There was some veggie burger controversy on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters TV reality show last night. Chef Suvir Saran caused a stir with his veggie burger dish for “The Biggest Loser” elimination challenge. As Suvir said, “I’ve chosen to do a veggie burger because I am vegetarian .. my dish is about changing the paradigm .. eating a veggie burger can be just as celebrated as a bacon cheeseburger.” (And Suvir didn’t stop there. More quotes from his pre-meal speech ahead) .
So what do you think about Suvir’s stance? What do the nutrition experts say? Can a veggie burger act as an adequate healthy substitute for a weight loss dieter’s red-meat-hamburger craving? Or is there just no substitution for meat? Lets discuss!..
I’m a huge Top Chef fan – however, I usually prefer the original show – with the unknown chefs competing for big cash prizes. I do also love Top Chef Masters – but sometimes I find it less entertaining simply because the established chefs are less controversial and cut-throat to each other. And since they are competing for charity – no one really wants to get nasty when it comes to the challenges. But not last night! Last night’s episode clicked the competition controversy up a few notches. And the topic that stirred the pot – was none other than healthy eating.
The Biggest Loser elimination challenge consisted of each Top Chef Master being paired up with a past Biggest Loser contestant – yes, the NBC reality show. These BL contestants all brought along their most favorite pre-diet meal. Calorie-laden comfort food ensued.. The dishes ranged from deep dish pizza, Chinese food buffet, corned beef hash, french toast, fried chicken and of course – the “Pub Food” classic – a meaty bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries. The chefs needed to form teams of breakfast, lunch and dinner – and a brownie dessert – and recreate these dishes with a combined total daily caloric intake of under 1500 calories.
The chefs seemed to hate this challenge – because lets face it, when you are trying to make recipes taste their best, the easiest path is to throw calorie counting out the window. One chef remarked that for example, guests will ask why her mashed potatoes taste so good, and she laughs “because they have a pound of butter in them!”
The controversy began when Chef Suvir Saran decided to replace the red meat hamburger dish he received with a veggie burger. But he didn’t simply silently plate the dish and walk away. He decided to let everyone know exactly why he had ditched the meat and gone with legumes. So when he presented his dish he gave the crowd his perspective on why red meat has no place in a healthy diet (he admitted his bias – that he is in fact a vegetarian himself). His teammate Hugh, was incredibly annoyed because Suvir’s speech came right before he presented his “red meat dish”. So what did Suvir say that was so controversial? Here is Suvir’s pre-dish speech (he served a veggie burger with Asian slaw)..
“..legumes and beans can give you all the protein without the bad calories of meat.”
“..I was hoping to make a statement that it is very easy to be fooled into eating red meat and thinking we are eating good calories. Red meat is a direct enemy of our hearts and arteries, and as a nation we’ve really done it wrong for so many decades that we are the fattest nation in the world.”
The eye-rolls and cringes from the crowd were then captured quite apparently by the Top Chef cameras. And Chef Suvir clearly didn’t please his meat-craving Biggest Loser dieter contestant, she kept repeating over and over that “I like my meat” – as simple as that.
The Experts. When you ask the experts in nutrition – you get mixed views. Or at least, mixed messages. The American Heart Association actually makes no mention of red meat in their current diet recommendations on their AHA web site - however they do mention lowering saturated fat - and any nutrition-savvy person knows that red meat (and animal products in general) are loaded with saturated fat compared to their plant-based counterparts. AHA does however, mention reducing processed meats (such as lunch-meats like bologna). Some articles have even said AHA likes red meat.
On the other end of the science spectrum, several studies have reported clear links between red meat consumption and ailing heart hearth. And even the USDA now admits that a more plant-based diet is indeed better for your overall health.
So the question I’m asking is, what do you think? Does red meat truly have a place in a healthy diet – especially one where you are trying to lose weight? Or why should red meat be singled out as a meaty evil? What about chicken, pork or lamb? Or is red meat acceptable for a healthy diet in small quantities? Are the real evils things like trans fat, too much sugar and empty calories? Weigh in on this topic! (no pun intended)
My view. As a vegan myself, I think you can all guess that I was glad that Suvir spoke up and stood his ground. In fact, I tweeted him last night and @SuvirSaran immedietly re-tweeted me several times on Twitter.
In closing, I believe that if anything, Suvir seems incredibly passionate about health – and with a frightening epidemic of obesity in this country, I can certainly applaud anyone who stands up for their healthy eating beliefs. I know first hand that it’s not always easy selling the green salad and tofu in a room full of burger-lovers.
But I guess in the end – for the sake of the Top Chef show – you have to also consider that the challenge was to please the Biggest Loser contestant – and all she wanted was a bite of meat. And in real life, I’m guessing she would’ve chosen a pub burger over Suvir’s veggie burger at a restaurant. Thus, no one won. Suvir’s food wasn’t well-received by the contestant (she in essence chose the higher calorie meat-burger over the veggie burger), so the contestant didn’t get a healthy option (that she would eat) for her meal craving. Again, everyone loses..
..I guess that’s why, I the end *spoiler alert!* Suvir did indeed go home at the judging table.
So what do you think??
And if you are looking to try a veggie burger, give these recipes a shot!..