Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Plant-Based Fast Food Isn't Always Healthier

 REMEMBER THE KFC Double Down? The "burger" monstrosity that mushed bacon, BBQ sauce, and cheese between two (count 'em, two!) fried chicken patties that debuted in 2014?

Well, you won't find the Double Down on KFC menus anywhere except Italy (?) these days, and there's good reason for it. Although the Double Down attracted a whole clucking ton of publicity, sales of the creation only represented about five percent of total sales during the first quarter after the thing debuted.

The Double Down has since been called a "gimmick" and a "stunt sandwich," but one factor remains: The Double Down got people talking about KFC again.

So why the hell are we talking about the KFC Double Down in a piece about plant-based fast foods? Well, everyone is talking about plant-based patties these days, largely because fast food companies have been promoting the bejeezus out of new plant-based burgers, breakfast sandwiches, and, now, nuggets.

Are these plant-based fast food items viable healthier menu alternatives—or are they yet another gimmick from the crafty marketing minds behind fast food conglomerates?

As a more recent example, take the Impossible Whopper. If you take a peek at the actual sales of Burger King's plant-based option, they represent an infinitesimal portion of the chain's total earnings. But if you consider that using Impossible products get people chattering about BK and also allows the King to wear a health halo atop his crown, well, that might be invaluable whatever sales may be.

Look, the point of all this isn't to deter you from trying plant-based fast food. All the dietitians we work with at Men's Health tell you to treat plant-based fast food just like you do any other fast food: Eat it sparingly.

The point of all this is that if you're choosing plant-based menu items because you think that they're healthier alternatives to traditional fast food, hold up. 

Meat-free doesn't necessarily mean an option is always better for you.

These six examples prove it.

Burger King's Impossible Whopper

A traditional beef Whopper: 660 calories, 28 grams protein, 49 grams carbs (2 grams fiber), and 40 grams fat.

An Impossible Whopper has 31 fewer calories, 3 grams less protein, 9 more grams of carbs, and 5 fewer grams of fat.

new york, ny   august 8 in this photo illustration, the new impossible whopper sits on a table on august 8, 2019 in the brooklyn borough of  new york city on thursday, burger king is launching its soy based impossible whopper at locations nationwide the meatless patties are produced by california tech startup impossible foods a single impossible whopper sandwich costs $599 photo by drew angerergetty images

Both sandwiches have about 11 grams of sugar.

It's basically the same sandwich. No healthier, despite what Impossible may want you to believe.

Chipotle's Plant-Based Chorizo

This pea-protein-based amalgam contains 220 calories, 16g protein, 16g carbohydrates (6g fiber, 1g sugar), and 8g fat per serving.

That's decent, and less calorie-laden than when Chipotle used to have pork-based chorizo on the menu (RIP), according to our prior reporting, but their pork chorizo had a whopping 31 grams of protein per serving.

Qdoba Impossible Options

You can load up your tacos or bowls with Impossible meat instead of beef, pork, or chicken at this Mexican-inspired chain.

chipotle restaurant for photos, to go with the round up story, on area mex style fast food giant burritos are the hottest thing in fastfood these days, chipotle, qdoba mexican grill, pancheros mexican grill and baja sol tortilla grill just to name a few places marketing the style chipotles huge burrito at the maple grove location photo by david brewsterstar tribune via getty images

According to the restaurant's website, a serving of just the Impossible protein contains 180 calories and 1 gram of sugar. In comparison, a serving of grilled chicken contains just 150 calories and 1 gram of sugar. You'll save even more calories by opting for pork, which has just 140 calories and 1 gram of sugar in a single serving.

Again, that's a marginal number of calories, but the point is that there's hardly any nutritional difference.

White Castle's Impossible Sliders

A regular cheese slider has just 170 calories and 2 grams of sugar, while an Impossible cheese slider contains 240 calories and the same amount of sugar.

KFC's Beyond Nuggets

There are 480 calories, 36 grams of protein, 30g carbs (0g fiber, 0g sugar), and 27g fat in a six-piece order of Beyond Nuggets, according to their website.

KFC doesn't have a comparable chicken nugget on the menu, so let's take one of their original recipe chicken breasts: 390 calories, 39g protein, 11g carbs (2g fiber, 0g sugar), 21g fat.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with choosing a plant-based patty if that's what you prefer. Or if you're vegetarian and vegan (we love you too!)

However, you shouldn't choose a meat-free option because you think it will always save on calories.

Like the Double Down, beware of gimmicks.

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