Should you make the switch to plant-based burgers rather than meat?

At the grocery store where I’m a dietitian, our shelves are bulging with plant-based alternatives, including burgers. Fast-food and restaurant chains — including Red Robin, TGI Fridays Restaurant & Bar, Carl’s Jr. and Burger King — have also begun offering plant-based burgers.

Are they healthier than meat? Depends.

Some are made from highly processed foods with a long list of ingredients. The more healthful options come from whole foods rather than processed plant-based ingredients.

A pea protein isolate, for example, isn’t a whole food. A beef burger, on the other hand, has one ingredient: beef.

Then there’s the fat and sodium content. While many try to avoid the saturated fat in beef, many plant-based burgers contain coconut oil as a main ingredient, also a saturated fat.

We went through a phase where anything coconut was perceived as good for you. However, the American Heart Association recently issued an advisory against consuming coconut oil, saying it’s 82 percent saturated fat and can raise LDL (bad cholesterol), similar to the way butter and beef fat do. In reality, coconut oil gives several plant-based burgers similar levels of fat.

Check how much sodium your plant-based burger contains. A chart in a recent issue of Today’s Dietitian had a range of 540 milligrams (Amy’s California Burger) to 130 milligrams (Engine 2 Poblano Black Bean Burger) for one patty.

As always, it pays to read the labels to be healthy. Most have around 350 milligrams of sodium.

The calories for plant-based burgers range from 270 (Beyond Burger) to 100 (Boca All American Veggie Burger). By comparison, a ground beef burger has about 250 calories.

You’re also likely to pay more for that plant-based burger — on average, three to four times more than meat. Confusing? Like any food, you need to read the label to determine if it’s a good choice.

The bottom line? Plant-based foods are better for the environment because they use fewer natural resources. However, a healthy diet should limit processed foods of any kind, including plant-based burgers.

So enjoy that beef burger — on occasion — or enjoy a plant-based burger if you prefer the taste — on occasion. Both can fit into a healthy diet. Just enjoy the one you choose.


Q: How many steps do you need to take a day?

A: We typically hear a magic number of 10,000 steps a day, which can seem daunting.

But researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School tracked 17,000 women (average age 72) and found that even 4,400 steps a day increased life expectancy compared to those who took just 2,700 steps. Those who reached 7,500 steps a day benefitted the most.

Even if you can’t hit 10,000 steps, take that daily walk.

Stacked Salad

I love salads in jars. They’re portable, portion-controlled and great for a picnic lunch or snack. This stacked salad from the National Watermelon Promotion Board is also full of antioxidants (from the watermelon, jicama and curry powder), magnesium (helpful to reduce stress) and potassium (helpful to reduce blood pressure).


» 1 pound cooked, skinned and boned chicken breasts, shredded

» 1 cup instant brown rice

» ⅓ cup light mayonnaise

» ¼ cup chutney

» 2 teaspoons curry

» ⅓ cup diced (or sliced) celery

» 2 tablespoons diced red onion

» ¼ cup raisins or Craisins

» 2⅔ cups thin strips of watermelon (no longer than 2½ inches)

» 1 cup thin strips of peeled jicama (no longer than 2½ inches, matchstick size)

» 4 tablespoons chopped cashews

» 1 handful shredded romaine

» 4 pint jars, wide-mouth


Cook rice according to directions on box. Refrigerate to cool.

In a medium bowl, blend mayonnaise, chutney and curry until thoroughly blended. Add chicken, celery, onion and raisins. Blend and refrigerate.

Divide rice and chicken mixture into 4 equal batches. Starting with the rice, layer approximately ¼ cup of rice followed by ⅓ cup watermelon, ¼ cup jicama, ⅓ cup of chicken. Repeat and top with 1 tablespoon of chopped cashews and shredded romaine.

Serve or screw a lid onto jar and refrigerate.


Makes four stacked salads.

Serving size: 1 salad

Per serving: 391 calories; 9 grams protein; 7 grams fat; 65 milligrams cholesterol; 5.3 grams fiber; 185 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, and the current president of the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.