Veggie Burgers: How They Stack Up

Are veggie burgers really meatless? Yes, it is exactly as the name suggests—no meat. Yet in the eyes of many meat lovers, comparing the taste and texture of veggie burgers just does not stack up to its meat counterpart. While some are made to mimic the taste, texture color and feel of meat burgers, veggie burgers aren’t just a meat substitute. Veggie burgers are available for those who may not like the taste of meat (but still want something hearty and healthy), have dietary restrictions, share different beliefs or simply just prefer the flavor and ingredients that make veggie burgers stand on its own.

Veggie Burgers

Gone are the days when veggie burgers were the lonesome, meatless option at a backyard barbecue. With the rise in vegetarianism and veganism in recent years, came an increase in consumer demand for more veggie burgers. In turn, the market for veggie burgers has also become widespread. They have successfully made their way on to fast-food menus like Burger King and McDonald’s and are even served by upscale restaurants.

For many vegetarians/vegans, people who are watching their intake of saturated fats or simply prefer the taste of it over a beef or turkey burger, veggie burgers can be a great option! However, if you have ever tried a veggie burger and are still eating veggie burgers today, odds are that you’ve probably tried many. There are dozens of varieties and flavors. Some are too dry or beany, too salty or contain fillers and tastes like cardboard. Then there are some that contain a long list of ingredients that you’ve never heard of before and probably can’t pronounce. On the other hand, there are those that contain less than 5 ingredients, contain wholesome ingredients like vegetables and grains like quinoa, which make it flavorful and savory. Let’s see how these meatless burgers stack up!

How These Veggie Burgers Stack Up

Veggie burgers can be quite delicious, and make for quick go-to lunches. But with so many options in the grocery aisles many are left to wonder, “Which brands are the best?” Not all patties are vegan or soy free. As some of the more familiar ones on the market are Amy’s Garden Burger, Boca, Morning Star, we thought we’d point out some of the ones that are lesser known and reason why we like them (in no particular order).

De Cantos

Vegan: Yes
Dairy, gluten and soy free
Fairly new to the market, these burgers deserve some spotlight.
Each burger contains 5 raw veggies and no fillers like wheat, gluten,
soy, dairy or added sugar. It is “meaty” in the sense that it is fulfilling,
but does not have a “meaty taste.” While the company delivers
locally in New Jersey, if you’re having trouble finding this product,
try looking at Whole Foods!

Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers

Vegan: Yes
Soy Free: No
Certified Kosher
Ingredients: Carrots, Onions, String Beans, Oat Bran, Soybeans,
Zucchini, Peas, Broccoli, Corn, Soy Flakes, Spinach, Expeller Pressed
Canola Oil, Red Peppers, Arrowroot, Corn Starch, Garlic, Corn Meal,
Salt, Parsley, Black PepperSome people prefer the taste and texture of “just vegetables” in their
veggie burgers. If that’s the case, then Dr. Praeger’s is just that. Only
downside is that it may be flimsy and may not hold up as well if you’re
throwing it in the microwave. To make sure the patty holds its shape,
it’s best prepared on a grill or flat pan.

Hilary’s Eat Well

Vegan: Yes
Gluten free, dairy free, soy free, corn free, yeast free, egg free,
and nut free.
Plus side: They’re packaged in biodegradable plastic pouches!
Ingredients: Water Millet Quinoa Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil
Spinach Onion Garlic Psyllium Husk Powder Arrowroot Sweet
Potato Real Salt Apple Cider Vinegar Sunflower Seed OilThis burger is packed with great spices and tastes close to a fresh
veggie burger. For those who are big on texture and don’t like to
be left wondering “Is this a veggie burger??” Well this one holds
its shape and has a balanced texture, not too chewy or soft.

 

Sunshine’s Organic Quarter Pound Original Veggie Burger

Vegan: Yes
Soy Free: No
Gluten free
Ingredients: Organic cooked brown rice, organic ground raw
sunflower seeds, organic carrots, organic spices, sea saltThis burger is rich, savory and packs a slightly nutty flavor. If you
are a fan of sunflower seeds, this is the burger for you.

Are Veggie Burgers Better for You?

When dining out, be mindful that the nutrition content of a veggie burger may vary depending on its cooking process. While the veggie patty itself may be a healthy option, as with ordering any burger at a restaurant, any fixin’s like cheese, condiments, or a side of fries alongside the bun can sometimes stack up in terms of calories and fats.

Our Favorite Veggie Burger

What’s our favorite veggie burger? Ideally, it is the one we can make ourselves!  While making veggie burgers from scratch can call for a bit of time and preparation, if you make them in big batches, you can simply freeze them and voila! You’ve got veggie burgers on the ready, made with your favorite vegetables and grains… ingredients that you yourself know and can pronounce! With a little research, you can find tons of recipes on the Internet. Or, if you want to start with an easy but homemade classic, try Portobello mushrooms. With light marinade, they can be hearty and mouthwatering.

If you haven’t found your “perfect veggie burger” and making one from scratch doesn’t sound very appetizing, don’t give up just yet! With a little patience and perhaps a lot of tastings, it’s possible to find a veggie burger that is more flavorful and delectable (if not more) as its counterpart!

Sugar Substitutes: A Sweet Deal?

Sugar Substitutes: A Sweet Deal?

Seated at a restaurant or standing at the coffee bar, do you reach for the blue, yellow, pink or green packet? Well, that depends. Do you prefer aspartame, neotame, saccharin or sucralose with your coffee? If you have no idea what any of these ingredients are, perhaps the names of these sweeteners will sound more familiar: Equal, NutraSweet, Sweet’N Low and Splenda. When did these artificial sweeteners become so popular? In addition to these colorful packets conveniently offered at nearly every restaurant and cafe, our current food supply provides us with an abundant array of foods in “sugar-free” forms. But are these sugar-free options really healthier for us?

Tastes like sugar, looks like sugar but is it sugar?

By themselves, artificial sweeteners contain the sweetness of regular table sugar but without the calories. As you will see in the table below, artificial sweeteners are much more sweeter than sugar.

With the rise in obesity and diabetes, it’s no surprise that sugar has gained a bad reputation. Whether it is due to personal health reasons like managing diabetes or health conscious individuals who are looking to moderate their intake, many people try to avoid sugar at all costs. But what are the health costs of subbing in artificial sweeteners for the real deal? Although artificial sweeteners mimic the sweetness of sugar, no matter how it may taste or look, artificial sweeteners are chemicals.

Currently, there is a very large market for sugar substitutes, both man-made and natural. For now, it may interest you a few differences about these popular sugar substitute brands:

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
220x sweeter than sugar
It loses its sweetness when exposed to heat.
Made with an amino acid, phenylalanine – those who have phenylketonuria should steer clear from this!
Sucralose (Splenda)
600x sweeter than sugar
Does not break down when cooked or baked, which is why it is in many foods and drinks.
Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, SugarTwin)
200-700x sweeter than sugar
Stevia (PureVia)
200-300x sweeter than sugar
Derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana
Although it’s only gained recent popularity in the U.S., the Japanese have been using it for decades.

In terms of safety, the FDA reviews artificial sweeteners and sets a limit on the amount people should consume which is based on an individual’s weight. Although they are generally deemed safe to consume, it is possible to get by without them. To learn more about different types of sweeteners, their composition and research studies that tested their safety, click here.

Artificial Sweeteners: The Catch 22

When it comes to artificial sweeteners, be mindful that they are not limited to the colorful packets you find in restaurants and cafés. Today, these sweeteners are found everywhere. Anything labeled “sugar-free,” or “diet” may be artificially sweetened. At zero to little calories, it’s no wonder why many artificial sweeteners are appealing to consumers. But wait—are these artificial sweeteners really zero calories? While this may be the case for sweeteners packaged in their individual packets, it is not always the case when present in foods and beverages. Sugar-free food doesn’t mean calorie-free food! With artificial sweeteners, we may trick ourselves into thinking we consumed less—when we actually end up consuming more.

Whether it is artificial or natural, consuming anything sweet generally encourages “sugar craving and sugar dependence (2).” Moreover, studies show that flavor preference for sweets can be trained by repeated exposure to sweets (3).This means that the more sweets we expose our palates to, the more our taste buds will ask for them.

The body’s reaction to artificial sweeteners raises other questions, such as whether or not substitutes are fueling our nation’s obesity epidemic. Research suggests a correlation between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and long-term weight gain (1). Although sugar-free foods can help with weight loss or aid in calorie control, artificial sweeteners can often distort our perception of calories. Consuming foods made with artificial sweeteners may satisfy our current cravings while  low in calories, but later our bodies may be searching for those calories, leading to additional cravings.

On the other hand, some people do not associate artificially sweetened foods and beverages with calories. For example, even though a sugar-free cookie is likely to contain fewer calories than a regular cookie (which in theory can help reduce one’s calorie intake) if an individual decides to eat an entire box of sugar-free cookies, then the individual will have probably consumed more calories than what would have been in one regular cookie made with real sugar.

Live a Sweet Life with Less Added Sugar

This week, challenge yourself! Our taste buds are ever changing and it is possible to retrain them. When it comes to your morning cup of Joe, try adding 1 less packet. If you typically add only 1 packet, try adding only half. If you typically drink soda, try switching to flavored carbonated water, like Perrier. Or, if you are craving for something sweet, opt for a sliced fruits on whole wheat breads with some peanut butter or perhaps a homemade smoothie. By adding fruit, not only do you get the natural sweetness, but is also full of flavor, antioxidants, vitamins and fiber. Try to cut down on sweets in general. Now this does not mean you should deprive yourself—in moderation, it is perfectly okay to enjoy sweets. If you want your cake, eat it. It is better to consume less of the real thing rather than more of the artificial one. Savor the taste and enjoy it in moderation.

Adopt small changes to turn make it part of a healthier lifestyle. When possible, it is best to avoid any added sweeteners (4). Although artificial sweeteners are considered safe and may help people manage Diabetes, they are most commonly found in processed and packaged foods. In terms of nutrition and living a healthy and happy lifestyle, they are not as nutrient-dense as whole, unprocessed foods. Since artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than table sugar, if used, should be used in very small quantities–or if you must, to stick with Stevia. Just remember, it is possible to live a sweet life, with less added sugar.

 

References:

  1. Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, et al. Fueling the obesity epidemic? Artificially sweetened beverage use and long-term weight gain. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2008;16:1894–900. [PubMed]
  2. Liem DG, De Graaf C. Sweet and sour preferences in young children and adults: role of repeated exposure. Physiology and Behavior. 2004;83(3):421–429. [PubMed]
  3. Yang Q. Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: neuroscience 2010. Yale J Biol Med. 2010;83:101–108. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  4. A/ADA Scientific Statement: Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Current Use and Health Perspectives: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association

 

Sustainable Agriculture

You may have heard the word “sustainability” used quite often over the last few years, but what does it mean? Read on to learn what sustainable agriculture is, and how our everyday decisions can make a lasting impact on future generations.

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is somewhat of an umbrella term used to group several food-related topics under one roof. Sustainable agriculture is a method of producing foods in such a way so that it is mindful of the ecosystem; including but not limited to environmentally friendly practices, health of humans and animals, economic profitability, respects animal welfare, and promotes social and economic equity through fair wages.

Sustainable vs. Industrial

With the many food labels scattered across grocery shelves, it becomes all the more important to understand what sustainable farming is, and what it is not. Since there isn’t a legal definition or rules, a farm’s way of practicing sustainable agriculture may vary.

As you now know, part of sustainable agriculture may include respecting animal welfare. Yet when food shopping, it can be easy to mistaken “cage-free” eggs to be sustainable. While the chicken may not have lived in cages, they may have been raised in overcrowded indoor farms. Today, most of our meat supply is produced on factory farms, otherwise known as Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). CAFOs are industrial facilities where animals are raised in confined areas for mass production. Since the animals are raised in tight quarters, they are often mutilated to adapt to the living conditions, i.e. often chickens are de-beaked. Caged animals are restricted from moving, confined for their entire lives until slaughter. Due to the large scale of animals living in an enclosed area, the result is poor and unsanitary conditions. The method in which factory farms dispose of animal waste also ends up in run off, contaminating our water system. Moreover, with factory farming and mass production came the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormone use and development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria—the list goes on and on.

Sustainable agriculture is important because every action we take and every decision we make can protect the planet.

Sustainable Farms:

  • Recycle manure as fertilizer – this helps eliminate pollution in air and water systems and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Controlled use of antibiotics – animals are not given antibiotics on a daily basis but only when they are sick (animal products labeled organic are not labeled organic if they have been treated with antibiotics)
  • Animal welfare – animals are respected and treated humanely
  • Energy – they tend to save energy and decrease use of fossil fuels by using techniques like crop rotation to naturally enhance the soil
  • Food miles – sustainably grown foods are usually sold locally which not only cuts down on gas pollution, but the result is healthier and tastier food
  • Build Community – supporting local business help drive the local economy not only in terms of profits, but by providing jobs and building community rapport

These are just a few examples of how sustainable farming affects the planet. For more information on how sustainable farming compares to industrial farming, check out Sustainable Table.

Certified Organic, Not Certified Sustainable

Many people often confuse the terms “sustainable agriculture” with “organic farming.” Although both have to do with sensible food production methods, sustainable agriculture doesn’t always mean organic and organic farming doesn’t always mean sustainable practices!

A product labeled as organic means that the food was produced without the use of certain chemicals, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Organic meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products mean that it comes from farms where the animals were not raised with antibiotics or growth hormones.

While many farms that are certified-organic do not produce foods with certain chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones, etc., the food may still be produced on an industrial farm setting. For example, some farms that produce organic dairy products still confine cows in CAFOs. For many large corporations that are certified-organic, it is through industrial farming that they are able to drive down consumer prices. Although they are able to meet minimum requirements that allow them to be USDA certified-organic, the farm may disregard animal welfare, denying animals space to carry out their natural behaviors (which can also result to poor health and unsanitary conditions!) Therefore, if you are looking to support sustainable agriculture, it is important to keep in mind that organic can — but doesn’t always mean sustainable.

On the other hand, some sustainable farms that are not certified-organic by the USDA do produce organic foods. In order for a product to be labeled “USDA certified-organic,” it must have gone through a national certification process, which requires both additional time and money. The additional fees can make it difficult for small farmers to receive organic-certification by the USDA. In turn, grassroot organizations like Oregon Tilth, California Certified Organic Farmers, Demeter Certified Biodynamic provide less costly organic-certification that either follow USDA organic standards guidelines or have their own strict production standards.

If you prefer organic foods and wish to support sustainable agriculture, the good news is that there are farms who do produce organic foods and practice sustainable agriculture. When in doubt, try buying directly from a local farmer. The best way to find out if your food is organic and sustainable is to ask! To find the closest sustainable farm near you, check out U.S. Department of Agriculture and LocalHarvest.

A Circle of Responsibility

While there are a myriad of reasons why one may practice sustainable agriculture, a big part of sustainability is being aware of how current practices can affect our food chain and how making a simple change, while small, is still a step towards a more sustainable future. Now that you know what sustainable agriculture is, here are some of the ways you can join the circle of responsibility:

Always Ask –
Whether you’re dining out or grocery shopping, you have the right to know how your food was produced. Let restaurants and stores know that you care about where your foods come from.

Buy Local
– As consumers, we help voice our opinion by a show of what we buy and who we choose to buy from. You don’t have to make a 360 degree change in order to make an impact.  Start by shopping at a farmer’s market to support your local farmers’ sustainable methods or by buying one or two foods that are organic.

Read
– Action is best backed by knowledge! Learn more and stay informed on the latest news and food policies. Visit Sustainable Table, CivilEats, or U.S. Department of Agriculture to learn more about the food system, issues and current events.

Get Involved –Tell your family and friends all you have learned about this exciting movement. Invite them to visit farmer’s market with you, to enjoy a sustainably cooked meal, or plan to have a “Meatless Monday.”

Think Before You Buy – Everything we purchase can leave a carbon footprint. Buying less than what you think you need means less waste.

Hemp Hearts for A Heart Healthy Diet

Written by Laura Iu, Nutrition Student and Assistant to Laura Cipullo

Flax seed and chia seed may have found its competitor. It seems like everywhere you look, there is a new seed-based product hitting the market shelves. So what’s the latest seed craze? Hemp seeds. (No, it’s not what you’re probably thinking!) Although hemp seed belongs to the same family as it illegal cousin, Marijuana, hemp seed is the “food” part of the plant and not the “drug” part that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There is a big difference in the level of THC found in marijuana (3-15%) and in hemp seed (0-0.3%).  Hemp producers are certified to have less than 0.3% THC levels and many guarantee there is 0%. As a food very similar to flax seed, hemp seed is one of the most healthful and nutritious foods one can eat. Yet despite hemp seed gaining popularity and making its way in bars, cereals, milks and even ice creams, many skeptics still raise an eyebrow to this superfood. Read on to find out what these seeds are, their nutritional value and how they can contribute to a heart healthy meal structure!

Hulled Hemp Seeds Vs. Whole Hemp Seeds

Hulled hemp seed, hemp seed, hemp hearts, and hemp nuts—one can surely go nuts keeping track of this food’s many nicknames!  Although sometimes called a “hemp nut,” hemp seed is not actually a nut.  To better explain the anatomy of a hemp seed, it is very similar to that of a sunflower seed. “Hulled hemp seed” refers to the whole seed removed from its hard outer shell, while “hemp seed” simply refers to the seed and its shell. Although the hard exterior is edible and contains a lot of fiber but can be difficult to eat, when you purchase “hemp seeds” typically the seed is already removed from the outer husk.

What are the nutritional benefits?

For thousands of years, hemp fibers have been used to create clothing, paper, rope and canvas. But aside from manufacturing textiles, there are far more uses for these hemp seeds than just growing more hemp plants! They also provide a wide range of heart healthy benefits.

There are very few complete protein sources that are plant-based. Like chia seeds though, hemp seed is one of the very few plant based complete dietary proteins.  It contains all of the essential fatty acids in the form of Linoleic and Alpha-Linoleic Acid, and a complete source of essential amino acids. A few weeks ago, we discussed how important it is to maintain a healthy, balanced ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids. Recall, maintaining a balanced ratio of fatty acids can have a positive effect on the body. While our bodies need more Omega-6’s than Omega-3’s, a good balance means keeping an overall 1:3, Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio. Hemp seed, having a favorable ratio, can provide cardiovascular health benefits, help control inflammation and lower blood pressure. For those whose ratios are a bit off, hemp seed isn’t the immediate answer to flipping your ratio around, but it is a good start to balancing it out again.

For those who follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, this seed is an ideal source of protein. High in fiber and a gluten-free protein, this seed is easily digestible.

How to Eat Them?

Just like any other seed, hemp seeds can be eaten raw, added to baked goods, strewn in tea, grounded or made into hemp milk.  Toss them on salads, sprinkle them on yogurts and smoothies or enjoy them straight from the bag.

Perhaps the most popular hemp-based product on the market is hemp milk. But for those whose palates just don’t align with its nutty flavor and still want to reap the health benefits of hemp seed, these sources are worth trying:

  • Flour
  • Cereals
  • Tofu
  • Nut butters
  • Protein powder
  • Ice creams 
  • Oil