It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to [email protected] and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Should I be concerned about how heavily processed vegetarian meat substitutes are?

My girlfriend is a vegetarian. I usually cook for the two of us, and I typically make one meal that we can eat together. I often use fake meat products, like Morningstar farms sausage, burgers, ground beef, or Quorn brand fake chicken, because they are convenient and easy to cook and they seem to be good sources of protein for us. But they also seem to be pretty heavily processed, and there are some interesting ingredients. I am sure that they fall short when compared to other more natural foods like beans and legumes, but I wanted to ask if you know of any specific research regarding these foods.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

A burger made with a processed veggie burger patty

I am not aware of any specific research regarding these sorts of products. It is challenging because on the one hand they are "natural" and vegetarian, but at the same time they are highly processed. In most cases this means they are generally very high in sodium.

You might be better choosing the organic versions just because they will have fewer unusual ingredients, but I don't have evidence to support that. Making your own veggie burgers is pretty easy: try our Black Bean and Jack Burgers or this Mushroom Burger.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet