How to Shop for the Healthiest Veggie Burgers and Avoid “Edible Food-Like Substances”

All plant-based burgers are not created equal, but with a little backup knowledge, you can find healthy, wholesome products without the additives and fillers.

Today, just about everyone is searching for ways to enjoy a healthful, whole foods-based diet. At Hilary’s, we’re on a mission to keep our ingredient lists short and sweet—and to make yummy, healthy food available to as many people as possible. Hilary’s products contain great-tasting, well-sourced ingredients, without the fillers and preservatives common in so many packaged foods.

With many individuals and families focused on eating better foods in a hurry, the veggie-burger and meat-replacement markets are booming. People aim to replace meat with meat-free alternatives, for one meal or many, for any number of reason—health, the environment or simple preference. But when it comes to nutrition, not all veggie burgers are created equal. As you shop for nourishing, plant-based foods for your family’s diet, consider the following ingredients to watch out for.

MSG and Sweeteners

Remember that “meat-free” and “healthy” are not synonymous. In fact, some meat-replacement products use a wide array of ingredients that many health experts would suggest avoiding. Among these are MSG, sugar and artificial sweeteners.

MSG is a flavor enhancer frequently used in chinese cuisine and processed foods. This salty substance has been called into question for its potential negative health effects, including headaches and chest pain. In plant-based burger ingredient lists, MSG can be found in hydrolyzed soy or corn protein, flavor enhancers created by intensely processing soy and corn.

Another MSG red-flag ingredient: disodium guanylate. This flavor-enhancing food additive is regularly used in conjunction with MSG.

Cutting back on sugar? The past few decades have seen a huge spike in Americans’ sugar consumption, thanks in large part to sneaky sugar in processed foods—even those that aren’t very sweet. The dangers of a high-sugar diet are vast, with studies pointing to cardiovascular and liver risks, among others.

Hilary’s foods are artificial sweetener and cane sugar free, meaning you won’t find sugar on our ingredient lists. You also won’t find the artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes that sometimes pop up in processed plant-based foods. Health risks of these, depending on the sweetener in question, can range from bloating and digestive discomfort to an increased cancer risk. We think your family would be better off avoiding these when possible.

Artificial Colors and Preservatives

How can shoppers distinguish between real, wholesome veggie patties and those that have been processed to the point of, as Michael Pollan would say, “edible food-like substances”? One red flag to watch for is the presence of artificial colors and preservatives on an ingredient list.

Whole foods expire, while foods containing artificial preservatives stay edible longer than any food should—Twinkies can reportedly survive 30 years without spoiling. Artificial colors can bring brightness and “life” to processed foods, giving them a similar glow to many whole foods. (Beets don’t need “Red No. 40” to maintain their standout coloring.)
But browse through the convenience-food aisles at a grocery store, and you’ll have a harder time finding products that don’t contain artificial colors or preservatives than those that do. The veggie-burger section is no exception.

What’s at stake when we consume these additives is heavily debated. In the case of artificial colors, some studies suggest that certain colors can be linked to cancer, ADHD and allergic reactions. Of particular note is caramel color, used widely in soft drinks and many veggie burger patties, which has received bad press for its possible carcinogenic qualities. Still, the FDA has approved the use of caramel and other artificial colors, and many experts insist the evidence linking artificial colors to most adverse health effects is weak if not unfounded. One thing most experts can agree on: Artificial colors are not a natural part of the human diet.

The story behind common preservatives is similar: A bevy of risks have been associated with particular preservatives, including increased asthma symptoms and an increased risk of cancer. While they’re all approved by the FDA, few of these preservatives occur naturally in the human diet.

Hilary’s avoids the use of artificial colors and preservatives in all products because we want Hilary’s eaters to enjoy the most wholesome meals possible—the very same foods we feed our own families.

Common Allergens

An estimated 15 million Americans suffer from at least one type of food allergy—and millions more avoid common food allergens for other reasons, including health sensitivities and dietary preferences. For this sizeable segment, simple and transparent ingredient lists are essential.

Hilary’s products have been “free-from” the 12 most common food allergens since the beginning. Our company’s founder was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, and her struggle to find acceptable foods at the grocery store prompted her creation of our company and the nourishing, delicious products we sell today. Shoppers will never find the following allergens in Hilary’s foods:

  • gluten (wheat)
  • eggs
  • dairy
  • soy
  • corn
  • peanuts
  • sesame
  • tree nuts
  • mustard
  • coconut
  • sulfites
  • shellfish + fish

Creating regular, whole-ingredients meals isn’t always easy for busy individuals and families. Fortunately, convenient options, like Hilary’s veggie burgers, are increasingly accessible to people looking for simple ways to incorporate healthy, wholesome foods in their diets. Reading and understanding food labels can help shoppers pick the very best options.

Hilary’s is on a mission to keep our ingredient lists short and stocked with real, whole foods. We want to make these healthful foods available to as many people as possible, so we make sure to avoid common allergens. Eating well shouldn’t be difficult—and eating delicious plant-based foods should be a joy.