What is the Beyond Meat Burger?

Vegan eating seems to be more and more prevalent these days.  Most people go vegan for health reasons whether it is to lose weight or decrease inflammation and then the few who just don’t want to eat meat.  What’s funny is that even though vegans and vegetarians want to avoid meat, they still want burgers.  Go figure.  Before you judge, I am not against vegan or vegetarian eating.  In fact I think it could be helpful in reducing inflammation and healing people who are chronically sick.  None of us eat enough vegetables, so this style of eating would force more vegetables into the diet.  However, does that mean that processed food, even though it is vegan, is good for you?  Let’s continue…

A brand called “Beyond Meat” has developed a burger that is being touted as tasting just like a real burger!  Although they are not claiming any health benefits by eating their burger, according to Harvard Health Publications, vegetarians believe that they are healthier by avoiding meat.1 Is that necessarily true?  Can you eat this meatless burger without any health consequences?  Let’s breakdown these ingredients and see!

Beyond Meat: The Beyond Burger ingredients: Pea Protein Isolate, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Water, Yeast Extract, Maltodextrin, Natural Flavors, Gum Arabic, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Succinic Acid, Acetic Acid, Non-GMO Modified Food Starch, Cellulose From Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Beet Juice Extract (for color), Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color), Annatto Extract (for color), Citrus Fruit Extract (to maintain quality), Vegetable Glycerin.

OK!  Seems like a lot of effort and ingredients to get a burger versus beef, and I’m a believer that less is more.  Now, let’s see what the purpose and function is of each ingredient in regards to food.

The Ingredients: Broken Down

Pea protein isolate: an almost complete protein that is the main source of protein in the product.1

Expeller pressed canola oil: Canola oil is extracted from rapeseed, a plant in the cabbage family.  Adds fat and texture.2

Refined coconut oil: extracted from coconuts then bleached and deodorized to eliminate flavor and smell.  Used for fat and texture.3

Water: colorless and odorless substance.  Used for moisture.

Yeast extract: Hydrolyzed yeast containing free glutamates. Also known as monosodium glutamate (MSG).  Flavor enhancer.4

Maltodextrin: white powder derived from corn, rice, potato starch or wheat.  Used as a thickener or filler.5

Natural flavors: The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.6

Gum Arabic: This is a complex polysaccharide (carbohydrate).  Used for fiber and texture.7

Sunflower oil: An omega-6 oil derived from sunflower seeds.  Used for texture and preservative.8

Salt: flavor enhancer and preservative.

Succinic Acid: A colorless crystal with an acid taste.  Used in perfume esters. Used in food as a buffer and neutralizing agent.9

Acetic Acid: A product of ethanol.  Used as an antibacterial and counterirritant.10 Gives products a vinegar type flavor.

Non-GMO Modified Food Starch: Usually developed from corn.  Used as a stabilizer in food providing desirable texture, consistency and storage ability.11

Cellulose from Bamboo: Obtained by bleaching and chemically treating bamboo.  Used as a stabilizer, fiber and for texture.12

Methylcellulose: Derived from a plant origin.  Used to add bulk to the product and is not digested.13

Potato Starch: Derived from potatoes.  Used as a binder.14

Beet juice extract (for color): Derived from beets. Used as food coloring and sweetener.15

Ascorbic Acid (to maintain color): Commonly used as a preservative.  In this case to maintain color.16

Annatto Extract (for color): Extracted from annatto seed.  Used for color.17

Citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality): Extract from citrus.  Used as a preservative.18

Vegetable Glycerin: Made from vegetable oils during production of soap or biodiesel.  May be used as a thickener or wetting agent.19

How Good are They for You to Consume?

I’ve laid out the unbiased research of what the ingredients are, so now let’s take a look and see how healthy these ingredients are to consume.

Pea protein isolate: This is an allergen-free protein that is lactose, egg and meat-free.  Often consumed by vegetarians and those with allergies.  Pea protein has a mostly complete amino acid profile and has been shown to be just as effective when compared to whey protein for increasing muscle mass.1, 20

Expeller pressed canola oil: This is an oil that is highly advertised as being heart healthy, and may be acceptable if non-GMO and organic. However, you should know this oil is highly processed and higher in erucic acid than most other oils.  More recent and older studies show that canola oil can cause heart issues, inflammation and lower vitamin E which is an effective antioxidant.  Despite the positive health claims, studies show that consuming this oil can be harmful to your health.21

Refined coconut oil: Coconut oil has recently taken some heat by the press and American Heart Association as a possible risk factor to heart disease.  Despite the minimal research and empty claims, coconut oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and decrease body fat.22,23 All that said, refined coconut oil comes in many forms and this product does not specify how it is made.  Also, burgers are usually grilled at temperatures above 450 degrees, the point at which refined coconut oil burns and could become toxic.24

Yeast extract: Despite what most online bloggers say, and even I am against the use of MSG because of how I feel and have seen others feel, there is no scientific evidence of MSG causing symptoms.  While some people do have symptoms follow consumption of MSG, at this time the literature does not support it.

Maltodextrin: Is relatively safe depending on where it is derived.  It does however, spike blood sugar as it is a polysaccharide and has a glycemic load higher than table sugar.26 Therefore, I would not deem it safe especially for those who have blood sugar management issues.

Natural flavors: We really don’t know what is being used as a “natural flavor”.  Some flavors can induce food cravings and others can be hiding another flavor.  While there are no direct links to health issues, consumers really don’t know what is being used so they are best to be avoided.27

Gum Arabic: This carbohydrate is a mixture of polysaccharides, oligosaccharides and glycoproteins.  Gum Arabic has been shown to decrease body fat.7  However, those with gut issues specifically SIBO, could find that this ingredient will irritate the gut because of the different saccharides.

Sunflower oil: Like canola oil, this oil is high in omega-6’s which have been shown to be inflammatory2,8 and consumers don’t always know the source of the seed used which could be a health concern.

Salt: This could be a health concern depending on your current state of cardiovascular health.

Succinic Acid: This additive is regarded as safe as long as the amount used in food in in accordance to the FDA.9 Like some other additives, this is a chemically derived substance for consumption.

Acetic Acid: Regarded as generally safe.

Non-GMO Modified Food Starch: Regarded as safe.  However, the process in which this starch is made involves chemicals and bleaching.  So, this is a highly processed starch.

Cellulose from Bamboo: This is primarily a fiber and therefore generally safe to eat.

Methylcellulose: Although regarded as safe for consumption, it does act as a laxative and could cause digestive distress.28

Potato Starch: Generally safe.  Potato starch is a resistant starch and could be good for improving gut health through feed good bacteria.29

Beet juice extract (for color): While beet juice extract has potential health benefits,30 beet juice extract for color is basically harmless and has no impact on health in this product.

Ascorbic Acid: is a form of vitamin C and is generally safe.  Having too much of this ingredient could cause digestive distress.31

Annatto Extract: Although just a food coloring, there are some reports of this product causing irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and rare cases of anaphylaxis.32,33 In general, I would avoid unnatural food coloring.

Citrus fruit extract: As a preservative, this is nothing more than an antioxidant to prevent rancidity.34 It is regarded as safe.

Vegetable Glycerin: Generally safe although because it is a sugar alcohol could elicit gastric issues such as diarrhea, bloating or nausea.19

Final Thoughts

Beyond Meat has developed a vegan option for those who want to avoid meat in their diet.  They have released what’s called the Beyond Burger as a viable option.  While this product is vegan friendly, I have some reservations about the ingredients.  Most of the ingredients are highly processed and chemically treated.

Although the FDA regards most of these ingredients as generally safe, I have reservations when it comes to any product containing so many processed ingredients.  While they are generally safe individually, we need to think about the combined load of the products.  What are the health effects when all of these processed ingredients are consumed at one time?  Can the body handle the processing of so many chemically produced ingredients?  Other than the pea protein, the top 5 ingredients are highly refined and processed and have been shown to cause a negative reaction in the body according to the studies I’ve referenced.

That said, I would not recommend this product as a viable alternative to beef burgers.  There are no issues with being a vegan or vegetarian.  As a practitioner, I think it can be very helpful in reducing inflammation and living a healthier lifestyle.  Therefore, I recommend adhering to that lifestyle and eating real food within the guidelines of the vegetarian diet.  If one day you want a burger, I recommend eating the real thing as it will be healthier for you than this chemically made food.

 

Picture Source: DailyMail.com https://goo.gl/kD98ro

References
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