An "impossible burger" is shown on a grill.
Meat alternatives often contain a lot of sodium and saturated fats. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

The latest food craze in stores and restaurants across the nation involves meatless options that look, taste and feel like meat.

But they most certainly are not.

The Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger are just a couple that are catching the attention of nutrition experts.

A diet focused on whole foods and plant-based nutrition will improve your health, said Kristi Artz, MD, CCMS, medical director for Spectrum Health’s Lifestyle Medicine program

Dr. Artz, certified in culinary medicine and plant-based nutrition, advises many of her patients to “eat the rainbow” and focus on colorful fruits and vegetables as a part of a well-balanced diet.

What does she have to say about the Impossible Burger and the like?

“Most people think that these meatless alternatives may be healthier, but many are high in sodium and high in saturated fats,” she said. “When you look at the ingredient list, they’re really just processed food.”

Health matters aren’t the only salient appeal of meatless foods.

Environmental consciousness is also a driving force behind the rise of these products.

The production of newer, plant-based burgers requires considerably less water and generates substantially less greenhouse gas emissions compared with traditional beef burgers.

This is certainly an important consideration for the well-being of the planet.

But it’s not necessarily the best option for the health of your body.

“We cook these burgers in our culinary medicine classes for a demonstration,” Artz said. “You wouldn’t believe how they bleed like an actual burger on the griddle. There are plant-based proteins that are used to give the products this ‘real meat’ feel.”

Artz notes that these meatless burgers can be a nice transition product for people battling cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or autoimmune disease—particularly those looking to eat less meat.

Still, as a culinary medicine expert, her main goal is to get people to think more about whole foods and a plant-based diet.

“I encourage people to stay away from processed foods,” she said. “And in my opinion, that’s what these products are—just processed food.”

There are many healthier alternatives for folks looking to eat less meat, she said. She encourages people to look closely at ingredient and nutrition labels before purchasing these products.

“Try a black bean or whole grain burger if you are looking for a meatless option,” she said. “These may not have the same texture as real meat, but are full of protein and fiber—and are definitely healthier alternatives.”