When the stock of the meat-alternative company Beyond Meat (symbol BYND) debuted on the NASDAQ stock exchange on May 2, 2019, there were immediately high expectations. Optimism for the company founders and their ambitions were being fueled by the high demand by some consumers for alternatives to traditional animal-based types of protein.
Beyond Meat representatives and their stock underwriters were not disappointed. By the end of the first day of trading, the stock had climbed from $25 per share to an amazing price of $65.75—an astronomical one-day gain of 163 percent! As a long-time stock market observer, I can confidently say this type of move is practically unheard of. As of this writing the stock is listed at a price of about $165 per share.
I had not taken much notice of the company or its products before the initial public offering. But I am generally a curious person and was eager to learn more of what was behind all the excitement. Indeed, I wanted to taste this “revolutionary concept.”
Recently, I visited a local Natural Grocers market and purchased a package of the Beyond Burgers. The two frozen patties—8 ounces total net weight—were heat-sealed in a plastic container, with a “diaper” beneath each to absorb moisture, and further wrapped in a cardboard display sleeve. (As an aside, I questioned if this was a bit excessive for a company that might be focusing on a customer base that is sensitive to over-packaging and waste volumes, but I digress.)
I thawed the burgers and broiled them, just as I would regular beef patties. They sizzled, they released what appeared to be a light-colored oil, and browned after several minutes.
After cooking and to make the eating experience as similar to my beef burgers as possible, I added some light condiment, topped them with some tomato slices, fashioned a lettuce-leaf wrapper around each, and down the hatch they went.
My palate was adequately impressed. The taste was good, as well as the texture, which can be difficult if you’ve tasted other attempts to imitate beef. And my expectations were high after the clerk at the food store commented, “You’ll like them even better than regular burgers.”
They Taste Good but Are They Healthy?
Despite my relatively positive culinary experience, the next step of my evaluation was truly the most revealing. I read the ingredients label and Nutrition Facts.
My assumption was that the health of the consumer was a driving force in the development of Beyond Meat products, but I could not have been more wrong. I was really quite stunned by what I read!
Here’s the ingredients list—verbatim:
Water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, contains less than 2% of the following: cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, natural flavor, maltodextrin, yeast extract, salt, sunflower oil, vegetable glycerin, dried yeast, gum arabic, citrus extract (to protect quality), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), beet juice extract (for color), acetic acid, succinic acid, modified food starch, annatto (for color).
The ingredients list is followed by this warning.
Peas are legumes. People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy. Contains no peanuts or tree nuts.
In an attempt to reassure the likely target audience, the package also states the product is certified vegan, is soy-free, gluten-free, and non-GMO. Well, thank goodness for all of that (I say with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek)!
How Lean Ground Beef Compares
The Nutrition Facts disclosure gave the following information about the Beyond Burgers:
One 113-gram patty contains a total of 270 calories. A whopping 170 calories of the 270 come from fat. Total fat equals 20 grams, or 31 percent of the daily value. Saturated fat equals 5 grams, or 25 percent of the daily value. Trans fat equals zero. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are not specified on the package.
Cholesterol content equals zero. Sodium content equals 380 milligrams, or 16 percent of the daily value. Potassium content equals 340 milligrams, or 10 percent of the daily value.
Total carbohydrate equals 5 grams, or 2 percent of the daily value. Dietary fiber equals 3 grams, or 13 percent of the daily value. There are zero additional sugars.
One patty contains 20 grams of protein, or 32 percent of the daily value, no vitamin A, 6 percent daily value of vitamin C, 2 percent daily value of calcium, 30 percent daily value of iron, and 25 percent daily value of phosphorus.
When I compare a Beyond Meat burger to regular, low-fat ground beef (i.e., 96 percent lean, 4 percent fat), some of the differences are stark.
One 113-gram patty contains a total of 150 calories, with only 50 of those calories contributed by fat. Total fat equals 6 grams, or 9 percent of the daily value. Saturated fat equals 2 grams, or 9 percent of the daily value.
Cholesterol content equals 70 milligrams, or 23 percent of the daily value. Sodium content equals 75 milligrams, or 3 percent of the daily value.
Total carbohydrate content is zero, one patty contains 25 grams of protein, and 15 percent of the daily value of iron.
While this comparison shows that low-fat, store-bought, readily available ground beef is not perfect or ideal, it certainly is decidedly nutritionally favorable to a Beyond Meat burger. Grass-fed ground beef probably would compare even more favorably.
The Untold Story
If we lift the proverbial curtain even further, we can see some other glaring and undesirable realities. Not only is a Beyond Meat burger high in saturated fat and high in sodium, the only protein it contains is derived from peas—a legume, no less.
My friend, Dr. Loren Cordain, put it best in a recent e-mail to me about the Beyond Meat burger. “The potassium/sodium ratio (340 mg/380 mg) equal to 0.89 represents an impossible value not found in virtually any natural foods (plant or animal). Yes, the amino acid profile of legumes is imbalanced and not close to what is found in real meat or animal products. Further the addition of sunflower oil and refined coconut oil gives this product an n3/n6 (omega) fatty acid balance which is totally uncharacteristic of any meat, fish or real animal food.”
Without the benefit of education in the arenas of human nutrition and optimal diets, the vast majority of consumers are sorely lacking in the ability to objectively evaluate the appropriateness of Beyond Meat products in their routine diet choices.
For most of these well-intentioned people, it’s an assumption that Beyond Meat has the consumers’ best nutritional interests in mind. Instead, their product may appear more as pandering to an audience that wants to “do the right thing,” “avoid unhealthy meat,” “save the animals,” “help the planet,” or numerous other points of focus. These well-intentioned people are predisposed to believe that a product like the Beyond Meat burger is actually health food. In short, it makes them feel good about what they eat. But that is all.
In truth, it’s more of a lifestyle choice than a health choice, as the facts suggest here.
As Dr. Cordain pointed out, the protein amino acid balance is poor (i.e., skewed toward plant proteins rather than more optimal animal proteins), and the fatty acid balance has way too much omega-6 relative to omega-3. This imbalance favors an inflammatory physiological response to the product. Throw in way too much sodium relative to potassium, and you have a potential recipe for hypertension, increased cardiovascular disease risk, and other problems.
The State of the Nutritional Art
It is clear in my mind that Beyond Meat made a strategic decision to focus on taste, palatability, and protein source rather than nutrition. This sells more burgers (and by the way, they sell sausage and other meatless products,) but it’s highly doubtful they don’t understand the consequences of their choices. I am not revealing profound secrets here!
When it comes down to it, a decision to avoid high-quality animal protein comes with unavoidable consequences, with the highest on the list being nutritional.
I don’t blame Beyond Meat for trying to bridge the gap between a non-meat menu and good nutrition. Maybe in the future some company or someone will make that a reality. But so far, Beyond Meat can’t claim to be the ones to have done it.