Allen R Williams, Ph.D., SHA Instructor & Co-Founder
Consumers are currently being bombarded with commercials and ads for various forms of what I term “fake meat.” Curiously, many who are manufacturing and selling these products, as well as their supporters, prefer to call them “clean proteins.” The ads appear to be almost everywhere—on the TV, in magazines, radio, billboards, store signs, newspaper and any place imaginable. It’s pretty much impossible not to see, hear, or read about fake meats. Not only are there direct ads, but there have been, and continue to be, numerous stories about “clean proteins” and their benefits for human health, animal welfare, the environment, and climate change.
What are the Ads Saying
Most of the ads tout the supposed benefits of plant-based proteins and somehow confer on them a “cleanness” that implies they are far better for health, environment and climate change than any real protein can be. When you read or listen to the ads you will hear statements like, “100 percent plant-based,” “derived from all plant sources,” “healthier for you,” “Wow, I can’t believe this is not real beef.” In one commercial where they are showing people taste-testing a fake-meat hamburger and supposedly loving the taste of the fake meat far better, one of the characters says, “I’ve been a #@$* Fool!” That particular ad purposely shows a cowboy hat-clad guy eating the fake meat burger while making that statement. I do hope that we all know the people in the ads are actors spouting their lines, and that even what they are wearing is very purposeful and planned. They are meant to represent all sorts of people from all walks of life.
The problem with most of these ads is that they provide little to no documentation of the “facts” they are so freely spouting. They do not give you an ingredients list for the fake-meat product (and most would not want to). They do not provide any long-term (or even short term) nutritional or medical studies that show that these new fake meats are actually good for you, and they are not required to by the USDA or FDA. Why? Because all the ingredients are legitimate “food” items according to our USDA and FDA. They do not tell you HOW they are actually better for the environment. They just simply imply that plant-based proteins are better, and that if you are an “informed” consumer you should know that.
They do not tell you how the fake meats are better for animal welfare, other than again implying that if you eat fake meats there will be far less harvesting of animals. They do not tell you how growing all plants, combined with not raising animals for real protein, actually supposedly improves our climate. They do not tell you anything about the potential long-term health consequences of eating fake meats as a substitute for real meats. They do not mention anything about possible epigenetic effects from eating these fake meats as a routine part of our diet. They also do not tell us why we have to eat a fake meat, even if we are a vegan, in place of already existing plant proteins.
Make no mistake about it. The fake meats that are currently on the market are mostly highly processed food products and bear little to no resemblance to a real, whole food.
The most commonly known fake meat made strictly from plant materials is the Impossible Burger. This product is touted as being both Halal and Kosher certified and the claim is that it is 100-percent vegan with zero animal products or byproducts involved in its manufacture.
The published list of ingredients for the Impossible Burger (from most to least) is: water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors, potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, modified food starch, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols, zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride, sodium ascorbate, niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.
The manufacturers (it sounds strange to say that food is manufactured—made in a factory of sorts) mass produce the iron-rich soy protein using yeast cultures. Looking at the list, water comprises the highest percentage of all ingredients, so the consumer is paying quite a lot for water. The next ingredient is soy protein concentrate. While soybean protein is classified as a complete protein, it does have some potential drawbacks. Soybeans are legumes and legumes produce phytoestrogens. Too much phytoestrogen in our diet may have a negative impact on endocrine function in the body. In addition, the Impossible Burger also includes soy leghemoglobin and soy protein isolate. Research of prior civilizations shows that when their food source was derived predominantly from one major component, detrimental body function occurred.
When we consider that 93 percent or more of all soybeans are genetically modified and that glyphosate and other chemicals were used heavily in the production of most soybean products, are we really helping the environment, ecosystem, and our own long-term health as much as we perceive? In order to remove animal products and byproducts are we saying it is okay to damage the environment and human health through the applications of glyphosates, fungicides, insecticides, synthetic fertilizers and combine that with poor farming practices that foster erosion, harmful runoff, loss of soil carbon and organic matter, and significantly reduced water infiltration that leads to greater flooding events and creates an enormous dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico every year?
There is a saying from scripture that before you criticize the splinter in one person’s eye you must first remove the log from your own eye.
As we further examine the, we next find that coconut oil and sunflower oil make up a hefty percentage of the total ingredients in this version of fake meat. Soybean itself is not a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and soybean oil has a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids of about 7:1, meaning that we are getting seven times the omega-6 in our diet compared to omega-3. This means that while there is omega-3 in soybeans our bodies cannot actually use much of it.
Sunflower oil is one of the worst oils relative to the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. The American Medical Association and the American Heart Association recommends that our daily diet consist of an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of about 4:1 or less. The average American, in their diet, is getting an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 20:1 or worse. Sunflower oil has an omega-6 to omega 3 ratio of 70:1. This is ridiculously high and can lead to tissue inflammation, which can lead to a host of diseases and disorders in the body.
Coconut oil actually has little to no appreciable omega-3 fatty acids. It is high in saturated fat with a single cup of coconut oil containing 218 g of total fat with 87 percent of that fat being saturated. Each cup also has 3.92 g of omega-6 fatty acids.
The other ingredients in the list aren’t exactly inspiring. The next ingredient on the list is “natural flavors,” whatever that means. What natural flavors can possibly be used to simulate the flavor of meat, other than meat itself? The remainder of the list of ingredients reads like the back label of some sort of manufactured chemical solution, which is really what the Impossible Burger is. To be truthful, to think that we, as humans, can design a “food” synthetically that is anywhere near the true nutrient value and composition of real foods produced by nature amounts to extreme hubris. I am a scientist myself and I believe this represents the height of scientific arrogance. Manufactured foods will produce unintended consequences. These unintended consequences will carry through to multiple generations through epigenetic effects that are transgenerational in nature. In other words, what we eat today will affect our children and our children’s children. We have already seen this happen in the manufactured foods that are quite common in the middle aisles of every grocery store.
Let’s examine a comparison of the common nutritional values between real beef and the Impossible Burger (Table 1). Keep in mind that the nutritional values in the table for beef are for commodity grain fed beef and not those for grass fed beef. Considering the same serving size of four ounces, the number of calories derived from either real beef or the Impossible Burger are very similar, as is total fat and saturated fat. So, the 100 percent vegan version of “meat” does not provide any advantage in fat content. The Impossible Burger does list 0 mg of cholesterol compared to 94 mg for the grain fed beef patty. However, cholesterol is a required fat (lipid) in our bodies and our brains must be bathed in cholesterol in order to function properly. Cholesterol is the lipid that acts in the brain like oil does in an engine. Take away the oil and the engine seizes. Take away cholesterol in the brain and the brain seizes up. We call that dementia. While too much cholesterol in our diet, particularly as if influences LDL cholesterol, may be an issue, too little cholesterol creates health issues as well.
Where the Impossible Burger really deviates from grain fed beef is in the amount of sodium (salt) that is in a four-ounce serving. The Impossible Burger has 370 mg of sodium compared to just 89 mg of sodium for the grain fed beef. That amounts to 4.3 times the amount of sodium in a single serving as compared to beef. Our bodies do require sodium for many basic processes to occur. These include muscle function, nerve impulse regulation, and balance of fluids. However, too much sodium in the diet can lead to serious and significant health problems that include high blood pressure, damage of vessel walls, increased risk of atherosclerosis, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Additionally, too much sodium can cause oedema, manifested in swelling of the knees, feet, and even hands. It can lead to stomach damage, including increased chance of stomach cancer and encourages overconsumption.
Protein in real beef comes in at 28 g for a four ounce serving compared to 19 g in the Impossible Burger. So real beef has 1.5 times the amount of protein in a single serving. Now, if we make that real beef a grass-fed beef, we have a distinct nutritional advantage over the fake meat.
Who have been the Earliest Adopters
What sector of the food industry has been the first to jump on the fake meat bandwagon and tout its benefits in a bombardment of ads? Ironically, it has been the fast food sector, also called QSR (Quick Service Restaurants). A high percentage of all the ads spouting the benefits of fake meat have been from these companies, as if putting a fake burger patty between two buns and smothered in condiments makes it any better for our health than a real hamburger patty. Or, a fake meat fried chicken being better for our health than real friend chicken. So, we can now eat fast food and feel good about ourselves because suddenly we are eating healthy? I don’t think so.
Obviously, there are significant benefits to the fast food companies in doing this. The primary issue with fast food has always been that it has dubious health benefits. The perception that a fake meat is far better for you and for the environment allows the fast food companies to create the perception of healthfulness. This directly benefits their sales.
Ironically, the very day that I was writing this article a news brief was released about a man suing Burger King because the Impossible Burger he purchased (the fake meat version of a hamburger) was contaminated with real meat byproducts due to the fact that both the real beef hamburgers and the Impossible Burgers are cooked on the same cooking surface.
Why do we need Fake Meats
I must ask the question, “Why do we need a fake meat?” The fact is mankind has always had the choice of what to eat from the natural world. If you want to eat an all plant-based diet you are free to do so. You do not need a fake meat to assist you in that endeavor.
If the contention is you are eating a fake meat to somehow help mitigate climate change, then just how are you accomplishing that? The manufacture of fake meat is not without the expenditure of energy, water, and environmental impacts. (I wrote a prior article on this titled, It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature, which provides additional insight into this specific issue). Would it not be better to eat plant proteins in their natural state? What are the main ingredients in fake meat that are being touted as “healthy for you?” Are they not beans, peas, and lentils primarily (never mind all the other ancillary ingredients). If so, we can simply eat beans, peas, and lentils and we would be achieving a result far better than eating them with their isolated components in a highly processed mish-mash of ingredients made in a quasi-laboratory. At least beans, peas, and lentils are a WHOLE food and are truly healthy for you. We do not have to expend the additional energy, water, and carbon to take a whole food (beans, peas, lentils) and turn it into a highly processed food.
The real reasons for a fake meat product are two-fold: 1) To make money. This is quite obvious. There have now been billions invested into fake meats with billions more to come. There will be many who profit handsomely from the manufacture and sale of fake meats. 2) To convince more consumers to switch from real meat to fake meat to advance a plant-based diet agenda. After all, real vegans do not need a fake meat. They already know how to eat a plant-based diet made up of whole plant foods and not highly processed ingredients. Fake meats are not intended to attract already dedicated vegans. They are meant to entice the rest of us.