets vs. KFC popcorn chicken.

Plant-based items are good for the environment in that meat production has a high cost for our environment. My husband still eats meat and we strive to reduce our environmental footprint by purchasing meat that is raised in an ethical way in our local community. That being said, with us eating a sodium-conscious diet because of high blood pressure, I would not encourage him to eat an Impossible burger.

Image by Roberto Rizzo from Pixabay

I’m happy to see plant-based foods being normalized in our culture. That being said, I hope that people who opt for a plant-based diet will seek creative ways to craft satisfying recipes using whole food ingredients. The heart health benefits of eating a diet lower in red meat can quickly be countered by a diet high in sodium, saturated fats and highly processed foods.

What are your thoughts on the rise of plant-based proteins in our food culture?

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