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Burger War: Is a plant patty always better for you than beef? – National

Herbal burger and sausage patties, ground "meat" and more burst into food corridors and fast food chains across Canada, often promising the texture and taste of the meat they imitate.

And at a time when Canada Food Guide suggests that Canadians emphasize plant protein in their diets, they may seem tempting options.

But some experts, such as Advisory Dietician Rosie Schwartz, warn against changing real meat for the false things and say that these herbal alternatives are not always as healthy as they are designed to be:

"People give it a prized health halo."

Beyond Meat, a company whose burger and sausage spatulas have appeared all over Canada in recent months, says on its site that it uses plant proteins, fats and minerals to "build up meat from scratch without sacrificing taste and texture".

The ingredient list for its burger patty contains things like "pea protein isolate", coconut oil, rice protein, methyl cellulose, sunflower lecithin and potato starch, as well as color juice extract for color.

For these reasons, Schwartz calls Beyond Burger and products as "ultra-treated foods" – a kind of food that many recent studies have linked to various health problems.

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Beyond Meats protein is heated, cooled and put under pressure to create fibrous structure of meat, says Will Schafer, vice president of marketing for Beyond Meat in an email statement.

"We believe it is a story of two processes between industrial livestock production and our way of changing the animal to build burgers and sausages directly from plants, and ultimately it is up to the consumer they are more familiar with."

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Ultra-processed foods contain "little, if any, intact food," says Amanda Nash, a registered dietitian with Heart & Stroke. They are often ready to eat and contain ingredients that would be difficult to do in a regular kitchen – usually the result of several industrial processes.

A new clinical study offered people either a diet of highly processed foods or one that contained more whole foods and found that people on the ultra-treated diet ate about 500 calories each day than the other group, gaining some weight in the process.

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Another study published last week by Heart & Stroke found that a diet high in extremely processed foods was associated with increased likelihood of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.

"It leads to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, to an increased risk of depression and there is also association with all causes of mortality," said study author Jean-Claude Moubarac, an associate professor of nutrition at the Université de Montréal.

"They have different nutritional problems," he said.

"We know they're loaded with free sugar, sodium or saturated fat, and often it's two or three of them. And they have little fiber, protein and minerals."

Many people choose meat alternatives for ethical or environmental reasons, says Schwartz and reduced environmental footprint and improved animal welfare are two things that Beyond Meat emphasizes in their marketing.

But, Schwartz said, "If you eat a lentil-based burger or whole grain vegetables as a burger, then you make a good choice when it comes to health – both the planet and human health."

Her problem with herbal meats is: "People think they are called herbal, they must be healthy."

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When examining the Beyond Meat Burger offered at A&W fast food restaurants, she found that it was very high in sodium, and the chain's Mama Burger has fewer calories and less fat, but also less protein. According to Beyond Meat, its products are a "better for you" option that has more protein and iron than a steak burger with less fat.

While agreeing that there are benefits to a whole diet diet, Schafer said: "It's not the reality of how most consumers eat, so we want to meet them where they are traveling and give another option."

Almost half of the Canadian daily calories are currently from extremely processed foods, according to the Heart & Stroke study.

So what are you gonna do on the grill this long weekend?

If it's just a temporary treatment, Schwartz says that a Beyond Burger or similar vegan imitation meat is good. You can eat real meat too – just a small portion, she said.

"The problem with the investigation with meat is not just eating meat, it's the meat's size," she said. The Canada Food Guide and a new report from the American Institute of Cancer Research don't say you have to cut out red meat altogether, just limit the amount.

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For a good barbecue option that still contains meat, Schwartz recommends kebabs with beef and vegetables.

In general, she would rather eat more whole foods and if they choose a packaged food, they examine the sodium content label and see if it contains whole ingredients:

"When you cut down on a food or nutrient, pay attention to what you are replacing with it."

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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