Makers of many soy-based burgers submerge the soybeans in hexane to separate the oil from the protein and reduce the amount of fat in the product.
If a non-organic burger contains soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, it was likely made using hexane.
Veggie burgers made with hexane include:
- Amy's Kitchen
- Boca Burger, conventional
- Franklin Farms
- Garden Burger
- It’s All Good Lightlife
- Morningstar Farms
- President’s Choice
- Taste Above
- Trader Joe's
- Yves Veggie Cuisine
Alternet notes that:
“Products labeled ‘organic’ aren't allowed to contain any hexane-derived ingredients, but that rule doesn't apply to foods that are labeled ‘made with organic ingredients.’”
First of all, you probably know that I am not a major fan of non-fermented soy, which is the primary protein most of these burgers are made from.
Over 91% of soy in the United States is GMO, which means it is LOADED with pesticides because that is why it is GMO in the first place -- so Monsanto can sell loads of their toxic Roundup pesticides to kill the weeds around the GMO soy, but the GMO soy survives as it can tolerate the pesticide. It is loaded with it when it is finally harvested.
However the pesticide issue is only one of my concerns and if you haven’t reviewed the hundreds of pages I have compiled on the dangers of soy, you can do so when you have some free time.
However, there is a recently discovered additional concern about veggie burgers in general that I need to bring to your attention.
Many health-conscious consumers are being misled with every veggie burger that passes through their lips. Most are contaminated with hexane, a noted neurotoxin that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also classifies as a “hazardous air pollutant.
This chemical is not only used as a cleaning agent and solvent for glue and varnish, it’s also used to extract oils from soybeans, peanuts, corn and other seed and vegetable crops. This latter use is actually the primary one, and The Cornucopia Institute reports that grain processors (including soy processors) account for more than two-thirds of hexane emissions in the United States.
In their “Behind the Bean” report, the Institute calls “the widespread use of a toxic and environmentally damaging chemical, hexane, in the manufacturing of “natural” soyfoods such as vegetarian burgers, nutrition bars, and protein shakes” a “dirty little secret.”
What are the Risks of Eating Hexane-Tainted Food?
Hexane is a known toxin, although most of the research is on exposure via inhalation, which is thought to be the primary route of exposure. The EPA reports:
“Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to high levels of hexane causes mild central nervous system (CNS) effects, including dizziness, giddiness, slight nausea, and headache.
Chronic (long-term) exposure to hexane in air is associated with polyneuropathy in humans, with numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue observed. Neurotoxic effects have also been exhibited in rats.”
Health effects beyond these, including those that occur from eating hexane, are unknown, simply because the research has not been done. The Cornucopia Institute reported:
“The effects on consumers of hexane residues in soy foods have not yet been thoroughly studied and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Test results obtained by The Cornucopia Institute indicate that residues—ten times higher than what is considered normal by the FDA—do appear in common soy ingredients.”
Beware: Hexane is Even in Organic Infant Formula!
By definition, foods that are 100 percent organic should not contain hexane, but there is a loophole that many food manufacturers are taking advantage of. If a food is labeled “made with organic ingredients” it may contain the chemical.
Further, the National Organics Standard Board has allowed certain ingredients that are hexane-extracted to remain on the list of approved substances for organics “if the organic version is commercially unavailable and it is deemed safe.”
One of these is a form of soy lecithin, which is produced using hexane and acetone, another toxic chemical. Outrageously, another example is a form of DHA and ARA oils that are commonly used in organic infant formulas! According to the Cornucopia Institute’s report:
“Other hexane-extracted ingredients that many industry experts believe should not be present in organic foods, especially organic infant formula, are algal DHA and fungal ARA oils.
These oils—nutritional supplements containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids—are produced by Martek Biosciences Corporation by way of a process that immerses fermented algae and soil fungus in a hexane bath.
The Cornucopia Institute is especially concerned with evidence obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request with the FDA that these DHA and ARA oils, when added to infant formula, are linked to serious health complications experienced by some infants. Organic foods should be a refuge from chemically processed additives in foods: consumers expect nothing less.”
So if you eat non-organic or even some organic varieties of processed soy foods, you can be fairly certain you are also eating hexane residues. This chemical is also likely present in virtually every processed food that contains edible oils from soy, peanuts and corn (which would be the vast majority of processed foods on the market).
More Reasons to Ditch Veggie Burgers and Other Forms of Processed Soy
When you add up all the health risks of processed soy, trying to find a hexane-free veggie burger becomes a moot point (unless you can find the rare variety that may also be soy-free).
The truth is that even without the hexane issue, any soy that is unfermented -- soy milk, tofu, soybean oil, soy veggie burgers, soy infant formula and all the other processed soy products out there all belong to this category -- is not a health food and in fact is not a food I would advise eating at all. This is true whether it is “organic” or not.
Unlike the Asian culture, where people eat small amounts of fermented, whole soybean products, western food processors separate the soybean into two golden commodities -- protein and oil. And there is nothing natural or safe about these products.
Says Dr. Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story:
“Today's high-tech processing methods not only fail to remove the anti-nutrients and toxins that are naturally present in soybeans but leave toxic and carcinogenic residues created by the high temperatures, high pressure, alkali and acid baths and petroleum solvents."
Dr. Daniel also points out the findings of numerous studies reviewed by her and other colleagues -- that soy does not reliably lower cholesterol, and in fact raises homocysteine levels in many people, which has been found to increase your risk of stroke, birth defects, and yes: heart disease.
Unfermented soy products have been linked to everything from reproductive disorders and infertility to cancer as well.
Further, unfermented soy contains isoflavones that are clearly associated with reduced thyroid function. Eating unfermented soy products is likely the single largest cause of hypothyroidism in women.
Another major problem with unfermented soy is that it contains natural toxins known as “antinutrients.” This includes a large quantity of inhibitors that deter your enzymes needed for protein digestion. While a small amount of these antinutrients would likely not be a problem, the amount of soy that many Americans are now eating (and drinking in the form of soy milk) is quite significant.
The result of consuming too many of soy’s antinutrients is extensive gastric distress and chronic deficiencies in amino acid uptake, which can result in pancreatic impairment and cancer.
Unfermented soy is also loaded with phytoestrogens (isoflavones) genistein and daidzein. These compounds mimic and sometimes block the hormone estrogen, and have been found to have adverse effects on various human tissues.
Drinking even two glasses of soy milk daily for one month has enough of the chemical to alter a woman’s menstrual cycle, and although the FDA regulates estrogen-containing products, no warnings exist on soy or soy milk. Soy phytoestrogens are also known to disrupt endocrine function, may cause infertility and may promote breast cancer in women.
Why You Want to be Very Careful With Veggieburgers
Given the fact that most veggie burgers on the market are made with processed soy and contaminated with hexane, I do not recommend you eat them.
You might want to try tempeh, a fermented soybean cake with a firm texture and nutty, mushroom-like flavor. Even though tempeh is a form of soy, it is a healthy form because it is fermented.
After a long fermentation process, the phytic acid and antinutrient levels of the soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties -- such as the creation of natural probiotics -- become available to your digestive system. It also greatly reduces the levels of dangerous isoflavones, which are similar to estrogen in their chemical structure, and can interfere with the action of your own estrogen production.
The vast majority of the soy sold in the natural food industry is most likely non GMO. Please be aware however, that this doesn't necessarily apply to the oriental market. It's possible that no one knows for sure. Unless you can confirm that the source of the soy is non GMO, would probably be best to avoid it.