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Why Your Meatless Fast-Food Burger Could Be Covered in Animal Residue

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If you want your vegetarian burger cooked on a different broiler than regular meat patties, you'll have to make a special request when you order. Burger King

By Brian Mastroianni

Earlier this year, fast-food giant Burger King announced it was going to offer a vegetarian-friendly version of its signature sandwich: the Impossible Whopper.


The new burger would use a patty from Impossible Foods, a company that makes plant-based substitutes for dairy and meat food products.

While welcome news at first for vegetarian and vegan consumers who in the past have always had difficulty finding options that work for them at places like their local Burger King, the new veggie option comes with a caveat.

On its website's description of the Impossible Whopper, the second-largest burger chain in the United States offers an asterisk: The patty is prepared on the "same broiler used for beef and chicken."

According to Fox Business, Burger King patrons reportedly have the option to ask that their veggie burgers be cooked in separate broilers from the meat products.

This is often a request that people who adhere to vegan diets make: not wanting their meals to be prepared alongside meat items, keeping animal residue from their food.

Whether this is a problem for you or not depends on how strict your stipulations are for adhering to a meat-free diet, says Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center.

"I do see a lot of restaurants preparing, beginning vegetarian burgers on the same grill as they do other burgers. I think it kind of depends on how strict the person was," Hunnes told Healthline.

"I for one would personally request that card on a different grill. However, I don't always know if this is feasible. Either way, it is definitely a step in the right direction to be offering these types of burgers," she said.

Registered dietitian Amber Pankonin, MS, LMNT, adds that some vegetarians and vegans are more strict for religious purposes, for instance.

On the flip side, she says there are plenty who share the same grill at home while eating with meat-eating family members. As with anything, those who are on vegetarian and vegan diets fall on a wide spectrum of experience.

If you're on a plant-based diet or one that avoids animal products of any kind and are planning a night out, is there a common protocol for inquiring about how your food is prepared?

Pankonin told Healthline this differs depending on the circumstance. For example, there's a difference between someone's food preference and concerns over a food allergy.

She says that being a vegetarian or vegan is often seen as a "food preference" in many commercial kitchens.

"When it comes to knowing how your food is prepared, unless you are actually there to observe in person, it's probably a guessing game. If you are truly concerned, it would be wise to look at the menu online and then call ahead and ask how vegetarian or vegan options are prepared," she said.

Hunnes says if you have questions about salt in your food, certain types of oils, other allergens, or, in this case, vegetarian or vegan requests, she suggests you ask whether the restaurant has the "ability to prepare the food in the way you want it prepared."

If the establishment can't accommodate you, she says it's your choice to go elsewhere.

Pankonin cautions that sometimes people mistake vegan and vegetarian options as being automatically "healthy." She says these aren't always the healthiest options on a menu when it comes to overall calories and sodium content.

For her clients with concerns about this, Pankonin encourages them to always apply the basic principles of MyPlate, the nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She stresses that you should always check the nutrition facts of any given dish if you're worried about calories or sodium.

"If there are no nutrition facts available, you can always ask the server how the meal is prepared and ask for substitutions if necessary," Pankonin said.

"If you truly desire to eat a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet, you should include a variety of plant-based foods and not just rely on overly processed meatless options," she added.

The Bottom Line

Back in spring, fast-food chain Burger King announced it was going to offer a vegetarian-friendly Impossible Whopper made out of plant-based ingredients instead of meat.

When reading the fine print on its website, some vegetarian and vegan customers might be dismayed to see the default preparation for these patties is for them to be cooked on the same broilers as beef and chicken items.

Dietitians stress that whether this concerns you will depend on how strictly you adhere to your vegetarian or vegan diet.

Do your research. If you're unclear about the ingredients of a dish when dining out or want to know more about how it's prepared, read the menu online beforehand, and make sure to ask your server.

If it isn't made in a way that serves your diet or takes into account a food allergy, you can politely ask to have it prepared in a specific way for you.

However, remember you might have to seek a different dining option if the restaurant can't accommodate you.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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