Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is The Impossible Burger Bad For You?

Also Known As: Plant-based burger, Impossible Meat



Short answer

The Impossible Burger, a plant-based alternative to beef, has a comparable protein content, is rich in iron and fiber, and contains no cholesterol, but is higher in sodium and saturated fat from coconut oil. While it's a good option for those reducing meat intake, it is still a processed food. Moderation and a balanced diet incorporating whole foods are advisable for overall health.



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Long answer

Nutritional Comparison: Impossible Burger vs. Traditional Beef

When discussing the Impossible Burger, a plant-based alternative to traditional beef, it's essential to look closely at the nutritional content of both. This comparison can help consumers make informed choices based on their dietary needs and preferences. Here, we'll break down the key nutritional components of each to understand better where they stand in terms of healthfulness.

  • Calories: The Impossible Burger and a traditional beef patty of the same weight contain similar calorie counts, making neither significantly lower in energy density.
  • Protein: Protein content is also comparable, with the Impossible Burger designed to mimic the protein levels of beef using soy and potato proteins.
  • Fat: They both contain fat, though the sources differ. The Impossible Burger's fat comes mainly from coconut and sunflower oils, whereas beef fat is primarily animal fat. The type of fat can impact cholesterol levels differently.
  • Cholesterol: One significant contrast is that plant-based burgers like the Impossible Burger contain no cholesterol, while traditional beef patties contain cholesterol, which, when consumed at high levels, can contribute to heart disease.
  • Iron: Both burgers provide iron, but the Impossible Burger contains heme iron sourced from genetically engineered yeast, which is bioavailable and similar to the heme iron found in beef.
  • Other Nutrients: Beef naturally contains B vitamins and minerals like zinc. The Impossible Burger is fortified with vitamins and minerals to match or exceed the nutrient profile of beef.
  • Fiber: Dietary fiber is found naturally in plants, so the Impossible Burger includes this component, unlike beef, which contains no fiber.

These nutritional aspects provide a basic framework for comparing the Impossible Burger with traditional beef. However, it's important to consider these factors within the context of an individual's overall diet. For those reducing their meat intake or seeking plant-based alternatives, the Impossible Burger can serve as a similar nutritional substitute. Still, consumers should be mindful of ingredients like sodium, additives, and the level of processing in any food product they choose.

Table 1 provides a synopsis of the nutritional comparison per 4 oz serving:

Nutrient Impossible Burger (4 oz) Traditional Beef Patty (4 oz)
Calories 240 250
Protein (g) 19 20
Total Fat (g) 14 18
Saturated Fat (g) 8 7
Cholesterol (mg) 0 80
Iron (mg) 4.2 (19% DV) 3.0 (17% DV)
Fiber (g) 3 0
Sodium (mg) 370 75

Note: DV stands for Daily Value. The percentages for iron are based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Also, the Impossible Burger is higher in sodium than traditional beef, which is an important consideration for those monitoring their sodium intake.

As always, balance and moderation are key in designing a healthy diet. Whether choosing an Impossible Burger or a regular beef patty, it is important to look at the meal's overall nutritional content, including accompaniments like buns, toppings, and sides. Entire diet patterns determine health outcomes more than individual food items.

When examining such comparisons, it's also crucial to stay updated with current research on processed foods and the health implications of consuming meat alternatives versus whole food plant-based options. Ultimately, whether the Impossible Burger or traditional beef is the healthier choice may depend on personal dietary goals, preferences, and possible dietary restrictions.

Ingredients Spotlight: Understanding Soy Leghemoglobin

Soy Leghemoglobin, a key ingredient in the Impossible Burger, has sparked a significant amount of interest and controversy. As consumers become more health-conscious, understanding the components of plant-based meat alternatives is crucial. Let's delve deeper into what Soy Leghemoglobin is, its purpose, and the health considerations associated with its consumption.

What is Soy Leghemoglobin?
Soy Leghemoglobin (SLH) is a protein derived from soy plants, particularly from the root nodules. It's structurally similar to the hemoglobin found in animal blood, which is why it can mimic the "bleeding" effect and meaty flavor of traditional burgers. SLH is produced through fermentation using genetically modified yeast, which enables the mass production necessary for commercial use.

Role in the Impossible Burger
The primary role of Soy Leghemoglobin in the Impossible Burger is to enhance the sensory experience—it imparts the savory taste and aroma characteristic of cooked beef. This ingredient is crucial in bridging the gap for those seeking a plant-based burger that satisfies like a meat-based counterpart.

Safety Assessment
The safety of Soy Leghemoglobin has been vigorously assessed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave a "no questions" response to the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) notice for SLH, indicating that the agency has no safety concerns based on the data provided. Additionally, independent groups have conducted studies on SLH, looking into its potential allergenicity and toxicity. According to research, these studies have not demonstrated significant adverse effects of SLH when consumed at levels present in the Impossible Burger. For example, a 2019 study in the journal International Journal of Molecular Sciences evaluated the allergenicity potential of heme and its risk profile in individuals with Alpha-Gal Syndrome and found no major concerns.

Genetic Modification Considerations
As with many products involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there's a debate regarding the environmental and health implications. For Soy Leghemoglobin, the genetic modification occurs in yeast, which is used during the fermentation process to produce the heme. While this may raise concerns among some consumers, scientific consensus maintains that GMOs, as a category, are safe for consumption. It's worth noting, however, that the long-term health impacts of GMOs are still a topic of ongoing research. Consumers interested in avoiding GMOs for personal or environmental reasons may wish to consider this factor.

Environmental Impact
One of the arguments for consuming plant-based products like the Impossible Burger is their reduced environmental footprint relative to conventional meat. The production of SLH is argued to be less resource-intensive and more sustainable than raising livestock for meat. However, the environmental benefits of producing SLH via fermentation need to be weighed against the use of genetic modification and the broader impact of industrial agriculture on ecosystems and biodiversity.

To summarize, while Soy Leghemoglobin in the Impossible Burger is approved for consumption and has been determined safe by various studies, it's important for individuals to consider the broader context of GMOs and their personal dietary choices. As with any novel food ingredient, ongoing research will continue to refine our understanding of its impact on health and the environment.

Saturated Fat Content in Plant-Based Meats

When discussing the nutritional profile of plant-based meats such as the Impossible Burger, one cannot overlook the saturated fat content. These products are often marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional meat, but it's important to examine whether the amount of saturated fat aligns with health-conscious dietary choices.

Firstly, let's look at the numbers. A 4-ounce serving of the Impossible Burger contains approximately 8 grams of saturated fat, which is roughly 40% of the USDA's recommended daily allowance of 20 grams based on a 2,000-calorie diet. This places the Impossible Burger on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of saturated fat content for plant-based products.

Saturated fat has been a topic of contention among health experts, with some warning about its implications for heart health. The American Heart Association suggests that high intake of saturated fat can lead to increased levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. However, other research suggests that the relationship between saturated fat intake and heart disease risk may be more complex, implicating processed carbs and sugars as a bigger threat to cardiovascular health.

Moreover, the source of saturated fat in plant-based meats is different from that in animal products. Coconut oil, often used in products like the Impossible Burger, contains a type of saturated fat called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolized differently than long-chain triglycerides found in animal fats. Some studies suggest MCTs may have a less detrimental effect on cholesterol levels, though more research is needed to fully understand this distinction.

It's also essential to consider the holistic dietary pattern. Saturated fat in the context of an overall balanced diet, abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, may have a different impact compared to saturated fat within a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients.

Here are some crucial points to remember about the saturated fat in plant-based meats:

  • A moderate intake of saturated fats from diverse sources can be included in a balanced diet.
  • The type of saturated fat and the context of the whole diet are significant factors to consider.
  • Consumers should be aware of the saturated fat content in plant-based meats and factor that into their daily allowances.
  • Individuals with specific health concerns, such as high cholesterol, should consult with a healthcare professional about their dietary intake of saturated fats.
  • Staying informed about both the quantity and quality of saturated fats consumed can help maintain a healthy dietary pattern.

Ultimately, while plant-based meats like the Impossible Burger offer a vegetarian option and environmental benefits, being mindful of their saturated fat content is crucial for those paying close attention to their heart health and dietary fat intake.

The Role of Processed Foods in a Healthy Diet

Understanding the role of processed foods in a healthy diet is crucial when evaluating food items like the Impossible Burger, which has gained visibility as a plant-based alternative to traditional meat. Processed foods come in various forms, and their impact on health can vary dramatically.

At a fundamental level, processing refers to any alteration of food from its natural state. This can range from simple processes like freezing or drying to more complex methods, including canning, fortifying, or the addition of artificial ingredients and preservatives. The term "processed food" often conjures images of unhealthy snacking options; however, not all processed foods are inherently bad for health.

Minimally processed foods, such as frozen vegetables, canned tomatoes, or natural cheeses, retain most of their inherent nutritional value and can be a convenient and affordable way to include essential nutrients in one's diet. Conversely, heavily processed foods, often referred to as ultra-processed foods, are products that have been significantly altered, with many ingredients added for flavor, texture, or preservation purposes, such as sweeteners, oils, colors, and preservatives. Examples include soft drinks, chips, and many fast-food options.

Health Considerations of Processed Foods:

  • Studies suggest that a diet high in ultra-processed foods can lead to health issues, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. A 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism found that an ultra-processed diet led participants to consume more calories and gain more weight compared to a diet of minimally processed foods.
  • Another study, featured in BMJ, linked high consumption of processed foods to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. It emphasized the predominance of nutritionally imbalanced ingredients in such products.
  • Processed foods often contain high levels of sodium, sugars, and unhealthy fats, which can lead to long-term health complications if consumed excessively.
  • The presence of additives and artificial substances in some processed foods can raise concerns. Preservatives, colorants, flavorings, and texturants, often found in ultra-processed items, have been associated with adverse health outcomes in some observational studies.

When considering the Impossible Burger as part of a healthy diet, it's important to recognize it as a processed food product. It is designed to mimic the sensory attributes of beef using plant-based ingredients that have been extracted, refined, and reformulated. Here's a breakdown of the processing levels for key components:

  • Protein sources: The protein in Impossible Burgers comes from soy and potato, which have been isolated and refined. Soy protein isolate, for example, is a highly processed form of soy.
  • Binders and fillers: Ingredients such as methylcellulose (a chemical compound derived from cellulose) act as binders to provide texture and shape. While they are deemed safe for consumption, they are synthesized through processing.
  • Flavor and color: The Impossible Burger includes heme (soy leghemoglobin), an iron-containing molecule from soy, which gives the burger its meaty flavor and appearance. This is produced through fermentation, a process considered to be less aggressive but still a form of food processing.
  • Fats: The burger's fats come from coconut and sunflower oils, which are added to emulate the fattiness of beef. While these oils are less processed than hydrogenated oils, their processing involves extraction and refinement.

For those who choose to include processed products like the Impossible Burger in their diets, moderation is key. An emphasis should be placed on a balanced diet with a variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. While incorporating the Impossible Burger, it's essential to view it in the context of an overall dietary pattern rather than in isolation.

Professional dietary guidelines generally recommend that ultra-processed foods be minimized in a healthful diet. Therefore, even though the Impossible Burger might offer a convenient, plant-based alternative to red meat, its role in one's diet should be considered alongside dietary patterns that prioritize whole, minimally processed foods.

Soy and Hormonal Balance: Concerns and Evidence

One of the primary concerns that come up when discussing plant-based burgers, like the Impossible Burger, is the inclusion of soy as a main ingredient. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived compounds with estrogen-like properties. The most notable of these are isoflavones, which can bind to estrogen receptors in the body and potentially affect hormonal balance. The central question is whether or not the consumption of soy products can have a significant impact on our hormone levels and overall health.

Let's break down the concerns and evidence regarding soy and its effects on hormonal balance:

  • Estrogenic Activity: Isoflavones in soy can mimic or modulate estrogen, which has led to speculations about risks of hormonal imbalances. Some fear that this might contribute to conditions like breast cancer, thyroid disorders, or infertility. However, the biological activity of phytoestrogens is generally much weaker than that of human estrogen.
  • Scientific Research: Studies have shown mixed results with some suggesting that soy consumption might benefit postmenopausal women by reducing hot flashes and possibly providing cardiovascular benefits. Other studies indicate no significant effect, or only a minute influence, on reproductive hormones in men or women.

A comprehensive review by the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that moderate consumption of soy foods appears safe for everyone—cancer survivors included—and may even lower the risk of breast and prostate cancer. It's important to note, too, that while individual components like isoflavones have been rigorously studied, the Impossible Burger is a composite food, and its overall health impacts could differ from those of its individual ingredients. Nevertheless, for most people, the evidence suggests that moderate soy consumption is safe.

In the context of hormonal balance, let's also consider populations that consume high amounts of soy. Countries like Japan and China, where soy is a staple in the diet, do not show increased health issues related to hormones. These observations support the notion that soy, when consumed as part of a balanced diet, does not adversely affect hormonal health.

It is worthwhile to recognize that reactions to soy can vary on an individual basis. For those with soy allergies or sensitivities, or specific medical conditions that warrant limiting soy intake, alternative products may be more suitable. If there are any personal health concerns regarding soy consumption, consulting a health professional is advisable.

In summary, while the fears about the estrogenic effects of soy isoflavones may seem alarming, current evidence from population studies and clinical trials largely suggest that moderate intake of soy products, including soy-based meat alternatives, does not pose a risk to hormonal health for the general population. However, personal considerations and pre-existing health conditions should always be taken into account.

Environmental Impact: Is Sustainable Always Healthier?

The conversation around the Impossible Burger often highlights its environmental advantages compared to traditional beef. Advocates claim that plant-based options contribute less to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water use. However, when considering whether sustainable choices like the Impossible Burger are healthier, we need to delve deeper into the environmental impact on our health.

Studies have shown that sustainable agricultural practices can lead to a more nutritious food supply. A report published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition pointed out that sustainable farming methods could increase the nutrient content in crops. This is due to the enhanced soil quality and reduced exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Let's break down the key environmental factors that could influence health:

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The production of plant-based proteins, like those in the Impossible Burger, typically generates fewer greenhouse gases than that of beef. This could lead to better air quality and reduced respiratory issues over time. According to a study by the University of Michigan, the Impossible Burger generates 89% fewer greenhouse gases than beef from cows.
  • Water Usage: It's estimated that producing the Impossible Burger uses 87% less water than beef production, according to Impossible Foods. Cleaner water bodies and reduced strain on water resources can play a vital role in public health.
  • Land Usage: The Impossible Burger is reported to require 96% less land to produce than beef. The land spared can be used for reforestation or other crops, potentially increasing biodiversity, which can have a cascade of positive effects on ecosystem health–and subsequently our health.
  • Pesticides and Fertilizers: Plant-based patties may still involve the use of these chemicals, which can have detrimental health effects. However, the scale and intensity are often less than in industrial cattle farming. Sustainable plant farming also shows a promising shift toward organic and regenerative agriculture practices, which minimize health risks from chemical exposure.

That being said, it's essential to note that the healthiness of a food product is not merely determined by its environmental footprint. While a lower environmental impact may correlate with some health benefits, the nutritional content and ingredients of the Impossible Burger should also be examined for a full assessment of its health implications.

Experts suggest that the holistic approach to understanding the health impacts of sustainable foods should consider not just personal health, but also the broader environmental determinants of health. As the World Health Organization states, "a healthy environment underpins a healthy population". Therefore, the environmental benefits of the Impossible Burger do seem to contribute to a healthier food system, but individual health effects require looking at various other aspects of the burger's consumption.

In summary, while the choice of sustainable foods like the Impossible Burger can have positive environmenal implications that could improve public health indirectly, the direct health benefits need to be weighed against the full spectrum of nutritional and ingredient profiles. As research into the health implications of such foods continues to evolve, it is important to stay informed about both the environmental and nutritional aspects of these dietary choices.

Evaluating Food Choices in a Balanced Diet

When considering whether the Impossible Burger – or any food product – fits into a balanced diet, we should assess its nutritional profile in the context of one's overall dietary pattern. A balanced diet typically includes a variety of foods that provide a range of nutrients necessary for good health. This ensures the intake of essential macronutrients like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, along with micronutrients including vitamins and minerals.

Here's how the Impossible Burger measures up in terms of its contribution to a balanced diet:

  • Protein Content: The Impossible Burger is designed to mimic beef, and as such, offers a similar protein content, making it a decent source of plant-based protein, which is essential for body repair and maintenance.
  • Saturated Fat: It has a noteworthy level of saturated fat due to coconut oil, which should be consumed in moderation within a balanced diet to manage risk factors for heart disease.
  • Cholesterol-Free: Unlike beef, the Impossible Burger is cholesterol-free, which can be advantageous for those monitoring their cholesterol levels.
  • Fiber: It contains dietary fiber, absent in animal meat, benefiting digestive health and satiety levels.
  • Sodium Content: One area of concern might be its sodium content, which tends to be higher than in traditional beef, making it important for consumers, especially those with hypertension, to consider their total daily sodium intake.
  • Micronutrients: Some versions of the Impossible Burger are also fortified with essential micronutrients like B12 and iron, though the bioavailability of these fortified nutrients compared to their natural counterparts may vary.

One factor critical to evaluating its place in a balanced diet is frequency of consumption. As with any other processed food, the key is moderation. While the Impossible Burger can serve as a satisfactory substitute for red meat from a nutritional standpoint, relying exclusively on such meat alternatives could result in an intake of various additives present in processed foods.

According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, high consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a higher risk of various health issues, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Hence, while the Impossible Burger can be a part of a balanced diet, it's crucial to balance its consumption with unprocessed or minimally processed plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to ensure comprehensive nutritional adequacy.

Adherence to dietary guidelines and personalized nutrition advice from healthcare professionals can help ensure that the inclusion of plant-based alternatives like the Impossible Burger contributes positively to one's overall dietary pattern.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, the production of the Impossible Burger is reported to be more environmentally friendly compared to beef, requiring significantly less water, land, and generating fewer greenhouse gases. This reduced environmental footprint is a key consideration for those looking to make more sustainable dietary choices, though it's still crucial to assess the overall nutritional content and health impact of the individual product.

The Impossible Burger does contain higher levels of sodium compared to traditional beef, with around 370 mg per serving. A diet high in sodium can contribute to hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Thus, individuals monitoring their sodium intake, especially those with high blood pressure, should factor in the sodium content of the Impossible Burger into their daily dietary allowances.

While the Impossible Burger can serve as a plant-based protein source and mimic the nutritional profile of beef in a diet, it is still a processed food. It's advisable to consume it in moderation, with a dietary pattern that predominantly includes a variety of unprocessed or minimally processed foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes to ensure a balanced intake of essential nutrients.

The heme iron in the Impossible Burger, known as Soy Leghemoglobin, is produced through fermentation using genetically modified yeast. While the resulting heme is structurally similar to the natural heme found in animal meat, it is important to note that it is created through a technological process and involves genetic engineering. For individuals seeking only naturally occurring ingredients, the Impossible Burger might not fulfill that criterion.

Ask a question about Impossible Burger and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • increased caloric intake
  • higher saturated fat consumption
  • excess sodium intake

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • elevated ldl cholesterol levels

Ingredients to be aware of


  • similar protein to beef
  • no cholesterol
  • contains dietary fiber
  • fortified with vitamins
  • lower environmental impact

Healthier alternatives

  • whole food plant-based options
  • minimally processed meats
  • organic beef options

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Beyond Burger Plant-Based

  • Plant-based meat
  • Frozen for freshness
  • Convenient patty form
  • High protein content
  • Non-GMO
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-19-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 01-19-2024

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