Veggies are always a good choice— or so they say. But the excess sodium, over-processed ingredients, and possibility of certain toxins (say what?!) push veggie burgers onto the Greatist dangerfood list.
Beware of the Burger — The Need-to-Know
Even though veggie burgers are made of, well, veggies, the amount of processing these ingredients go through is where the problem starts, zapping the patties of some essential nutrients. And some “veggie burgers” aren’t even made with straight up vegetables but are instead based on processed soy, which studies suggest isn’t as beneficial as natural soy Retention and changes of soy isoflavones and carotenoids in immature soybean seeds (Edamame) during processing. Simonne, A.H., Smith, M., Weaver, D.B., et al. Department of Nutrition and Food Science, 328 Spidle Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama 36849, USA. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2000 Dec;48(12):6061-9.. And on top of being highly processed, veggie burgers often have an excess amount of sodium (some brands weigh in with over 400 mg of sodium per patty!) which can lead to serious health problems like high blood pressure and kidney disease. Although ordering a veggie burger from a restaurant can seem like a healthier alternative to a beef burger, watch out— the veggies are often held together with butter or oil. Not to mention the size— most burgers are large enough to make up two to three meals and can contain upwards of 1,000 calories when loaded up with all the toppings. That’s half a day’s calories in one meal— not counting the mandatory side of fries! One report found some veggie burgers to contain a compound known to be harmful both to humans and the planet: Hexane, a by-product of gasoline refining that’s used to separate whole soybeans into soy oil, protein, and fiber. The EPA lists it as a hazardous air pollutant, and studies suggest it can even cause nerve problems leading to pain, numbness, muscle problems, problems digesting food, and a lot more Toxic neuropathy due to N-hexane: report of three cases. Sendur O.F., Turan, Y., Gurgan, A., Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Adnan Menderes University Medicine School Hospital, Aydin, Turkey. Inhalation Toxicology, 2009 Feb;21(3):210-4.!
Eat Your Veggies — Your Action Plan
Veggie burgers can be a healthy alternative to beef burgers— but there are some things to be conscious of before chowin’ down. The advantages of going veggie? Most veggie burgers contain less than one gram of saturated fat, while most hamburgers contain between four and seven grams. At the grocery store, look for burgers with fewer than ten grams of protein— these patties are packed with vegetables and whole grains, while veggie burgers with more than ten grams of protein typically contain mostly soy protein with very little real vegetables or whole grains. And as for those neurotoxins, avoid hexane, by going with a USDA certified organic burger. The best way to ensure a healthy veggie burger? Get cookin’! There are plenty of ways to whip veggie burgers from scratch like the one below! What are your favorite vegetarian substitutes for traditionally meaty dishes? Share in the comments below!
Recipe: Healthier Veggie Burgers
By Tulika Balagopal
What You'll Need:
1 3/4 cups cooked millet (or quinoa for a gluten-free burger!) 1 can garbanzo beans 2 cups frozen spinach 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast 1 tablespoon ground flax 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or oregano) 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper to taste What to Do:
- In a microwave-safe bowl, defrost the frozen spinach. Add the garbanzo beans into the bowl and mash together.
- Add the ground flax, nutritional yeast, olive oil, millet, and seasonings. Mix well.
- Form the mixture into balls, then place them on the skillet and flatten them slightly with a spatula.
- Warm a skillet over medium heat. Cook the patties in a thin layer of oil (just so they don't stick!) until crisp and brown on both sides and heated through.
- Serve on whole wheat buns or in pita bread with your favorite veggies!
Photo by Caitlin Covington