McDonald's Is Launching a Vegan Option in 2021

man holding a burger

Getty Images

  • McDonald's announced a plan to launch a plant-based burger in 2021
  • Meat alternatives are a welcomed menu option for vegetarians and vegans, but it does not necessarily make them a healthier choice, even if they are plant based.

McDonald's is finally throwing its hat in the ring with other fast food restaurants offering a plant-based option. The McPlant will make its debut in early 2021, but will it be worth waiting in line to try? According to Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, it depends.

Meat substitutes have been growing in popularity in the last few years, with help from brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which have created meat and poultry substitutes delicious enough to entice a butcher. Fast food and fast-casual restaurants like Burger King, Hardees, and Qdoba have had successful runs with meat substitutes.

According to the Plant-Based Food Association, in 2018 meat alternative sales grew to 670 million dollars, a 24% increase. The entire market—including milk alternatives and other plant-based options—yielded 3.3 billion dollars that year.

Beware of Nutritional Buzz Words 

Despite the growing interest, according to Taub-Dix, “These plant-based burgers have been around for years. The difference is that they used to be made with vegetables and grains and beans, ingredients that you can recognize but didn't taste like burgers. So that is what’s made them really popular now.

For people who don't eat meat or who want to try to eat something plant-based, these burgers check all the boxes for them.” She adds that just because something is vegetarian doesn't make it automatically healthy. 

Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN

The word vegetarian has a health halo, even if it’s a vegetable dish that was loaded with the pound of cheese.

— Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN

Taub-Dix explains that, even when wrapped up with labels like 'plant-based,' consumers are still eating fast food. For an omnivore, the tasty, plant-based options may give the illusion of health. She recommends looking at the nutrition facts for clarity. “It all comes down to knowledge. Some people are drawn in by the words ‘plant-based’, and they don't really understand that these foods also contain calories, fat, and saturated fat.” That means that, for some options, the risks are the same. 

For instance, the Beyond Burger, without adding cheese or mayo, contains 15% (350 milligrams) of the daily recommended value of sodium and 25% saturated fat (5 grams). A McDonald’s Quarter Pounder patty without the bun or cheese has slightly fewer calories, 9% (250 milligrams) of your daily recommended value of sodium, and 36% saturated fat (7 grams). While a Beyond Burger has less saturated fat, with the addition of fries, toppings, and a drink, it would not be difficult to reach your daily quota in one meal. 

“Plant-based doesn't say anything about sugar content or if something is organic; we just assume they are. Sodium is also a problem with plant-based options.” Other popular words include Non-GMO, gluten-free, and natural, which give very little insight into the ingredients. “The word vegetarian has a health halo, even if it’s a vegetable dish that was loaded with the pound of cheese.” 

Educate Yourself and Maintain Balance 

There are benefits to decreasing meat intake. A 2019 study showed that global meat consumption increased by 58% between 1998 and 2018, despite meat production being worse for the environment than other types of food farming. It is no wonder that researchers for companies like Beyond and Impossible Foods targeted meat-eaters during their production.

According to the study, “Products resembling burger patties, mince, sausages, and chicken are displayed alongside meat in the chilled cabinets, and many mimic meat products directly, with ‘bleeding’ burgers and other products designed to exhibit ‘meaty’ characteristics.”

Taub-Dix does not believe that a McPlant is off limits, but just like other fast food options, they should be enjoyed once in a while. “If you're going to a fast food establishment, and you're going to eat this food regularly, then I would say that you should have a little bit more variety in your diet, maybe choose the fish sometimes instead of just eating burgers, for the sake of health.” 

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, only 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats. Some plant-based burgers contain roughly half of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat. "Take that into consideration, and know that [your burger] may contain more than you should be having,” says Taub-Dix. 

Instead of avoiding these options altogether, whether sold at a fast food establishment or at the supermarket, get acquainted with what is in them. Taub-Dix recommends looking at the ingredient list to determine how often you should consume them. 

What This Means for You

While it is important to eat meat alternatives and fast food in moderation, it is also important to enjoy yourself. Taub-Dix says that, instead of depriving yourself of a treat, consider swapping your fries for baby carrots or a side salad, and be sensible about what you’ll be eating for the rest of the day. 

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Plant Based Foods Association. Retail Sales Data 2018.

  2. Beyond Meat. Beyond Burger. 2020.

  3. McDonald's. Nutrition Calculator. 2020.

  4. Curtain F, Grafenauer S. Plant-based meat substitutes in the Flexitarian Age: an audit of products on supermarket shelves. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2603. doi:10.3390/nu11112603

  5. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020.

  6. Burger King. Nutrition Explorer. 2020.

By Tonya Russell
Tonya Russell is a Philadelphia-based journalist with a passion for mental health, wellness, and culture.