McDonald's P.L.T.

Will Plant-Based Fast Food Sweep the Planet?

Google Trends, Plant-Based DietsRemember the the McDonald’s seaweed burger? It was called the McLean Deluxe. Also later called the McFlopper. To replace some of the fat in a typical burger, food scientists pumped seaweed extract and soy into a modified beef patty. Back in 1991, plant-based diets were not a thing – low fat everything was it. But today plant-based diets are hot. So the news that McDonald’s is testing a plant-based fast food burger makes us wonder. Will plant-based fast food sweep the planet? Or will it just flash for a moment in the frying pan of popular culture?

Good for the Planet

The possibility that plant-based protein will take a bigger role in fast food is surely good news for the planet. Just about everyone who’s looked at the problem of climate change tells us that plant-based diets will be essential for saving the planet.

Conspiracy-minded tweeters protest that tree huggers are going to take their cheeseburgers from them. But the truth is that consumers are responding. They’re looking for plant-based alternatives that might offer benefits for them and their planet.

Confused Definitions

Here’s the problem, though. While plenty of people know they want a healthy plant based diet, they’re not exactly sure what it is. Even experts.

Men’s Health recently asked ten experts what the “plant-based diet” means. They got ten different answers. A consumer survey found similar results. Some people equate it with a vegan diet. Others say it’s all about minimally processed foods with an emphasis on plants. Still others say it means vegetarian.

Whatever it is, it’s good and we want it.

The Health Asterisk

The fly in the ointment is the question of the healthfulness of plant-based diets. As a 2017 study demonstrated, not all plant-based diets are created equal. And it’s not at all clear that fake burgers will be better for us than real burgers.

So maybe pea burgers will be a stepping stone toward a healthier planet. But for a healthier you, more careful thought about healthful plant-based patterns of eating will be necessary.

Click here for more on McDonald’s entry into the fake burger wars. For more on healthy plant-based diets, click here.

McDonald’s P.L.T., photograph © McDonalds via press release

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


September 28, 2019

One Response to “Will Plant-Based Fast Food Sweep the Planet?”

  1. September 29, 2019 at 4:24 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Great perspective to help us take pause on what exactly we are doing as ‘plant-based’ becomes the new darling du jour. What has stood out for me is how much time, energy, creativity, support, funding, etc. has gone into finding ways to make more processed products touted as being ‘healthy’, but which, in fact, just continue to fit into the categories of foods and drinks that have resulted in poor diets, such as fast foods, bars and ‘bites’, energy-dense snacks, ‘cool’ beverages other than water, and other ‘grab and go’ types of items — all items that encourage quick, often concentrated intake of excess calories. For me, the whole notion of plant-based is best served when it calls us to get back to the basics of consuming wholesome food with a focus on high-nutrient and less calorically dense (which happen to be vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains), discovering the joy of fresh and seasonal items and learning quick easy ways to prepare them, finding best dietary options within our availability and budgets. And it doesn’t mean excluding meat, eggs, dairy, fish — just eating less than we presently are, especially after the prolific years of too high-protein, no carb ‘diets’.