Health

Trading Meat for a Plant-Based Patty Doesn’t Make Fast Food Healthier

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Snoop Dogg’s “Beyond D-O-Double G Sandwich” (pictured above) at Dunkin’ is the latest “plant-based meat” twist on a fast food sandwich. Experts say that while exchanging a meatless patty for the real thing may appear healthier, it’s not. Image via Dunnkin’
  • Fast-food companies are pushing new plant-based “meat” items as healthy alternatives to their more traditional offerings.
  • Experts warn that while plant-based meats are safe, they don’t improve the nutritional value of fast-food items like burgers or breakfast sandwiches.
  • Experts also stress that the “healthy” label given to these kinds of items is dangerous, feeding misinformation about the kinds of foods we consume.

On Monday, Jan. 13, rapper and media personality Snoop Dogg took to his Instagram to reveal his next big brand partnership: a new breakfast sandwich from Dunkin’ that uses plant-based protein and the company’s signature glazed doughnuts.

In a blog post announcing the Beyond D-O-Double G Sandwich, Dunkin’ revealed the sandwich would only be available at select locations for just 1 week, from Jan. 13 to 19.

Consisting of a meatless Beyond Sausage patty, egg, and cheese that’s served on a sliced glazed doughnut, the Snoop-approved menu item might sound like a tasty way to start the morning. But obviously, not a healthy one.

However, nutritionists say it’s not merely the glazed doughnut bun that makes it an unhealthy choice.

In fact, the growing plant-based meat alternative trend fast-food chains are embracing isn’t as healthy as they’d like you to believe.

It’s not just the glazed doughnut bun.

While there’s currently no nutritional information about the new, limited-time-only sandwich on the company’s website, Dunkin’ does have nutrition information available for the original Beyond Sausage sandwich that was launched last fall.

That sandwich contains:

  • 480 calories
  • 24 grams fat
  • 8 grams saturated fat
  • 920 milligrams sodium
  • 24 grams protein

Christina Anderson, MS, RDN/LD, CNSC, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified specialist in nutrition support, says she calculated an estimate of what this new breakfast item would come out to using Cronometer.com:

  • 550 calories
  • 34 grams fat
  • 15 grams saturated fat
  • 1,135 milligrams sodium
  • 24 grams protein

She says that any nutrition numbers in the ballpark of these figures would be unacceptable for this to be considered “a healthy option.”

“This has almost half someone’s daily recommended amount of sodium, a tablespoon of sugar, and more saturated fat than other breakfast sandwiches, aside from ones served on a croissant,” Anderson told Healthline. “Just because it has a ‘plant-based’ patty doesn’t make it a healthy option.”

Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, told Healthline she doesn’t necessarily consider Beyond Burgers to be “health foods” to begin with.

“I definitely believe they are better for your heart and health overall than a meat burger or patty, but they are not a ‘healthfood,” she said. “Moreover, it is somewhat negated by the cheese — full fat, high in saturated fat — and glazed doughnut, which is just white flour and sugar without much healthfulness to it.”

She stresses she’d “not advocate” ordering this sandwich if you visit Dunkin’ over the next week.

If you do choose one of Beyond Meat’s plant-based items, Hunnes suggests you try to get one on a whole grain bun with lettuce and a tomato for fiber, rather than a glazed doughnut with eggs and cheese.

“Instead of skipping the doughnut altogether, or at least going for a McD’s egg McMuffin with Canadian bacon, sound judgment is clouded by the touted ‘healthy’ aspect of the Beyond Meat product used in the sandwich,” Anderson said.

“The patty is made from peas, mung beans, rice, sunflower, and coconut oil to make it ‘juicy.’ If they are adding more saturated fat to make the dry, dense beans and protein powders ‘moist,’ that’s wrong,” she said.

“Just because this version has less calories, saturated fat than the pork sausage counterpart doesn’t make it a healthy option,” Anderson added.

If your kids see the Snoop Dogg promotions and ask you to get the sandwich for them this week, what should you say?

Hunnes reiterates she’d be “leery of this item” no matter what.

“I would tell my child that there are other more healthful items on their menu, perhaps an egg-white omelet on an English muffin. I would tell my child it is a lot of sugar, and that I would rather give him something more healthful,” she said.

That being said, Hunnes adds that she’s mindful her child has been “ingrained with healthful eating” since he was an infant due to having a dietitian for a parent. This means he might be more amenable to this kind of conversation than other children.

However, Hunnes wants to hammer home to fellow parents that she doesn’t see anything healthy about this particular item.

Registered dietitian Amber Pankonin, MS, LMNT, was even more blunt about this.

“Considering that I wouldn’t even feed this to my own dog, I probably wouldn’t feed this to my family,” Pankonin said.

“Dunkin’ actually does offer some much better options for those who are watching their calorie and sodium intake. For example, the veggie egg-white sandwich contains 240 calories and 14 grams of protein.”

This new Snoop Dogg–Dunkin’ partnership follows a year that saw the popular fast-food chain jump on the plant-based bandwagon.

It first launched a trial run of meatless Beyond Sausage sandwiches in New York City locations in July before incorporating the items nationwide in November, according to a company press release.

Hunnes says that a lot of the messaging around the sandwich’s nutritional benefits seems to be pure publicity with little substance.

“I am a bit offended that they would call this a plant-based sandwich when it also contains eggs and dairy products. I guess they didn’t call it a vegan sandwich, which it definitely is not. But when most people hear the term ‘plant-based,’ I believe they tend to think the food item is healthier and perhaps closer to vegan,” Hunnes explained.

“So, I think, particularly since this item is going to be high in calories, sugar, salt, and saturated fat, and is highly processed, it is misleading the public into believing this will be a healthy item when it is absolutely not,” she added.

Anderson echoes those thoughts. She says branding around this kind of breakfast sandwich as a health food when it really isn’t is “part of why Americans are so confused about nutrition.”

She theorizes this might be why there are such high rates of obesity nationwide.

Dunkin’ isn’t the only fast-food chain jumping on the alternative meat bandwagon.

Following the success of their Impossible Whopper, Burger King will also be getting into the plant-based breakfast sandwich game when it begins offering the Impossible Pork sausage patty at 139 locations later this month as an alternative menu item.

Other popular companies like Taco Bell have been touting plant-based and vegetarian menus as healthy shifts from past norms.

Pankonin says this kind of branding gives these companies a misleading “health halo,” making consumers thinking they’re eating healthily while still consuming high amounts of overly processed items.

“Dunkin’ isn’t fixing anything by putting a processed Beyond Meat patty in a doughnut and having Snoop talk about it. I think we will continue to see fast food pushing ‘plant-based’ options, but that doesn’t mean those options are healthy or nutritious,” she said.

Pankonin adds that fast-food companies are well aware of the fact that “plant-based” is an effective tactic for getting consumers to buy into the idea that they’re making a healthy choice.

She stresses it’s important people take the time to read Nutrition Facts labels on any food before they buy it at the supermarket or order it for a quick, on-the-go meal at a place like Dunkin’.

“Sadly, I think too many restaurants are wanting to appear healthier than they are, and are trying to glom on to a trend of plant-based items,” Hunnes said.

“I am more than thrilled to see more plant-based items being offered at restaurants both for ‘health’ and environmental reasons. But truly, I think there need to be more regulations on the term plant-based so that restaurants have to demonstrate that their item is healthier,” she said.

Hunnes added, “I believe that people want to be healthier and are becoming more aware of plant-based. So, I believe there needs to be some sort of rubric to identify items that are healthier, less processed, and plant-based used as a more healthful term.”

However, while fast-food Impossible Meat menu items may not be “healthy” choices, some experts point out that plant-based “meat” consumed in moderation may help improve some aspects of a person’s diet.

In fact, when it’s not placed in a fast-food sandwich, plant-based alternatives can be helpful for people who are working on limiting consumption of red meat and processed meats.

“For my patients, I start with asking how much [processed meat] they are eating on a regular basis. If consumption is high (two to three times a week), then substituting with plant-based a few times a week may help,” said Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, author of “Skinny Liver.”

Still, experts say they’d rather see people getting the majority of their plant-based protein in the form of whole foods, such as legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Kirkpatrick also points out that for those who don’t regularly consume red meat, choosing an Impossible Burger over “the real deal may not make a huge difference” for your long-term health.

For 1 week only, Dunkin’ will be selling a new Beyond D-O-Double G Sandwich as part of a publicity campaign with Snoop Dogg.

The sandwich consists of a plant-based Beyond Sausage patty, egg, and cheese, all served on a sliced glazed doughnut.

The company is billing plant-based items as healthy alternatives to their more traditional breakfast offerings.

Nutritionists say it’s misleading. The fact that this sandwich contains eggs and cheese, a glazed doughnut, and heavily processed patties means it comes with a high calorie count and a level of saturated fat and sodium that is just as unhealthy as other fast-food offerings.

Experts suggest if you must have this kind of sandwich, choose one with lettuce and tomatoes, and skip the doughnut.

They stress that the “healthy” label given to these kinds of items is dangerous, feeding misinformation about the kinds of foods we consume. Experts add you should always consult Nutrition Facts labels to know what is in the foods you consume.

Additional reporting by Michelle Pugle




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