While Beyond Meat and The Impossible Burger have been around for a few years, it wasn’t until recently that I even learned what was in them. Spoiler alert: it’s worse than you probably thought it could be.
Obviously, I’m not exactly the target customer for a plant-based burger product. Still, I couldn’t help but notice their growing popularity. Tons of fast-food chains from Burger King to Carl’s Jr. have included them on the menu, and they are present in practically every Whole Foods and other grocery stores. I first assumed they were a mix of plant materials, maybe some binder or filler ingredient and some food coloring, but never looked into it until I saw an ingredient label for Beyond Meat at a friend’s house. If you don’t already know, here are the ingredient lists for both the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat patties:
IMPOSSIBLE BURGER NUTRITION LABEL:
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
BEYOND MEAT NUTRITION LABEL:
Water, Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract (to protect quality), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Beet Juice Extract (for color), Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto (for color).
YIKES! And now, the Center for Food Safety is putting the spotlight on the FDA’s decision to approve a color additive found in Impossible Foods’ burger (check out more from the actual legal filing here). This color additive is what makes the burger “bleed” like real meat, and this advocacy group is concerned that the FDA’s choice to approve this additive was not based on “convincing evidence,” which is required by regulation.
The ingredient at the center of this issue? Soy leghemoglobin. Bill Freese, the science policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), commented: “FDA approved soy leghemoglobin even though it conducted none of the long-term animal studies that are needed to determine whether or not it harms human health.” He continued: “This includes studies for cancer, reproductive impairment and other adverse effects called for by FDA’s Redbook, the Bible of food and color additive testing. We find this to be all the more troubling because a number of potential adverse effects were detected in a short-term rat trial: disruption of reproductive cycles and reduced uterine weights in females and biomarkers of anemia, reduced clotting ability and kidney problems.”
The burgers are also highly processed and contain a huge amount of sodium. While ground beef has around 80mg of sodium, the Impossible Burger has 370mg of sodium, and the Beyond Meat burger has 390mg! This just does not make sense. If you were really trying to make a “healthier” burger, wouldn’t it be way less high in sodium?
Beyond Meat’s third ingredient is canola oil. Sunflower oil is the fourth ingredient for the Impossible Burger. And if you’ve been listening to my podcast and/or have been reading my blog for a while, you already know how damaging any kind of vegetable/seed oil is to the body. Even worse is the fact that these oils make up 30% to 40% of the average person’s daily calories. And check out my article, Everything You Need To Know About Bad Oils, for more details about the extremely damaging effect these oils have on our health. Our bodies actually don’t register these oils as nutrition, because they aren’t capable of providing our systems with the kind of energy that other fats do. Dr. Cate Shanahan has also explained on the podcast before that one of biggest issues with vegetable oils is that they promote cancer, by going after your mitochondria and actually damaging it. When Dr. Cate was last on the podcast, she shared studies that she was citing in her next book that show that “mitochondria cannot function when they have a certain concentration of vegetable oil that they’re supposed to be trying to burn for energy. It shuts them down. They cannot produce energy. And that’s what leads to cancer, in my view.”
Dr. Cate added that: “It’s almost like it becomes like plutonium in your body, where it degrades and starts flying off these high energy molecules called free radicals that damage your cells. They damage your DNA, they damage your enzymes, they damage everything in your cell, your cell cannot have a chance of functioning properly, and they shut down your cell’s energy production.”
Bad oils also lead to dysfunctional fat metabolism, because our bodies are simply unequipped to handle these toxic oils (let alone large quantities of them!). Dr. Cate has stated that we now have 20 times more linoleic acid (the most common polyunsaturated fatty acid found in vegetable oils) present in the fat in our bodies than we used to have, which has, unsurprisingly, radically altered the composition of our bodies. Just consider this quote from Dr. Cate: “If you can just get vegetable oils out of your diet, you’re going to do way more good than if you get sugar out of your diet.”
And here’s a scary statistic: smoking a cigarette delivers a disturbance to normal healthy cardiovascular function of around eight hours. Having one serving of French fries can disturb normal, healthy cardiovascular function, make your arteries harder, and lessen blood flow, for up to 24 hours. So, the acute response to French fries and vegetable oil ingestion is worse than sugar and worse than smoking. And one group of scientists who researched vegetable oils’ effects compared the aldehydes in food fried in vegetable oil to the aldehydes one receives from smoking cigarettes. Their conclusion? The current level of fried vegetable oil consumption is equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes per day.
And even worse, Beyond Meat isn’t just making beef patties; they now offer various kinds of sausages and meatballs that are both “better for you and the planet.” This is simply false. Of course it makes sense that companies with plant-based products are going to peddle the “better for you and the planet” narrative, since it serves their best interest (making money). But what is even more concerning is how even critics of these plant-based burgers will claim that the product, while not good for your health, is still better for the planet. We already know from books like The Sacred Cow (co-authored by Robb Wolf) and The Vegetarian Myth (Mark Sisson calls this one a “must-read”) that it’s actually the opposite case. CNN already explored this idea in their article: “Is A Vegetarian Diet Really More Environmentally Friendly Than Eating Meat?” and NPR also tackled this issue, asking, “Is A No-Meat World Really Better?” back in 2017. And just last year, the BBC published a very convincing article, “Why The Vegan Diet Isn’t Always Green”.
So there you have it. Mock meats will never be able to offer the kind of powerhouse nutrition that grass-fed beef does, they certainly don’t taste as good, and they’re also not better for the planet. And while you may be well aware of this, there are so many people out there who are still under the impression that veganism is what we should all strive for, not just for health reasons, but also in order to protect the planet. An unfortunate side effect of the plant-based diet’s popularity is that countless companies are now trying to play on fear, so they can capitalize on health trends and make money. So if you know people who need to hear this message, send them here, and tell them about The Vegetarian Myth and The Sacred Cow, and about bad oils and processed foods. Tell them they don’t need to eat a fake burger filled with ….well, a bunch of fillers, and mostly toxic vegetable oils in order to “save the planet” and also their health. Tell them that eating local, grass-fed, sustainable burgers is the way to go, for both your health and environment. And isn’t that a relief? That the food that tastes the best, and feels the best for your body, is actually the best choice for our planet?
Oh, and if you’re really craving a burger after reading this article, here’s a pro tip: smear a little yellow mustard on each side before grilling. It will give the patty that restaurant, umami flavor that you can’t usually re-create with homemade burgers. Enjoy!