Veg Burger: Packaged or Home-made?

Veg Burger: Packaged or Home-made?

Choosing to purchase packaged plant-based products at the supermarket is becoming routine even for those who are not explicitly vegetarian/vegan. The current trend is to consume plant-based products at least 1-2 times a week, partly for fashion and partly for increased awareness regarding the harms of excessive consumption of animal-based products. In any case, there has been an increased sensitivity towards environmental issues related to sustainability and therefore towards a healthier and more conscious diet.

The sales of alternatives to milk and dairy, cheese, and meat are certainly on the rise. In the refrigerated section, one can find plant-based beverages of all kinds (oat, soy, coconut, rice), as well as vegetable burgers, breaded products, cold cuts, and sausages. The choice is increasingly wide, and the risk of buying products far from being healthy is high.

Let's try to understand how to purchase a product that at least meets our needs.

A good starting point could be to ask ourselves: what am I looking for? Is the product I've chosen of good quality? An excellent example is vegetable burgers, which should be assimilated to protein dishes that replace meat, fish, and eggs.

Therefore, the nutritional expectation is adequate protein content, reduced carbohydrate and fat content. So, the initial attention should be focused on the list of ingredients: as you know well, the first ingredient is the one present in the highest quantity, followed by others in decreasing order.

If I decide to purchase a soy burger (or similar product), I must verify that the main ingredient is indeed soy, which can be present in various forms. I considered some products from well-known supermarket brands (burgers, strips, cutlets): out of the 6 selected, 4 actually had soy as the main ingredient, in varying percentages (from 40 to 55%) and in different forms (rehydrated soy proteins, restructured and rehydrated soy flour). The other two had vegetables (spinach, eggplants) as the main ingredient, with a reduced amount of soy. Indeed, the first 4 products contain a higher protein content (at least 14g per 100g) compared to the other 2 (11g of protein). Also, pay attention to the type of proteins present, such as wheat proteins, not suitable for celiacs, or egg proteins for potential allergies.

Regarding fat content, the products I considered obviously contain vegetable oils, ideally sunflower oil, in others also rapeseed oil, a qualitatively poor oil that would be preferable to avoid. None of them contain extra virgin olive oil. The fat content ranges from a fairly low percentage of 6% to excessively high levels of 15%.

The carbohydrate and sugar content varies greatly, depending on the quantity of recurring ingredients such as starch or potato flakes, dextrose, various types of flours, maltodextrins, and sugar, breadcrumbs. So, be careful! An excess of carbohydrates in a "protein" product is not what we were looking for.

Another sore point is sodium: all 6 products contain at least 1.3g of salt per 100g. Certainly, a considerable amount.

Spices and flavors are present in variable quantities, and the other constant is the stabilizers (methylcellulose, guar gum, sodium alginate) used for preservation.

So, keep an eye on the label and the list of ingredients!

Alternatively, preparing a homemade vegetable burger or meatball is not that difficult. A bit of creativity and a little extra time are all you need. Legumes, vegetables, and spices are the basic simple ingredients: chickpeas and lentils are well suited for such preparations. To bind the mixture, you'll need egg white (which makes the mixture more protein-rich) or a small potato. Onion, garlic, and spices can be used according to taste. From a nutritional point of view, you'll get a qualitatively healthier product, without preservatives and with fewer fats, especially if you use extra virgin olive oil for baking or cooking in a non-stick pan with a lid.

Dr. Nutritionist Concetta Mauriello

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