Meatless burgers and hot dogs: Are they better for you?

Maybe you’ve spotted veggie burgers and tofu hot dogs in the reezer section of your supermarket or local health food store. Chances are, you’ll soon see even more. Meadess burgers are sprouting up on restaurant menus, and according to industry experts, they’ll even be available at fast-food chains within a few years. What do they offer that your classic burger and hot dog don’t?

Compared with the real thing, tofu dogs have twice the protein and less fat. They don’t contain nitrites (a preservative used in traditional franks that has been linked to cancer), but they often do contain as much sodium as regular hot dogs or even more. Also, if the label for veggie burgers meatless burgers and hot dogs are precooked, all you really need to do is warm them. If you heat them too long, they dry out. When grilling or broiling burgers, try basting with a salsa or a marinade to help seal in moisture.

Hot dogs lists autolyzed yeast, textured vegetable protein or anything hydrolyzed, the product contains MSG, which some people prefer to avoid.

All meatless burgers and hot dogs are not created equal

Just because their packages carry a “no cholesterol” claim, don’t assume meatless burgers are low in fat. While a few are fat-free and many are low in fat (2 to 4 grams per patty), others have up to 13 grams pretty close to the amount in a quarter-pound hamburger and higher than what’s in a small fast-food burger. The fat content of tofu dogs varies, too. So check nutrition panels to know what you’re getting.

For starters, most faux burgers and dogs are lower in calories and fat than their meaty counterparts. But does that mean they’re better for you? Before you fire up the grill, check out the facts:

style-28Where’s the beef?

In addition to being meatless, these burgers and dogs contain no dairy, eggs or animal by-products. Their chief ingredient is soy protein. Soy burgers provide about half to three quarters of the protein in a compa

Nutrition experts weigh in

“The meatless substitutes appear to be healthier and it’s nice to have these alternatives,” says Elizabeth Ward, B.D., a Boston-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Still, it’s important to check the amount of fat each brand contains.”

But some feel the apparent nutritional pluses aren’t worth the trade-off in taste: “I would rather eat fewer hamburgers and hot dogs but really enjoy them,” says Paul Saltman, Ph.D., professor of biology at the University of California, San Diego. “And beef products are still higher in trace elements and B vitamins and have the highest quality of protein.”

The bottom line: “If you eat only a handful a year of either the traditional or meatless types, it’s not going to make much difference,” says Martha Stone, Ph.D., professor of food science and human nutrition at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, so choose the option you prefer.

Will they satisfy your burger ravings?

If you’re a die-hard burger lover, probably not. While the veggie patties are burger-like, there’s a noticeable difference in taste and texture. You might be happier if you think of them as an alternative sandwich rather than a burger substitute. The hot dogs are a tougher sell; they look like the real thing, but the resemblance ends there.

For hot dog-craving vegetarians only.

Results of our taste test

Four Glamour tasters tested nearly two dozen nationally available veggie burgers and hot dogs, comparing them with burgers from a major fast-food chain and a supermarket brand of lower-fat franks. Burgers were heated according to package directions; hot dogs were boiled or steamed. All of our tasters enhanced the flavor with their favorite condiments (we suggest you do the same). Here, our picks:

Best veggie burgers

0 Boca Burger Hint of Fresh Garlic (97 calories, 1 gram of fat per patty)

# Boca Burger Chef Max’s Favorite (110 calories, 2 grams of fat per patty)

# Green Giant Harvest Burgers (140 calories, 4 grams of fat per patty)

# Morningstar Farms Meatless Dell

Franks (110 calories, 7 grams of fat each).

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