FDA Banned Impossible Burger Ingredients
The Impossible Burger bleeds like a real burger when cut open. This is because of a controversial ingredient that almost got them taken off the shelves in the U.S. by the FDA.
They claim this ingredient makes the Impossible Burger taste and feel like real beef, but is healthier and environmentally friendly. But is it?
Read on and you’ll be shocked what you learn about ingredients the absurd levels of glyphosate measured in the Impossible Burger.
First a quick note: my company makes and sells the irresistibly delicious bone broth. You can learn more about the most nutritious bone broth here.
How many calories are in Impossible Burger?
There are 240 calories in an Impossible Burger. This is 10 more calories than you will find in a same size beef patty. This is not a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. As you will read below, calories are the least of your worries with respect to this food. Read on.
Flawed Company Mission
By positioning their burgers as animal products substitutes, plant based meat companies get a much larger financial opportunity.
This provides a bigger market of possible consumers than plant-based eaters. Much like Beyond Burgers (11 billion market cap), they are following the money.
To date they’ve raised $1.3 billion over 12 rounds of funding.
The Impossible Burger is a feat of engineering. It is so engineered that they found 46 proteins never before tested in food.
The secret ingredient is Soy Leghemoglobin, which is engineered by a lab by adding soy to genetically modified yeast.
What I have had the chance to do is dig into the ingredients and nutrition in the Impossible Burger. They are shocking to say the least, with many things you’ve never heard of.
We’ll compare health factors and nutrition in the Impossible Burger to a beef one.
I’ll also outline why the Impossible Burger may not be as earth friendly as they claim.
Is The Impossible Burger Healthy?
Impossible burger is not healthy because of the nasty GMOs they use. We do not know the long-term impacts of eating these highly engineered ingredients have on human bodies. You need to be careful ingesting so many GMOs in one meal.
Impossible Burger Nutrition Facts
The calorie content is similar at 240 calories in Impossible vs. 230 in a beef patty. Impossible Burger has 14 g of fat while beef has 15 g.
Protein is similar at 19 g and 22 g respectively. Impossible Burger has 9 g of carbs and 3 g of fiber while the red meat patty has none.
Much like Beyond Burgers, the Impossible Burger is high in salt, giving you 16% of your daily intake, while beef has 2%.
The impossible burger fortifies it’s ingredients with added vitamins and minerals. This is great, especially compared to Beyond Meat, who does not.
You can cover many of your diets nutritional needs with the impossible burger.
However it’s important to note that fortified foods often do not provide the same levels of nutrition as real ones.Why? Our bodies do not absorb synthetic sources the same way we do from whole ones (1).
Heme Iron Risks
The Impossible burger has 33% of your recommended daily intake of iron compared to 11% for beef.
The iron source they use is soy leghemoglobin, which also gives the burger it’s red tinge. While it’s genetically engineered, it is a heme based iron source, meaning it is as bioavailable as animal product based iron sources.
The Impossible Burger has added B vitamins including B12, which you cannot get on vegan diets. A red meat patty has around 38% of your daily needs for B12 while an Impossible Burger has 130%.
In terms of price, the impossible burger is around $12 per pound in the USA while beef is a bit over $3 per pound. The burger is not for sale at Canada retailers yet so there’s no way to tell the price.
As you’ll see below, there are 21 ingredients in the Impossible Burger. Many of these are highly processed binders, MSG mimicking flavour additives and preservatives.
It is difficult to argue that the Impossible Burger is not highly processed.
Impossible Burger Ingredients:
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, and 2% or less of: Potato, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (B6), Riboflavin ( B2), B12.
The hot button topic with them is the use of genetically modified (GM) soy and the soy-yeast compound that is responsible for the bleeding red color of the Impossible Burger when cut.
Water - You need water because soy absorbs a lot of moisture.
Soy Protein Concentrate
Genetically modified and highly processed form of soy that removes the carbohydrates.
Three processes are used for carbohydrate removal: acid leaching, aqueous ethanol extraction and moist heat-water leaching (2).
Soy itself is a bit controversial. Why? It contains more of estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens and isoflavones. They can mimic the effects of estrogen in our cells. This doesn’t necessarily mean negative effects in humans. Aside from a few case studies, there are no real hormonal issues related to eating soy.
Coconut Oil - Not much concern with coconut oil. It is higher in saturated fat, but not enough to be concerned as we know that saturated fat is not the demon we thought in the 60s.
Sunflower Oil - A staple in almost all processed and packaged items. High in omega-6 fats. A bit concerning seeing that this is the 4th ingredient. Apparently it is used to cut down on saturated fat from coconut oil.
Natural Flavors - also known as Autolyzed Yeast. Common in processed animal products. Also a sodium bomb. It is commonly used as an alternative to MSG to make glutamic acid. Glutamic acid has many of the same addictive properties as MSG due to it’s savoury, umami taste.
Potato Protein - Isolated from potatoes. Has a great amino acid profile.
Methylcellulose - A binding ingredient to hold things together and improve texture.
Yeast Extract - Used in plant based to mimic meat flavor. Adds flavour and lots of sodium. Also used to make MSG mimicking flavours.
Cultured Dextrose - Preservative used to keep bacteria from growing on food products.
Modified Food Starch - Another preservative used for thickening, stabilizing, or emulsifying. It extends the shelf life and allows them to withstand extreme temperatures (hot and cold).
Soy Leghemoglobin is the most controversial ingredient in Impossible Foods. It adds to the flavor and colour of the burger and makes it “bleed” like a ground red meat does when cut. This is genetically modified soy.
It is genetically engineered by adding soy to genetically modified yeast (3). The mixture is fermented to create a heme-like compound.
They were in some hot water with the FDA over this ingredient over it’s concerning negative health effects (4).
Salt - 16% of your daily value.
Soy Isolate - Similar to soy concentrate (above) but has even more of the fiber and carbohydrates washed out using alcohol or water solution.
Fortified Nutrients: Vitamins and Minerals
Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.
I think you and I agree that a whole food based diets are generally a good thing. Unfortunately there are none of them in the Impossible Burger.
But there is something else in the Impossible Burger...
11 Times More Glyphosate in Impossible Foods
Health Research Institute Labs measured the glyphosate levels in the Impossible Burger at 11X higher than Beyond Burgers (2).
This is because they use genetically modified soy which is sprayed with Roundup from Monsanto.
We can’t just sweep this one under the rug, since we know how damaging glyphosate is.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Roundup. Monsanto sprays 250 million pounds of this stuff per year in the USA alone.
There are countless class action lawsuits about Roundup causing cancer, including a $2 billion judgment to a couple with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Undetected Proteins In Veggie Burgers
Impossible also found 46 untested proteins in their burger. These are a result of the fermentation process used to make Soy Leghemoglobin.
The final heme compound they extracted was only 73% Soy Leghemoglobin. What about the remaining 27%? These are new proteins that we haven’t tested.
Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, mentioned that "none of these proteins have a formal safety assessment. They’ve never been in the human diets before Impossible introduced them with the burger."
Will You Save the Planet By Eating Impossible Burgers?
You will not save the planet by eating impossible burgers. The data they use to measure the earth impact of their burgers compared to ground beef is flawed, outdated and wrong. Read on to learn how to measure the impact correctly using updated proven data.
Environment Concerns and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Impossible does a great job educating would-be consumers on their website. There are many facts and figures to support their mission. Impossible Foods even have a fancy calculator showing how much greenhouse gas emissions you save by eating an Impossible Burger.
The Impossible Burger claims that it uses 96% less land, 87% less water and requires 89% fewer GHG emissions to make.
The basis for these numbers is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), an environmental accounting system which determines the eco impact to produce and dispose of a food.
Impossible’s LCA is flawed in that it fails to accurately measure two of the three claims they make. I’ll outline them below.
1. Water Use
Guess what 99% of the water footprint for cattle is attributed to? Feed. Drinking water and the water for processing operations and cleaning account for 1% of the water footprint of cattle (8).
The reason why this is important is because feed production uses predominantly ‘Green Water.’ Greenwater is precipitation or rain water (9).
The LCA counts all the rain and snow that falls on cattle occupied land and feed occupied land throughout the whole year. Even though we grow feed for 3-4 months out of the year and rotate grazing cattle on different pastures throughout the year as well.
All of this goes into the footprint for a hamburger. The rain doesn't care if cattle are on the land or not. It will fall anyways. These are grossly inflated numbers intentionally meant to mislead you.
It also fails to account for how cows only eat part of the plants that grow with that green water. They also pee on the pasture, cycling the green water back into the land.
2. Land Use
Land use assumes we use land for one thing only. In reality land can be used for many things throughout the year. Such as crop rotation.
The land use LCA also doesn’t account for ‘ecosystem services,’ which are crucial to sustainability. These are the benefits that we get from nature and wildlife that would inhabit this space without cattle or ruminant animals/
Most importantly, Impossible's LCA doesn’t mention that not all land is equal. The majority of grazing land for cattle is not suitable for growing crops.
Try planting vegetables on the dry dirt you see in Texas or Northern Africa. It won’t go well because that land is not suitable for anything else but grazing cattle. In fact, grazing animals are a great way to turn otherwise unusable land into nutrient rich protein.
All that said, I agree that the Impossible Burger is a more planet friendly alternative to factory-farmed ground beef. But well managed cattle from farms who practice regenerative agriculture is a different story.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic farming method that rehabilitates farm land. It’s mandate is to positively impact climate change by:
- Regenerating top soil
- Improving biodiversity
- Improving the water cycle
- Providing ecosystem services
- Rebuilding healthy soil
A regenerative cattle farm (White Oak Pastures) commissioned an LCA by the same firm that conducted the LCA on the Impossible Burger (10).
They showed that they can offset 100% of their grass fed beef emissions.
Here are the net total emissions per pound of beef vs. Impossible Burger:
- Beef: -3.5 pounds of carbon emissions per pound of beef
- Impossible Burger: +3.5 pounds of carbon emissions per pound of Impossible Burger
How is this possible? Read my primer on farming systems and soil health below.
Soy Farming vs. Regenerative Beef Farms
This is all about soil health. Regenerative farming creates a massive carbon sink to capture all emissions that these operations create.
The key to creating a carbon sink is soil. You need healthy soil with diets rich in nutrients to capture carbon.
Cattle or other large ruminants (sheep, goats, bison, even giraffes) graze on land that can’t be used for crops. They gradually improve the soil quality of this land by walking on it, urinating and pooping on it. This puts nutrients back into the soil.
The cattle are rotated to a different area of pasture, leaving this section to grow and flourish. More wildlife is attracted to the area (referred to as ecosystem services) and the area thrives.
The organic carbon in soil is elevated, allowing for net positive carbon emissions. As you can see from the informative images from Diana Rodgers and Ridge Shinn, it is a beautiful system.
Look for Diana's new film, Sacred Cow, explaining the case for better beef.
How GMOs Soy is Farmed
Soy is monocropped via large industrial farming operations much like wheat. Canada in particular farms a lot of soy, like 2,051,000 hectares worth in 2020 (11).
Monocropping is a farming strategy where you grow a single crop on the same land year after year. While efficient and cost effective in the short-term, monocropping is incredibly damaging to soil health.
Year after year, monocropping operations take from the soil without giving back.
These farms strip the nutrients from soil by using large tillage operations, making it unhealthy and unusable in the future.
Since the soil is severely degraded, these monocrop operations have to use pesticide and herbicides to continue to get any yield. And a lot of it.
FAO estimates we have 60 years of soil harvests left before we kill our soil for good (12).
Regenerative agriculture can transform this damaged land. And further minimize the damage from years of tillage, pesticide and herbicide use.
Will Eating Impossible Burgers Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
Eating Impossible Burgers will not reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s compare livestock emissions to global emissions for a sec because the claims Impossible makes don’t add up.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that agriculture accounts for 9% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Of this 9%, cattle farming is responsible for 2% (13).
Compare this to 29% for transportation and electricity and 22% for industry and 12% for commercial/residential. These numbers are for the U.S., I couldn’t find up to date numbers for Canada.
However, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) claims that livestock agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of global emissions (14) in our food system.
What’s going on here?
It turns out that the large number (14.5%) is due to developing nations being inefficient at raising and processing livestock.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that 70 – 80% of global livestock related greenhouse gas emissions stem from developing countries.
This brings me to the following question.
Will Removing All Cows Solve Climate Change?
Removing all cows will not solve climate change because cows are need to in the climate change battle. They are part of the solution, not the problem.
We’ve all seen the resource use and GHG emissions graphics from Impossible and Beyond Burgers. In reality, these seemingly dramatic differences in environmental footprints don’t scale to anything.
For example, you could eliminate 100% of cattle in the USA and get less than 1% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (15).
Why? You account for what you replace the cattle with on that land. The land won’t go unused.
My point is that things are not as simple as they seem. Impossible Burger uses reductionist strategies to paint a picture that beef is the problem with our food system, when it is not.
Yes we should pay attention to emissions, but we need to focus on all of agriculture and how food gets to your plate. This is more important than rearranging the food items on your plate and thinking you are making a difference. You are not.
Cars vs Red Meat Cattle
In 1909, there were 312,000 vehicles registered in the U.S. Now there are 263,610,219 or an increase of 27.3% vehicles per person. Again, I couldn’t find numbers for Canada.
What about cattle during this period?
Between 1909 and 2015 the number of cattle per person in the U.S. has gone down by 58%.
The idea that cattle are responsible for our climate change is convenient but doesn’t add up.
It is used to fuel the agenda of brands like Impossible. They need a food system villain in order to grow their brand. It is genius marketing. They paint themselves as the knight in shining armour, coming to save the planet.. and our diets.
As it stands, you can buy the Impossible Burger in the U.S., Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.
I’m unsure of Impossibles plans to expand, but at $12 per pound U.S., is it a viable solution for the developing world who are responsible for GHG cattle emissions?
Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at UC Davis puts is well in his quote below:
"Solving the world’s climate change crisis is a weighty topic, and it is highly improbable (if not “impossible”) that an imitation beef patty is our savior. It is also a dangerous assertion, because it takes away focus from major polluters and our progress toward climate solutions."
Frank does incredible work in his articles dunking the myths around livestock and greenhouse gas emissions.
The Bottom Line on Impossible Meat Burgers
The ethical eater is torn. Do you keep eating animal products, go full Carnivore or switch to the Impossible Burger or other plant based meat alternatives?
There are some great plant based burger substitutes, I’m just not sure Impossible is one of them.
Side note: if you are looking for more protein, try my brands chicken bone broth powder. It has 12 g and all your daily hydration in one cup.
Impossible contains high levels of glyphosates and GMO’s that we know present increased risk for cancer, liver issues, fertility concerns and allergy risks.
Relying exclusively on soy based products is not the best idea. Soy farming is incredibly damaging to soil health, native ecosystems and our environment at large.
The Impossible Burger is a miracle in engineering, but is it a food we should eat? Research shows that eating whole food provides more nutrition, minerals than equal amounts of these vitamins in synthetic forms. Our body knows how to absorb nutrition from real food.
Impossible does a great job adding minerals to their burger, but they are all synthetic forms.
Lastly, the processing that goes into making the Impossible Burger makes me nervous. We don’t know the long-term effects of some of the ingredients.
So how do you eat in a way that covers your nutrition and enjoyment while causing the least environmental damage?
It’s a tricky balance fraught with cognitive dissonance.
I believe that limiting meat consumption in general to high quality, regeneratively farmed sources is a good first step. We need to support them for our food system to work properly.
What are the impossible meat ingredients?
Impossible meat ingredients include the following:
Water, Soy Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, and 2% or less of: Potato, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols ( Vit E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vit B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vit C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit B6), Riboflavin (Vit B2), B12.
What is impossible meat made of?
Impossible meat is made of a combination of GMO soy products, vegetable oils, natural flavors, yeast extracts, chemical binders and a highly engineered soy compound that gives the the red tinge when cut open.
This soy compound is called Soy Leghemoglobin and it was previously banned by the FDA until recently. It is one of the most highly processed foods on the planet and has been compared to dog food. Also, the glyphosate levels in Impossible were 11 times higher than Beyond Burgers according to independent research.
Image via Diana Rodgers
Image via Ridge Shinn
Image via Getty ImagesImage by Erich Westendarp