The Controversial Ingredients in Plant-Based Burgers: Impossible & Beyond

Share the Love!

The Controversial Ingredients in Plant-Based Burgers – Impossible & Beyond

As the craze for plant-based meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger reaches fever pitch, a storm of controversy brews over their ingredients and manufacturing methods. These futuristic foods, celebrated for their uncanny resemblance to real meat minus the environmental and ethical fallout, are now under intense scrutiny. 

Critics point fingers at the bewildering array of synthetic compounds and mysterious processes used to conjure up these meat mimics, raising alarms about potential health dangers. In this expose, we peel back the layers of hype to scrutinize the contentious ingredients at the heart of these burgers, shedding light on what they are, how they’re made, and why they might be cause for concern.

1. Leghemoglobin: The GMO Soy Protein

Leghemoglobin is a protein derived from genetically modified (GMO) soy, used primarily in the Impossible Burger to mimic the flavor and color of heme, an iron-containing molecule found in meat. 

The production of leghemoglobin involves inserting the soy plant gene into a yeast, which is then fermented to produce the heme-like protein. Critics argue that leghemoglobin has only undergone 28 days of testing, raising questions about its long-term effects on human health. Moreover, this protein did not go through a traditional FDA approval process, which typically involves more rigorous safety assessments.

2. Cultured Dextrose: A Synthetic Sugar

Cultured dextrose is often used as a preservative in food products, including some versions of the Beyond Burger. It is produced synthetically and can help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, thereby extending the shelf life of food products. However, its synthetic origin raises concerns for those seeking natural or minimally processed dietary options.

3. Soy Protein Isolates: The Role of Hexane

Soy protein isolates are a common ingredient in many plant-based meat products, including those from Beyond Meat. These isolates are processed forms of soy protein that are extracted using hexane, a chemical solvent that is also a byproduct of gasoline refining. While hexane is effective in isolating protein, there is debate about the potential residue it might leave behind and its environmental impact, as hexane emissions can contribute to air pollution.

4. Methylcellulose: A Common Laxative

Methylcellulose, a chemical compound derived from cellulose, is used in both Impossible and Beyond products to improve texture and bind ingredients together. It is also commonly used as a laxative in over-the-counter medications. The use of methylcellulose in food products is generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but its dual role as a food additive and a medical substance continues to raise eyebrows.

Consumer Awareness and Regulatory Scrutiny

The use of these ingredients in plant-based burgers highlights the complexities of food science and the ongoing evolution of food technologies. While these ingredients have been approved by regulatory bodies and are deemed safe for consumption under current guidelines, the debate over their safety underscores the need for continuous research and transparency in the food industry.

Consumers looking to make informed dietary choices should consider both the benefits and potential concerns associated with these products. Plant-based meats offer significant environmental benefits over traditional meat, including lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduced water usage. However, individuals with specific health concerns or dietary restrictions may need to scrutinize ingredient lists more closely.

As plant-based meat alternatives continue to grow in popularity, it is crucial for regulatory agencies to keep pace with innovation in the food industry, ensuring that new ingredients undergo thorough testing to confirm their safety over the long term. Meanwhile, consumers are encouraged to stay informed and choose products that align with their health, ethical, and environmental values.

Comparing Plant-Based Meat Alternatives to Organic, Grass-Fed Beef: Benefits and Health Concerns

The debate between supporters of plant-based meat alternatives like the Impossible and Beyond burgers and advocates of organic, grass-fed beef is ongoing. Each offers distinct benefits and poses unique health concerns, shaping individual choices based on dietary preferences, ethical considerations, and health needs. Here, we explore these aspects to help consumers make informed decisions.

Nutritional Content and Environmental Impact

Grass-Fed Beef

Nutritional Benefits: Grass-fed beef is often higher in certain nutrients compared to conventionally raised beef, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health, and conjugated linoleic acid, which has been linked to reduced body fat. It also tends to be leaner and lower in calories.

Environmental Benefits: Grass-fed beef is perceived to be more sustainable than conventional beef due to better pasture management practices, which can enhance soil quality and increase carbon sequestration. However, it still requires more land and water than crop production and produces significant methane emissions.

Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

Nutritional Content: Products like the Impossible and Beyond burgers are designed to closely mimic the protein content of beef and are often fortified with vitamins and minerals such as iron and vitamin B12. However, they can be high in saturated fats and sodium, which are concerns for cardiovascular health.

Environmental Benefits: Plant-based meats significantly reduce environmental impact by requiring less land, water, and energy than beef production. They also contribute far fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Health Concerns

Grass-Fed Beef

Red and Processed Meat Risks: Regular consumption of red meat, even if it’s grass-fed, has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer, and other health issues. These risks are often associated with high levels of saturated fats and heme iron in red meat.

Contaminants: Despite being organic, grass-fed beef can still contain contaminants like bacteria and parasites, which pose risks if the meat is not properly cooked.

Plant-Based Meat Alternatives

Processed Ingredients: Many plant-based meats are highly processed with ingredients like methylcellulose and cultured dextrose, raising concerns about the long-term health impacts of consuming novel, manufactured substances.

Allergens and Sensitivities: Ingredients like soy and gluten, which are common in these products, can be problematic for people with allergies or sensitivities. The use of GMOs, such as in the case of the heme in the Impossible Burger, is also a concern for some consumers.

While plant-based meat alternatives like Impossible and Beyond burgers offer environmental and ethical benefits over traditional animal meat, there are growing concerns about their potential health impacts due to their highly processed nature and the use of various synthetic ingredients. Here, we’ll explore additional concerns related to these products and discuss how they might be linked to broader health and behavioral issues.

Additional Health Concerns Around Synthetic Meats

1. Nutrient Absorption

Bioavailability of Nutrients: Some of the vitamins and minerals in plant-based meats are added during the manufacturing process rather than naturally occurring. There is ongoing research into how effectively these synthetic nutrients are absorbed compared to those from natural sources. Poor bioavailability from synthetic sources might lead to deficiencies, particularly if these products become a staple in one’s diet.

2. Hormonal Effects

Soy-based Concerns: Many plant-based meats, particularly those from brands like Beyond Meat, use soy as a primary protein source. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-derived compounds with estrogen-like effects. High consumption of phytoestrogens might influence hormone levels and could be linked to issues in hormonal balance, though evidence is mixed and more research is needed to confirm these effects.

3. Gastrointestinal Health

Fiber and Digestive Enzymes: Unlike natural meat products, some synthetic meats might lack adequate dietary fiber, which is crucial for gut health. Conversely, some of the additives used to emulate the texture and digestibility of meat, such as methylcellulose, might affect gut motility and lead to gastrointestinal discomfort or altered bowel habits.

4. Psychological and Behavioral Impacts

Satiety and Eating Behaviors: There is some evidence to suggest that highly processed foods can alter eating behaviors due to their effects on satiety. Foods that are less satisfying might lead to overeating, which in turn can contribute to weight gain and associated health problems. Additionally, the flavor enhancers and additives in synthetic meats might enhance palatability excessively, potentially leading to overconsumption.

5. Additives and Mental Health

Food Additives and Behavioral Changes: Certain additives used in synthetic meats to preserve color, enhance flavor, or improve shelf-life, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial flavors, have been occasionally linked to behavioral changes, including increased hyperactivity in susceptible populations. Though conclusive links between additives and serious mental health issues are lacking, these potential effects warrant consideration, especially in sensitive individuals or children.

Connecting the Dots: From Health Concerns to Broader Issues

The implications of consuming synthetic meats can extend beyond direct physical health concerns to broader physiological and behavioral issues:

Nutritional Deficiencies and Systemic Health: If synthetic nutrients in plant-based meats are not well-absorbed, this could lead to deficiencies that impact overall health, potentially exacerbating conditions like anemia or impacting bone health.

Hormonal Imbalance and Reproductive Health: For individuals consuming large amounts of soy-based products, the potential hormonal effects of phytoestrogens could influence reproductive health, menstrual cycles, and possibly the risk of hormone-related cancers, though more research is needed to establish firm conclusions.

Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome: The potential for these foods to affect satiety could contribute to weight gain and related conditions like metabolic syndrome and diabetes, particularly in the context of an overall diet that leans heavily on processed foods.

Mental Health and Cognitive Function: Although the evidence is not robust, some studies suggest that additives in foods could influence behavior and cognitive function, raising concerns about the impact of long-term consumption of heavily modified foods on mental health and behavior.


While plant-based meats are a promising alternative to reduce the environmental footprint of meat consumption and address ethical concerns, it is crucial for consumers to consider the potential health implications of replacing traditional meat with highly processed alternatives. A balanced diet, emphasizing whole, minimally processed foods along with careful consideration of the sources of alternative proteins, is essential for maintaining health and well-being.

Both plant-based meat alternatives and grass-fed beef have their pros and cons. Plant-based meats offer environmental and ethical advantages, making them an attractive option for reducing dietary carbon footprints and addressing animal welfare concerns. However, they are processed foods with various artificial additives.

Conversely, grass-fed beef provides high-quality protein and other nutrients in a less processed form but comes with higher environmental costs and health risks associated with red meat consumption.

Ultimately, the choice between these options depends on individual values and health needs. Both types of diets can be part of a healthy lifestyle if consumed in moderation and combined with a balanced intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Continuous research and consumer awareness are key to navigating these choices effectively.

Get The Shankara Oracle and dramatically improve your perspective, relationships, authentic Self, and life.

Share the Love!