7 Harmful Chemicals in Vegan Meat; how much do we dare to question our eating ideology?
Five years ago, I switched to an entirely vegetarian diet. I was so disturbed by mass-produced, highly processed, antibiotic and hormone-fed meat that I quickly started associating “plant-based” with safe and healthy.
No matter what your take is on your diet, I think most of us agree that whether we talk about obesity, cancer, diabetes, or heart health, the message is pretty straightforward — eat your vegetables. When I saw McDonald’s introduce The Beyond Burger, KFC the Beyond Fried Chicken Nuggets, while Burger King launched its Impossible whopper — I thought it was kind of “impossible” for that to be healthy. We don’t hear anything about carcinogens around plant-based meat alternatives, and despite it being heavily processed food, I somehow never questioned it.
So I took a closer look — I wanted to know how much “plant” there was in what I thought was a nutritious plant-based patty.
It seems like it can only be labeled “plant-based” because it is made in a manufacturing plant.
Positioning plant-based as safe to health-conscious consumers is misleading and disingenuous. Here are some common ingredients I came across:
1. Titanium Dioxide (E171)
Have you ever thought about what makes fake “chicken” maintain a nice white color? Well, it’s Titanium Dioxide, a white colorant additive used in paints, coatings, and cosmetics, but recently also present in the KFC Beyond fried Chicken.
Although you only ingest small amounts and the absorption of titanium dioxide particles is low, E171 is defined as a nanoparticle and can squeeze through the natural protective barriers of the human body and accumulate in our liver, lungs, and other organs.
In January 2020, France banned food containing Titanium Dioxide. The European Food and Safety Authority could not exclude genotoxicity, which means the ability of a substance to damage the DNA in cells.
As a result, two years later, on January 14th, 2022, the European Commission announced that it adopted a ban on the use of E171 as a food additive.
You will find it among others in: Gardein Ultimate Plant-Based Chick’n Tenders , Beyond Chicken Tenders, Tofurky Plant Based Chick’n, This isn’t chicken, and many other chicken alternatives. Check your label!
2.Tertiary butyl-hydroquinone (E319).
TBHQ is a synthetic food preservative used to extend shelf life and prevent discoloration. Other than in food, you can find it in paint and varnish. The FDA limits the amount of TBHQ used in food to less than 0.02% of fat content as there is no evidence that greater amounts are safe.
Interestingly enough, recent research shows that tBHQ, at a dose relevant to the human diet, impairs the primary and memory immune responses to influenza infection, which could potentially impact vaccine efficacy.
“Our studies showed that mice on a tBHQ diet had a weakened immune response to influenza (flu) infection,” — Robert Freeborn, a fourth-year PhD candidate at Michigan State University. “In our mouse model, tBHQ suppressed the function of two types of T cells, helper and killer T cells. Ultimately, this led to more severe symptoms during subsequent influenza infection.”
In government studies, rats fed TBHQ in the diet caused liver enlargement. Acute neurotoxic effects of animals exposed to TBHQ included convulsions and medullary paralysis.
You can find it among others in: Morning Star Veggie Bacon
3. Erythosine (Red #3, E127)
Erythosine, also known as E127 or Red#3, is added to assemble the looks of real meat. If we didn’t add Red#3 to our vegan burgers, they wouldn’t “bleed,” and bacon would look pretty meatless.
The FDA has banned Red #3 in the 90s for use in cosmetics as it caused cancer in rats, but it remains legal to eat. It makes you think how its still legal 30 years later, even though Red#3 was found to cause DNA structural damage in human liver cells.
You can find it among others in: Morning Star Veggie Bacon Strips, Loma Linda Big Franks, Cedar Lake Meatless Jumbo Frank.
The Impossible Burger and most other vegan meat replacements are made from soy protein isolates and concentrate. These are made by separating soy proteins from fats. In order to do this, manufacturers bathe soybean flakes in a solvent called hexane — a byproduct of gasoline refining.
Hexane is a neurotoxin, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and a “hazardous air pollutant,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Hexane explosions are not uncommon and pose a health hazard for people working at manufacturing plants. When factory workers have skin contact with hexane, they experience immediate irritation and develop blisters hours later. Moreover, those who have long-term hexane exposure might develop neurological disorders or even vision loss.
Unless a meal is labeled as USDA Organic and manufacturers are prohibited from using neurotoxic and petrochemicals in their processing, they are almost universally processed using hexane. Please remember that as hexane is a “processing agent,” rather than an ingredient, it is not listed on food labels. Hexane is suspected to damage reproductive and fetal health.
Interestingly, hexane is regulated in Europe, prohibiting foods from containing more than 10 parts per million (PPM) of hexane residues. Independent testing has found 50 PPM of Hexane in US food products — 5 times Europe’s safety threshold! The FDA does not limit hexane in processed soy, nor does it require manufacturers to monitor the levels in their final product.
You are most likely to find it in all non-USDA Certified Organic Meat alternatives based on any soy protein isolates, concentrates such as: The Impossible Burger, The Garden’in Turkey Cutlet, Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausages, Morning Star Veggie Patties, Garden Gourmet Burger, This isn’t Chickn.
5. Caramel Coloring (E150)
At first glance, this ingredient sounds the least worrying. However, Caramel coloring is made by heating high dextrose corn syrup, which often happens with ammonium. When that is the case, it contains 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazol (4-MEI). These substances cause cancers in mice and in rats.
In 2011, California listed 4-MEI as a carcinogen under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known as Proposition 65. This meant that any item sold in California that contained more the 29 micrograms per serving would need to have a carcinogenic label. As a result, Coca-Cola changed Caramel Color to avoid the cancer warning.
Later in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, agreed that 2- and 4-methylimidazole are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
You can find it among others in: Quorn Meatballs, Trader Joes’s Soy Chorizo, Zoglo’s Savory Meatless Frank’s Hot Dogs.
6. Carrageenan (E407)
Carrageenan has thickening and moisturizing binding properties and is a vegan gelatin alternative that is widely used in the food industry. Interestingly enough, it is extracted from red seaweed. The use of E407 has been tied to harmful gastrointestinal effects, colitis, intestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and even colon cancer in some animal and cell-based studies.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has determined that some population groups have a high risk of consuming too much E407 — Carrageenan. The use of carrageenan in infant formula, organic or otherwise, is prohibited in the EU for precautionary reasons.
You can find it among others in: 365 Whole Foods Market Plant-Based Burgers, Good and Gather (Target) Plant-Based Ground, Nature’s Fynd Breakfast Patties, Carrefour BIO Mini Burgers.
7. Refined Canola Oil
Canola oil is marketed as a health food with high burning properties and high omega 3. However it is called refined for a reason; it is genetically modified and highly processed. Unlike cold pressed oil, it is refined, meaning the production process includes bleaching, high temperatures, and toxic chemicals for the human body. On top of this, refined canola oil goes through a deodorization process, given its natural smell. Not only does this remove omega-3 which is naturally present, but it turns it into trans fatty acid.
Studies found that cancer cells feed on the oleic acid in canola oil. The study concluded that a microenvironment rich in oleic acid might favor tumor progression, especially for highly metastatic carcinoma cells.
Another study showed that a diet on Canola oil in rats lowered their lifespan of stroke prone rats.
You can find refined canola oil added to: Beyond Burger, Beyond Minced Meat.
As long as you buy food that is certified USDA organic (this doesn’t mean with a natural label !), and can count the number of ingredients on one hand you are probably safe.
Ironically, fake meat can have more real chemicals and food additives than meat does !
Neither of that is ok, so next time you are in the supermarket, study the labels.