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The Impossible Burger: Is It Really Healthier Than Beef?

August 30, 2019

The Impossible Burger: Is It Really Healthier Than Beef?

If you read about food, it’s impossible to escape mention of the Impossible Burger. The plant-based burger has become a sensation among those who practice a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle but miss the taste and texture of a burger.

And that’s the real breakthrough, here. The Impossible Burger, by almost every account, resembles real beef in in terms of taste, texture and aroma. That seems to be the accomplishment that most impresses reviewers - although some were definitely not fans, calling it a “fine bad burger” or dry and bitter

But while it may look like a beef burger, it has more fat, sodium and carbs than a traditional piece of beef. And while some have been pleasantly surprised by how closely the Impossible Burger resembles real beef, they are less thrilled by how it is created and what goes into it.

“In general, I don’t like things trying to be things that they’re not.” Dave Budworth, owner of Marina Meats, told the New York Times during a taste test of the burger.

Genetic Engineering

The Impossible Burger is designed to mimic the taste, texture and aroma of a real beef burger. It does so through combination of extracts from plants as well as bioengineering. The breakthrough with the impossible burger is how it replicates heme.

Heme is the iron-rich nutrient found in animal meat. It’s present in high amounts in real beef and is what helps make a burger taste like a burger. 

The company that makes the Impossible Burger creates heme in a lab. They genetically modify yeast with the gene for soy leghemoglobin. The soy leghemoglobin, which contains heme, is then isolated and added to the genetically engineered burger.

What’s In The Impossible Burger?

The Impossible Burger website lists what is in the burger. Here’s what it contains based on the new formula released in 2019:

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.

The formula was changed in response to calls for the company to engineer a burger that is gluten free.

Comparisons With Beef

The Impossible Burger has more sodium, total fat, sugar and carbs than beef (which has zero sugar, carbs and less than 1% of the daily recommended amount of sodium), according to a study by Healthline.

Beef, on the other hand, has more protein and far more of the antioxidant selenium (the impossible burger doesn’t have any).

Healthline determined that the plant-based burger has a high level of  certain vitamins such as B-12, but all those have been added to the burger. 

The biggest achievement is the heme and addition of iron through soy leghemoglobin. The man-made ingredient has been deemed healthy by the FDA. But Healthline reported questions remain about the long-term health impact of regularly ingesting soy leghemoglobin. 

The use of genetically modified ingredients (GMO) in general has led to concern about the plant-based burger. Healthline concludes that even those who wish to avoid meat can find more healthy options.

Rather than citing any nutritional values, most reviews go back to the fact that it’s remarkably like beef for something engineered in a lab. In reviewing the plant-based burger for Scientific American, Monica Reinagel, a  board-certified, licensed nutritionist and professionally trained chef, wrote that it is a “pretty impressive feat of culinary engineering.”

“We seem to be getting closer to being able to produce meat without any animals,” she wrote. “Whether this ends up being an upgrade for us nutritionally we’ll have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.”

 Is It Better For The Planet?

This is an issue that has come up repeatedly in recent years. Some have argued that people should stop eating beef altogether because it will help save the planet. As detailed here, that is not the case.

At times, the debate has turned a bit ugly. For example, the company that makes the Impossible Burger referred to sustainable ranching as the “clean coal of meat.” Many took offense. Sustainable farm, as practiced at Acabonac Farms, has been proven to sequester carbon, help the land stay fertile and vital, and produce healthy beef without any chemicals or hormones used. 

The debate is likely to continue as more consumers try the meat-less burger. But outside of those who simply do not want to eat meat, some are finding few benefits. Rita Redburg, a cardiologist at the University of California-San Francisco, probably said it best during the New York Times taste test after trying the impossible burger:

“If I wanted a hamburger, I probably would still order a hamburger.” 

Even those who do not eat meat agree. Chef Brooks Headley created the Superiority Burger. His creation is a “vegetable croquette” that has red quinoa and walnuts. He told The Guardian that the impossible burger is “weird, and kind of gross, like cigarettes. Also, that stuff is just really, really processed. I think if you ate an Impossible Burger or Beyond Beef every day, it would be weird.”

Meat Grown In a Lab

Both Impossible Burger and Beyond Beef are companies creating plant-based burgers. However, other companies are growing cell-based burgers, which opens up even more controversial issues.

What many may not know about cell-based meat this is that the process requires the use of Fetal Bovine Serum. As the name implies, FBS is created by using the blood from cow fetuses, who ae killed during the process, according to Slate and other sources.

Millions of fetuses are slaughtered for this purpose, according to Slate. Companies need the cells from the fetus to grow more animal cells in the lab. The resulting product is neither vegan or vegetarian, and still involves the slaughter of cattle, which is the reason some don’t eat meat in the first place.

Companies are “racing” to find a way to grow meat in a lab without FBS, according to ABC. It’s another reason people are wary of buying products grown in lab.

In the meantime, to those who want a more healthy alternative to grain-fed, industrial beef, look at the natural solution that’s already there – the grass-fed beef industry.





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