one green planet
one green planet

Some store bought vegan staples can be life-savers for those with a busy schedule or that are cutting down their meat and dairy consumption.This is especially true for products that replace animal-based foods, like vegan mayo, vegan cheese and yogurt, non-dairy milk, and of course, the epic veggie burger. While we know whole foods are best, these products help (or have helped) many of us ease into a plant-based diet with a little less intimidation. Some people also find they’re just handy for a quick meal in a few minutes, and many even love the way they taste. One of the most popular vegan food items that has come a long way in its popularity is the veggie burger.

Veggie burgers used to have a horrible reputation for tasting like cardboard back when they were first introduced years ago. Thankfully, though the food industry isn’t where it should be, the amount of healthier choices we have in store bought items has increased dramatically. From companies going organic, to going GMO-free, and even avoiding palm oil in their products for sustainability purposes, these corporations are finally listening to consumer demands for clean, healthier foods that can be purchased and prepared in minutes.

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But not every brand of veggie burgers out there is the best. Among some of the healthier choices we have today, there are also many who still put scary ingredients in their products. These ingredients don’t just offer zero nutritional value and little purpose, but they may also come with potential toxic effects. Some even have GMOs and animal products! Remember, just because it’s a veggie burger doesn’t give it a health halo, but don’t worry, we’re here to help. Below you’ll learn what to look out for when you buy your next box of veggie burgers and read those ingredients lists (a must for choosing healthy foods), and learn some tips for how to choose better options.

Here’s how to pick the best ones of the bunch:

Stay Clear of These..


John FLFE/Flickr

Soy Isolates

Think of this ingredient like refined flour – it contains no benefits of the food it actually comes from. Sure, it offers protein, but it’s merely a cheap source food producers use to cut cost. Soy protein isolate is also a source of MSG, and most soy products that are not certified non-GMO contain genetically modified soy. Thankfully, many companies are now going soy-free and including non-GMO pea protein instead of cheap soy protein ingredients, but you’ll need to read the labels to be sure.


Caseinates are surprisingly found in many veggie burgers, unless the burger is certified vegan. Caseinates are often used as fillers, flavorings, or just as a cheap protein source. Since casein is a dairy-based protein linked to cancer, your health will thank you if you avoid it. It’s also highly allergenic and can cause digestive upset.

Hexane-Containing Foods

Hexane is a carcinogenic gas used to produce soy and even hemp products that aren’t certified non-GMO or organic (which naturally eliminates GMOs). Hexane has also been shown to lead to neurotoxicity because its a natural form of petroleum. It’s actually classified as an air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  So if you’re going to buy a veggie burgers with soy, be sure you choose not just GMO-free and/or organic, but also choose those made with whole forms of soy like edamame or black soybeans that your body prefers instead of refined soy proteins, concentrates, oils and isolates. If you purchase one with hemp seeds, be sure the company specifies that it contains no hexane if they’re not certified organic and non-GMO.


TVP (textured vegetable protein) is a popular vegan (and cheap) form of soy protein people use for convenience and to replicate that meaty texture everyone loves. It’s also a likely source of genetically modified soy and hexane. Food companies use TVP as a cheap protein source to cut costs and also provide a certain texture. While it sounds harmless, TVP is so highly processed and refined that it resembles nothing what soy actually looks like. The heat and extensive processing methods applied to make TVP changes the protein structure, which produces MSG as a result. Most companies no longer use this in veggie burgers, but some still do, so read your labels!

Refined Oils

Soybean, “vegetable” oil (which often refers to soy or corn oil), corn oil, safflower oil, and even canola oils that aren’t certified non-GMO should all be avoided. Soy and corn are the two of the most prominent genetically modified ingredients and their oils are used in everything these days to cut costs. These oils don’t just contain GMO’s, but most are also inflammatory since they’re higher in omega 6 fats than omega 3 fats. Our bodies prefer to have a greater ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats, so when you purchase any product including veggie burgers, make sure they have omega 3 sources such as flax, hemp, chia, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts in place of refined sources of oils. You really don’t need oils to make veggie burgers anyway, and most can be made without any.

Autolyzed Yeast Extract (or just Yeast Extract)

This is an additive used to add flavor, but guess what? It’s also a source of MSG. Not just that, but this form of yeast is not beneficial to your health. It’s a food-additive based yeast which can offset your good levels of beneficial bacteria and even cause allergies. It’s also not related at all to nutritional yeast, which is an inactive yeast with a cheesy flavor with beneficial amounts of vitamin B12 and protein. If you purchase any processed foods, try to avoid this extract which is found in everything from soups to salad dressing and more.


Benzoates, titanium dioxide and nitrates are just a few of the preservatives that you’ll find in processed foods, veggie burgers included. These preservatives aren’t just hard to pronounce, but many have also been linked to asthma, heart problems, allergies, and even cancer. Generally, a good sea salt or citrus-derived preservative like citric acid are enough to preserve a food product, so avoid companies that use cheap preservatives by reading your labels thoroughly.

How to Choose the Best Options


Opt for Organic

Organic ensures you’re not eating any GMOs, that you’re supporting a healthier food industry, and that you’re not putting any toxic ingredients in your body. Yes, you might pay a dollar or two more, but if it eliminates the risk for hormones, pesticides, and who knows what else, then it’s definitely worth the effort.

Look for Whole Food Ingredients

A good thing to keep in mind is that if the ingredients aren’t a whole food you recognize, you probably want to avoid it. For instance, one could easily turn beans, nuts, seeds, grains, and veggies into a delicious burger, perhaps with a little salt and seasoning. But could you really reproduce all those chemicals, additives, and forms of protein you can’t pronounce? Probably not.

Be Sure it’s Vegan!

You’d be surprised how many veggie burgers out there have cheese, egg whites, milk and more. It’s not just the casein ingredients that you should watch out for, but also the hidden animal ingredients companies add in here and there to add flavor, texture and more. This allows them to label the burgers vegetarian since they don’t have meat, but that doesn’t mean they’re free of animal products and are vegan. To be safe, always buy certified vegan products, which you can easily find at most health food and grocery stores everywhere. Since dairy and eggs are inflammatory, and dairy has been linked to cancer, you’re better off avoiding these foods, even in small amounts.

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So there you have it – the top 10 things to keep in mind when purchasing your next batch of veggie burgers. If it sounds tough, don’t let it scare you. More and more companies are producing better options, changing their ingredient and product lines, and new brands continue to emerge every year in this market as consumers demand cleaner, better-tasting and sustainable options. Even better than store bought options, make your own at home – we’ve got so many recipes to choose from that you might not ever feel the need for a boxed veggie burger again!

What’s your favorite veggie burger brand or recipe?

Lead Image Source: Black Bean Apple Burgers With Caramelized Onion Chipotle BBQ Sauce and Shitake Bacon