Plant-based burgers are hot, but are they healthier?

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At 21, University of Georgia junior and budding journalist Gabriela Miranda is a self-described carnivore.

"I love meat," Miranda says. "I'm from Puerto Rico, so we eat a lot of meat, a lot of pork."

Interning this summer with the FOX 5 I-Team, Miranda was willing to give plant-based burgers a try, but she smiled when she picked up a ground beef burger with cheese from a local burger joint.

"I love the texture. It's nice and juicy," Miranda says, examining the burger. "It's a little bit pink, and not too well done."

She admits eating meat sometimes weighs her down and zaps her energy. So she was willing to try two hot new plant-based burgers: the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger. But before we get to that, what's in these things?

The Beyond Burger has 22 ingredients, and the Impossible Burger has 21. Dr. Sharon Bergquist, an internist at Emory University Hospital, says the goal is to mimic meat.

"The primary ingredient is protein, and that's what differentiates the two," Dr. Bergquist says. "Beyond Burger is pea protein; the Impossible Burger uses a soy protein."

Bergquist says the two plant-based burgers are nutritionally similar to ground beef patties if you're looking at the amount of protein, fat, and calories.  

"But if you broke it down by the type of fat and the type of protein, that's where you see the difference," Dr. Bergquist says.

Beef, she says, contains animal protein, which studies have shown can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, even dying early.

But the plant-based protein in these burgers, Berquist says, may actually lower your risk of those same diseases.  

"If you look at it that way, of course, a plant-based burger is going to be healthier than a regular burger, even with the same calories, fat, and protein," Bergquist says. "But, if you ask the question, are these healthy foods? No. These products are processed, and you're always going to be better off just having whole ingredients that aren't processed. You avoid the sodium, you avoid the additives, the fillers."

So what about the taste and the texture? 

"I'm a little bit scared," Miranda laughs. "I've never had any substitute for meat."

She starts with the Beyond Burger.

"So, it looks a little pinkish," she says. "I'm nervous about the texture. It does not look like meat to me."
But when Miranda takes a bite, she smiles.

"The taste is good," she says.  "It's not as strong a taste as meat, as a regular burger, but I definitely like the taste."

The Impossible Burger looks more like the real thing, Miranda says.

"It has that brown texture, and looks juicy," she says.  "So, I'm excited about that."

But when Miranda bites into it, she pauses.

"This one, I don't like as much," Miranda says. "This one definitely doesn't taste anything like meat. The texture is a little bit different, it's a softer, chewier, not a juicy kind of sensation.  And it's weird because it looks just like meat, it has the pink in it and everything.  But I just wasn't feeling the taste."

If she had to choose between the two plant-based burgers, Miranda says she would go with the Beyond Burger. Still, she is surprised at how much she liked the faux burgers.

Miranda says she might even be willing to give up her beloved ground beef burger, but only every once in a while.