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UMass study: Imitation burgers may not be healthier than beef

Beef hamburger
Ray Kelly
/
The Republican
Beef hamburger

UMass-Amherst researchers compared hamburger substitutes to the real thing - and found many of the fake burgers lacking in key nutritional factors.

The study looked at about 160 products — both beef and plant-based burgers -- and found, on average, that the meat substitutes had less protein, fewer vitamins and higher saturated fat.

One reason, according to UMass food scientist Alissa Nolden, is that some ingredients that make an alternative burger taste good also make them less healthy. Take sodium.

"Adding more salt can improve the taste and also mask unpleasant qualities of these alternative proteins," she said.

Nolden said some of the individual vegetarian products have figured out the right balance between taste and nutrients, possibly because they've been on the market longer.

And overall, the study found that veggie burgers had fewer calories.

Nolden urged consumers to check their food labels and not assume that plant-based is always healthier.

Karen is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998. Her features and documentaries have won a number of national awards, including the National Edward R. Murrow Award, Public Radio News Directors, Inc. (PRNDI) Award, Third Coast Audio Festival Award, and the Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.
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