According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, a nonprofit organization that provides education on vegetarianism and related issues, more than 4.7 million adults in the U.S. are vegetarians. People choose this lifestyle to improve their health, be more environmentally conscious or for humane considerations. Although vegetarians do not eat meat, many enjoy meat substitutes. But nutrition is important regardless of your diet; note the ingredients of popular meat substitutes such as veggie burgers before consuming.
Protein is the foundation of a veggie burger, because proteins are the ingredients that give it the appearance and texture of a burger. The protein in a veggie burger can come from several different ingredients, not just vegetables. Many veggie burgers have soy products, nuts, beans, rice, oats or wheat gluten as the main protein. Others are vegetable-based and can be made from a blend of a number of vegetables, including mushrooms, onions, celery, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli and squash. Many veggie burgers are a combination of vegetables and other proteins.
Starches and Fiber
Veggie burgers need something to help hold the proteins together or bind them. These binders have names such as “maltodextrin” or “methylcellulose” and are starches and fiber derived from different types of plants, including seaweed. Some veggie burgers contain eggs as binders, making them vegetarian but not vegan, since vegan items cannot contain any animal-derived products.
Meat patties have a certain feel in the mouth that is due to fat in the meat, called “umami” or “savoriness.” Some veggie burgers contain oil to simulate this mouth feel. Sunflower, corn and soybean oils are among the most common additives for veggie burgers.
A patty made of ground vegetables, nuts or soy might look like a beef burger but it does not naturally taste like one. Manufacturers of veggie burgers include spices and natural flavor enhancers in their products. Some of the more common flavoring enhancers are yeasts and acids, components that intensify or improve flavors.
Veggie burgers often contain more salt than a comparable beef burger, with some brands containing almost five times as much. With an average of 350 mg of salt, the American Dietetic Association considers the amount of salt in veggie burgers “moderate.”
Meat is a complete protein—that is, a protein that contains all the amino acids people need for proper nutrition. With the exception of soybeans, vegetables are not complete proteins. Many manufacturers add vitamin and mineral supplements to veggie burgers to provide some or all of the missing nutrients.
References and ResourcesVegetarian Journal 2006 Issue 4: How Many Adults Are Vegetarian?
Care 2 Make a Difference: What’s Inside Your Veggie Burger?
Happy Cow Compassionate Eating Guide: Vegetarian Protein Guide
American Dietetic Association: Meet the Meatless: How Veggie Burgers and Hot Dogs Rate with Nutrition Facts