Katie Couric Spills the Beans on Impossible Burger

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

is the impossible burger healthy

Story at-a-glance -

  • Impossible Foods company produces the Impossible Burger, with promises impossible to keep, including that their product is a vegetable-based, healthy alternative to beef and that it’s safer for the environment
  • Impossible fake meat is different from a vegetarian-based food product as it is highly processed with soy protein concentrate, coconut and sunflower oils and 16 additional ingredients that are not real food
  • Impossible uses genetically engineered yeast to produce "heme" used for the "blood" in the burger. The research provided by the company to the FDA was inadequate, could not establish safety and did not assess allergic potential
  • Fake meat companies claim the product is sustainable and has less impact on the environment, yet the life cycle assessment company Quantis found regeneratively farmed beef produces negative emissions compared to CAFOs and soy-based fake meat

If you miss the taste of meat, Impossible Foods invites you to meet their definition of “meat” — their designer burgers made from genetically modified soy containing 110 times more glyphosate (herbicide) than is needed to damage gut bacteria.1 While you may be tempted to try this newest food fad, don’t believe the hype.

Industrial agricultural practices are among the most unsustainable of modern civilization, but the answer is not to replace farm raised food with those developed in a chemistry lab. Meat substitutes often eat up other resources, including water and fossil fuels.

In 2015 researchers2 demonstrated that meat grown in a lab requires more energy than what is required to run traditional concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The long-term answer lies in a transition to sustainable, regenerative, chemical-free farming practices, protecting the environment and providing healthy foods for consumers.

Impossible Foods and its meatless “bleeding burger” were intended to reduce the damaging effects of CAFOs, but the company has instead provided the perfect example of a chemical answer that may create more hazards than it solves. As the number of restaurants and grocers that carry the meatless patties continues to grow, so do questions about long-term safety for human health.

The Impossible Burger Can’t Deliver on Impossible Promises

The promises from Impossible Foods is that the burger provides a vegetable-based, healthy alternative to beef that is safer for the environment. But what the company hides from the public is that these are false promises, designed only to boost expectations from consumers, drive sales and raise profits. In other words, much like the tobacco industry, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

In her interview with Dr. Mark Hyman, Katie Couric questioned the author and columnist about the Impossible Foods claims. He first differentiated meat substitutes from vegetarian-based food products and compared Impossible Burgers to Twinkies, saying:3

“Meat substitutes, like the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat, are highly processed foods made to replace meat in a meal and are then marketed as plant-based. We should all be eating a more plant-rich diet.

And while these products do contain ingredients that come from plants — usually derivatives of soy, which is used in Impossible Burgers, and in other products, forms of wheat or pea protein — these plants are so processed and refined they are far from a whole plant food. Remember, Twinkies are plant-based. Ideally we should eat whole plant-based foods.”

Organically grown fruits and vegetables provide you with a rich source of vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients to maintain optimal health. However, as Hyman points out, the Impossible Burger does not meet this standard.

Instead, the substitutes are a combination of a “large amount of other processed ingredients, like modified food starch, yeast extract and cultured dextrose just to name a few.”

Hyman reminds us a vegetable burger should reflect the name, made with vegetables and formed into a patty. Instead, Impossible Burgers are made of water, genetically engineered soy protein concentrate, coconut and sunflower oil.

Additionally, they contain 16 other ingredients, some of which are not identifiable as real food. The meat substitute uses technology to mimic taste and texture without the nutrient density found in real food.

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Glyphosate a Key Ingredient in Impossible Burgers

The second claim is that the burger is a healthy alternative to conventionally grown beef. On their website they say that a 4-ounce serving has the same amount of protein as beef,4 from soy concentrate, the “only commonly consumed plant protein that’s comparable in quality to animal protein.”5

When the company answers the question of whether the product is processed,6 they say almost everything you choose to eat will be processed, including their burger, which is “processed by mixing carefully selected ingredients, derived from plants or by fermentation, to create something unique and delicious.”

Much of the negative information is conveniently left out. For instance, soybeans are high in omega-6, contributing further to an unbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio and potentially promoting kidney stones in people who are prone to them. Additionally, as discussed below, the soybeans are genetically modified.

Impossible Foods claims their key ingredient is soy leghemoglobin, used to achieve the “bloody” appearance. Before release, the company sought a voluntary generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation for which they hired and paid a panel to do the evaluation of the ingredient made from genetically engineered yeast.

U.S. Right to Know reporter Stacy Malkan identified three food researchers on the panel who had previously served on the scientific advisory board of tobacco giant Philip Morris. According to the FDA, the research included in the GRAS notification was inadequate and could not establish safety.

Importantly, the assessment of allergic potential was also lacking. As such, the FDA did not give an official blessing; the company withdrew the voluntary notification and moved forward to market the substitute meat.

In addition to the FDA’s acknowledgement that the ingredient did not demonstrate safety or address the potential risk for allergic reactions, the soy used in the patty and to develop the “heme” molecule to create the appearance of blood were genetically engineered (GE) and sprayed with glyphosate. This is the true key ingredient in the patty, linked to cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.7,8

Third Party Testing Reveals Environmental Truth

An additional claim from Impossible Foods is that the meat substitute is healthier for the environment than beef. They would like their consumers to choose their chemical patties over real meat to save the planet from a CAFO carbon footprint.

When compared to CAFO facilities where animals are often treated inhumanely, where waste damages air and water supplies and where the administration of antibiotics contributes to widespread resistance, they may have something to complain about. However, moving from one broken system to another is never a quality answer.

An analysis by the life cycle assessment company Quantis found the fake meat industry may have reduced the environmental impact between 87% and 96% in the categories the company studied.

This is due to the fact that they were comparing soy-based, fake meat production against another soy-based monoculture agribusiness (CAFOs) creating a large drain on environmental resources. During the same time period, the regenerative farm White Oaks Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, commissioned a similar analysis by Quantis.

They published a 33-page study showing comparisons to the conventional beef production industry. While the manufactured fake meat reduced the carbon footprint up to 96% in some categories, White Oaks Pastures had a net emission in the negative numbers.

Emissions related to producing beef at White Oaks Pastures were lower than the average production of soybeans, the base for the plant-based burgers. Additionally, in the report it was noted that researchers found that emissions at White Oaks Pastures included large negative soil carbon sequestration essential to protecting against air pollution and climate change. Hyman summed up the report with Couric when he said:9

“In fact, Quantis — a lifecycle analysis company — studied the Impossible Burger, compared to a regeneratively raised beef burger. The Impossible Burger added 3.5 kg of CO2 to the atmosphere, while the regeneratively raised burger removed 3.5 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.

That means you would have to eat one grass-fed burger to offset the greenhouse gas emissions produced by one Impossible Burger. High-quality beef like this provides natural sources of heme iron, B vitamins, protein, zinc, and other nutrients that are added as synthetic ingredients to fake burgers.”

Alternative Meat Is Not an Alternative

Impossible Foods insists the soy products in their burgers are central components of their product.10 In part this may be related to the “heme” molecule used to create the blood-like appearance in the meat substitute burgers.

The GE soy leghemoglobin releases a heme-like protein as it's broken down. Although the company refers to this as “heme,” technically, plants produce a non-heme iron molecule. The difference between the two has to do with how well they are absorbed by the body.

Plant-based non-heme iron is not readily absorbed; this is one reason vegans are at a higher risk for iron deficiency anemia. In addition, leghemoglobin is found in the roots of the soybean plant, but the company has chosen to recreate it using GE yeast, introducing yet another step of genetically altered organisms.