Some of my vegetarian associates have requested my opinion on the new meatless burger that a national food chain has introduced. The truth is, I haven’t tried it personally — but I have researched its ingredients.

To begin, the meatless burger is 0% beef, just as it states. It is made with heme, a protein from the roots of soy plants that creates a meaty flavor. A 4-ounce patty contains 240 calories, and that is without the bun and toppings. With those, it adds up to about 630 calories.

However, there are 14 grams of fat (8 of which are saturated) and 370 milligrams sodium in the patty alone. With the toppings, there are 34 grams of fat (11 are saturated) and 58 carbohydrates.

How does this compare with America’s favorite fast food, the beef patty?

A 4-ounce patty served at most fast food institutions is 80% lean beef and 20% fat. It contains 284 calories (674 with bun/toppings) and 22 grams of fat containing 8.6 gram of saturated fat, 1.4 grams of trans fat, 0.6 grams of polyunsaturated and 9.8 grams of monounsaturated fats.

Translation: the fat content is not good.

Saturated fats raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “healthy”) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “lousy”) cholesterol levels, which may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fat is created during hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable oils into semi-solid, partially hydrogenated oil, which is believed to contribute to heart disease.

Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are actually healthier fats and contribute to lowering cholesterol. In comparison, the saturated fat content of both “burgers” is about the same, but the beef burger has more trans fat (1.4 grams). Without the bun and toppings, the beef burger has no carbohydrates and the sodium content is far less but the meatless burger has 58 carbohydrates, with a higher sodium count.

Calorie-wise, they are pretty much the same.

The national food chain burger in question has 630 calories, 58 grams of carbohydrates and 34 grams of fat, 11 of which are saturated. Its sodium content is 1,080 milligrams, almost half of a daily allowance.

It comes down to eating meat versus eating vegetarian. If a vegetarian truly wants to eat clean, there are healthier, meatless, vegetarian options available. Caution is advised with a lot of fast food menu options.

I always recommend my patients to eat beef in moderation and substitute in recipes with turkey and chicken whenever they can. Beef does have some nutritional value but its fat content is the problem — as it is with the meatless “burger.” My advice is to be an educated consumer and find healthier fat alternatives.

There ARE actually alternative meatless products that are much better for you. Gardein and Morningstar Farms, for instance, have plant-based ground products that can be successfully substituted in many recipes. A three-quarter cup of it, with only 65-120 calories has only 2 grams of fat and 9 carbohydrates. They do, however, have about 340 milligrams of sodium so you need to mindful of that when seasoning a meal.

Try the ground meat substitute in this taco recipe:

Use one package or 1 pound of the ground meat substitute product. Mix 1 tablespoon chili powder, a half-teaspoon Kosher salt, a three-quarter teaspoon cumin, a half-teaspoon of dried oregano, a quarter-teaspoon of garlic powder; a quarter-teaspoon of onion powder and a half-cup of tomato sauce.

Add it to the ground meat and mix well. Place the seasoned meat in a pan with a little extra virgin olive oil and cook over medium heat until it is warmed through. Serve in corn taco shells, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese and peppers. Enjoy!

(Candy Work is a certified physician assistant and registered dietician. She has been practicing at Olean Medical Group since 2015.)

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

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