Vegan Burgers Are Worse for Blood Sugar

When you have blood sugar concerns, you look for places in your diet where you can make healthy swaps. Obviously, you want to keep enjoying the delicious foods you enjoy, but you want to avoid diet pitfalls that can cause you harm. The creation of realistic vegan meats was greeted as a major achievement for health enthusiasts.

Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers are marketed as plant-based fake meat that is better for cholesterol and healthier than real meat. They are supposed to be more nutritious while tasting exactly like the real thing. As far as mimicking meat goes, the results are impressive; one person on our team ate a whole serving of Impossible chicken recently, not realizing it wasn’t a bird. But the health claims might be false.

A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who ate diets high in artificial meats for eight weeks had higher blood sugar levels than people eating normal meat.

Other studies have found that eating a vegan diet can lower the risk of serious blood sugar concerns by up to 25 percent. But those studies looked at diets made from whole foods. Fake meats are ultra-processed. They are high in saturated fats and salt.  

Since diets higher in saturated fat are associated with increased rates of both heart disease and premature death, they may not be the type to opt for if your ambitions are purely health-related,” said Emily Gelsomin, a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

People in the study were split into two groups. They ate the same diet, but one group had standard meat while the other ate products from Impossible Beef, Omni Foods, the Vegetarian Butcher and Beyond Meat. Blood tests were taken at the study’s beginning and end, and the subjects wore continuous glucose monitors. There was no difference in the two groups’ cholesterol levels. But the folks eating the vegan meat had worse sodium and blood sugar levels. They had more spikes and higher fasting sugar levels.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Haley Bishoff emphasized that the study doesn’t mean people should eat more meat. They should just be eating less processed foods. “As a registered dietitian, I encourage minimal consumption of processed foods in general, which include some plant-based meat alternatives and animal meats like sausage, hot dogs and ham,” she said.

She stressed that whole foods have fiber, omega-3s and antioxidants that are missing from ultra-processed options. She said the biggest take away is that not all vegan foods are created equal. A salad is healthier than a burger even if the burger doesn’t have meat because it has so much fat, salt and other ingredients added to it to make it taste like meat.

Many studies have shown that vegan diets can significantly boost blood sugar health. But these artificial meats are what is commonly referred to as “healthwashed.” They have been marketed as a vegan alternative to meat but don’t offer a vegan health benefit over meat.

When you want a burger, enjoy it and be mindful of portion size. Don’t overdo it, and don’t have one every day of the week. Enjoying meat sometimes as part of a healthy diet is a healthier choice than opting for an ultra-processed artificial version of meat.

Banner image: Daniel Ore via Pexels

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