Are New Meatless Burgers Actually Nutritious?

An ‘Impossible Whopper’ at a Burger King restaurant. PHOTO: MICHAEL THOMAS/GETTY IMAGES

Plant-based burger makers say their products are better for the planet than beef. Whether they are better for consumers’ health is a different question.

Debate over the nutritional merits of patties made from soy, peas, coconut and other plants is growing as meatless products stampede into tens of thousands of supermarkets and restaurants, and their manufacturers rush to ramp up production.

Beyond Meat Inc. BYND -10.42% and Impossible Foods Inc. say their plant-based products contain less cholesterol and saturated fats than other meats. Some nutritionists point out that they contain almost as many calories and more sodium than beef and that they are highly processed.

“People assume that because it’s plant-based, it’s instantly healthy food,” said Desiree Nielsen, a dietitian who advises clients on eating and hosts a vegetarian cooking show on Amazon Prime. “That’s clearly not the case.”

Ethan Brown, Beyond’s chief executive, said his company’s products are a clear nutritional improvement on beef. “Are we a lot better, from a health perspective? Absolutely,” he said.

Beyond’s shares have rocketed nearly eightfold since the company’s May initial public offering, putting the company’s current value at $11.8 billion. Late Wednesday, Beyond conducted a sale of 3.25 million shares at $160 each. Meanwhile, Impossible in May raised $300 million in new funding from private investors, valuing the company at $2 billion.

Burger King said Thursday it plans to add a plant-based Impossible Whopper at its more than 7,000 U.S. restaurants beginning Aug. 8., expanding on a test earlier this year.

Chris Finazzo, Burger King’s president for North America, said the plant-based patties contain less calories, fat and cholesterol than traditional Whoppers, and have drawn new customers to the chain in seven test markets. The suggested price of $5.59 is about a dollar more than for a regular meat Whopper.

“We think the health benefits and environmental benefits make it attractive to our guests,” Mr. Finazzo said in an interview.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, Jacob Bunge and Heather Haddon