There's a new anti-alternative meat campaign showing up in major US newspapers, paid for by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a public relations firm whose financial supporters have included meat producers and others in the food industry, according to The New York Times. These lobbyists are telling consumers that the alternative meats are “ultra-processed imitations” with numerous ingredients and are no better for you than real beef, and in some cases are worse. The counter-argument is that meat substitutes are better for the planet and humans, and that the meat industry is fighting back because they are losing the battle and the war. “It’s a point of pride to have that organization come after us,” said Pat Brown, Impossible Meat’s chief executive. “It’s hard to imagine a stronger endorsement.”

So is it healthier to eat a non-meat burger? A new study on how each pattie is metabolized in the body is underway, according to Dr. Frank Hu, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Replacing a hamburger with a plant burger is not an improvement in diet unless you think of it as a “transitional food” for people who are trying to adopt more healthful diets.

'The bigger question remains: Are these new alterna-meats the equivalent of the nicotine patch, to get people to quit smoking, or the e-cigarettes, that come with their own host of medical problems.

The answer may be how much or often you eat them, and whether they lead to healthier behavior, like switching to a plant-based diet of whole foods, legumes, vegetables and nuts and grains, and skipping the fast food or the burgers altogether. So far the numbers are promising.

The market research firm NPD Group reports that 90 percent of customers buying alternative meats are actually carnivores who are trying to be healthier, and like the fact that the products are better for them and the environment, said Darren Seifer, an analyst at NPD, which has predicted that plant-based meats have staying power because Millennials are adopting them.

As for what's lurking in that plant-based burger: The Beyond Burger has some 18 ingredients: Purified pea protein, coconut and canola oils, rice protein, potato starch and beet juice extract for coloring. Beyond Meat says it uses no genetically modified or artificially produced ingredients.

The Impossible and Beyond burgers have similar amounts of protein and calories as beef burgers, with less saturated fat and no cholesterol. (See The Beet's chart comparing them on several nutritional contents such as sodium, calories and fat, here.) The plant-based meat has fiber; which animal products lack. All in all, until the studies on how we metabolize each are completed, we net out that it's better to skip the animal protein whenever you can, and of course french fries, a shake or full-calorie soda that you might order with your burger are probably part of what makes the whole endeavor less than healthy. Eat the Impossible or Beyond Burger the way you would any calorie bomb: As an occasional treat. Then it's back to a whole-food, plant-based diet that is high in fiber and nutrient-dense legumes, vegetables, nuts, and grains. If you can identify your ingredients, and you could theoretically grow them, you're probably eating pretty healthy. Leave the arguments to the rest of them.

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