The Impossible Burger: A Vegetarian Breakthrough Brought to You by Science

5 minute read
Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/nutrition-environment-general-science/impossible-burger-vegetarian-breakthrough-brought-you-science

I’ve been eating veggie burgers for a long time. If it’s sold in Canadian grocery stores or fast food restaurants, there’s a good chance I’ve tried it. There are some I like more, and some I like less, but they all fall into one of two categories: fake meat and veggie.

I like a veggie burger that knows it’s made of veggies, not one that’s pretending it’s beef. Mostly because all fake meat patties seem to come out as bad imitations. But, that seems to be changing in a big way.

The Impossible Burger, made by Impossible Foods, is a plant-based burger designed to fry, bleed, taste and smell just like beef. Incredulous? So was I.

What makes this burger different? The same thing that makes Fireball taste so good and Buckleys taste so bad. Chemistry!

The molecule responsible for the “meaty” taste of meat is heme and it’s found in animal muscle cells in the protein myoglobin. Sadly, there are no non-animal sources of myoglobin, but there is something pretty close: leghemoglobin.

Leghemoglobin is found in the roots of legumes and can provide a “meaty” taste very similar to its animal-based brother. It’s not especially environmentally friendly or affordable to dig up bean plants for their roots, so Impossible Foods had to get creative. They genetically engineered yeast to make leghemoglobin, so that by growing the yeast in fermentation vats they were able to create all the heme needed to make a meaty tasting veggie burger.

Other than heme, the ingredients of an Impossible burger are pretty similar to any other fake meat product. Wheat and potato protein, coconut and soy oil, some binders. All perfectly safe (despitesome cries of outrageover soy and GMOs).

How does it taste? On a recent trip to New York I went out of my way to find one and was not disappointed. The texture isn’t perfectly meat-like (or at least how I remember the texture of meat) but the taste was very similar, as was the look. But don’t just take my vegetarian opinion on the matter, here’s what Michael Marshall, The Project Director of the Good Thinking Society, had to say on it:

“If I hadn’t known what the Impossible Burger was – and, more to the point, what it wasn’t – I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell. It definitely wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had, but it also wasn’t the worst, and that’s pretty impressive given that the rest of them (at least, I hope the rest of them) had the head start of actually being a burger. Possibly the most remarkable thing about the Impossible Burger is that they’ve managed to make a meat-substitute that differs from meat so little as to be unremarkable. If you’re looking to reduce or cut out meat but fear you’ll miss the experience of eating meat, it’s a pretty solid substitute.”

Sadly, the Impossible burger still isn’t available in Canada. A rival product however is being pushed by A&W: The Beyond Meat Burger.

This meat alternative also makes claimsabout tasting, smelling and having a meat-like texture. However, as far as I can tell it contains similar ingredients to any other veggie burger, with some beet added to dye the uncooked patty red. A&W’s website proudly states (several times) that their product is GMO free, a big change from Impossible Food’s pride in their GM technology.

Never one to pass up a veggie burger, I obviously went and tried the Beyond Meat Burger too. I was, to put it nicely, underwhelmed. It didn’t taste like meat. It didn’t really taste like anything other than a typical cheap veggie patty, and I honestly think I preferred A&W’s old veggie burger. It was boring enough that I’ll probably just opt for some French fries next time we make a road trip stop at an A&W.

But it’s not all about taste, right? Maybe the Impossible burger is delicious but very unhealthy? Well, nutrition-wise the two new veggie burgers actually beat out their meat competitors in terms of protein and iron (two of the nutrients vegetarians often struggle to consume). The Beyond Meat Burger has a lot more fat than the Impossible burger, but is still on par with the meat burgers. Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn from comparing the burgers is that while veggie burgers tend to cost the same (or less) as meat ones, at least at A&W they’re much larger!

NutritionImpossible
Burger
(85 g)
Beyond
Meat
Burger
(113 g)
No Name beef
burgers
(113 g)
A&W
hamburger
(58 g)
Calories220270320150
Fat (g)13202712
Saturated fat (g)105135
Sodium (mg)43038043045
Sugar (g)1010
Protein (g)20201411
Iron (%)1525156

Even if you’re not passionate about finding the perfect veggie patty like I am, there are good reasons to care about the evolution of vegetarian meat alternatives.

The meat industry is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Animals raised for meat expel 37% of all human-released methane. They also require enormous amounts of water. 1 ton (907 kg) of beef takes 16.7 million litres of water to produce, which is more than six times the 2.52 million litres required for a ton of soy.

Infographic made by Ada Mcvean

There is also the animal welfare aspect of the meat industry to consider, as well as the documented health benefits to minimizing your meat intake. Technologies like lab grown meat or ethically raised animals can help your conscience, but not your wallet or heart. Part of what makes meat-like alternatives so compelling is their affordability.

While there are issues with replacing all meat with vegetable proteins, such as plant sources lacking some nutrients and ethical issues of putting herders out of work, there is a lot to be gained by embracing a vegetarian diet (or just going veggie sometimes). The Impossible Burger, and other products I hope are available shortly, might be a simple way to do that.

Until then, I guess I’ll stick to grilling Portobello mushrooms. Not such an impossible task.

Skinny Magic is a Fat Scam

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-and-nutrition-quackery/skinny-magic-fat-scam

Skinny Magic, Skinny Magic Zero Appetite and Skinny Magic Cleanse are herbal weight loss remedies created and sold by The Herb Shop, a subsidiary of Jade Enterprises based out of Florida. Jade Enterprises seems to have been unable to pick just one industry to become involved in, and opted instead to just dabble in all of them- they own several herbal supplement companies (including IAmHealthy.net), a photography and Photoshop company, and a window film company that specializes in ‘Toilet Tattoos’.

All three products claim to do as their name suggests, with that being helping you lose weight with natural herbs and superfoods in the case of their ‘skinny’ products. The company’s main claim is that their pills will energize you, allowing you to increase your activity levels while reducing your appetite so you reduce your caloric intakes. How the ingredients in their product do this, however, is up to interpretation.

Each pill contains chromium, niacin and vitamin B6 and B12, calcium and magnesium. Sadly, the amounts of calcium and magnesium are so small that you’re likely getting more from just your daily breakfast. The pills also contain 487.6 mg of what they refer to as their ‘Proprietary Blend’- a mixture of several ‘superfoods’ like stinging nettle, apple cider vinegar, barley grass, bladderwrack and other algae. Even if there were reason to believe any of these ingredients could perform the weight loss miracles the pills claim, it’s impossible to evaluate their efficacy, as the company refuses to give the make-up of its ‘Proprietary Blend’. For all we know, the blend is 99% apple cider vinegar, and the same experience could be had drinking what’s already in your kitchen cupboard.

The recommended use of Skinny Magic is 1-3 capsules per day, 30 minutes before each meal, but not within 7 hours of bedtime, as they may impair sleep. This likely has something to do with the 100 mg of caffeine in every pill (more than a cup of coffee). At 3 pills per day, any more than 1 cup of coffee in addition to these pills would put you over the Health Canada recommended daily maximum dose of 400 mg of caffeine- and how many of us only have 1 cup of coffee a day? This caffeine content likely explains the numerous customers experiencing nervousness, the shakes, and insomnia.

Beyond duping customers into buying these pills based on their weight loss claims, The Herb Shop seems to have another trick up their sleeves to take the money out of desperate pockets. A full bottle of 60 Skinny Magic pills (a month’s supply) will run you $59.95. At almost $1/pill plus shipping, you can imagine the creators had a hard time selling their magic to the public. To combat the trepidation, they began offering trial packs- 10 pills (a week’s supply) for $12.50 plus shipping. While this price is increased per pill, it’s cheap enough to coax wary customers to try the product. But, as numerous customers report, the formula of the trial pills and the normal pills greatly differs. This difference is made possible by the company’s use of an unspecific ‘Proprietary Blend’, which, as I’ve mentioned, allows them to do as they will with the quantities of each ingredient in the blend. Even if the pills worked, there is no way to guarantee from batch to batch or size to size that you’re receiving the same pills you found effective last month.

These pills boast big claims, but as their website is quick to point out, none of them have been evaluated by the FDA or Health Canada. Their own website points out that these pills are not meant to diagnose or treat any diseases, and that you should contact a licensed health practitioner, whom I just could not see prescribing these ‘magic’ pills.

Modern Birth Control Rarely Makes You Gain Weight

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health/weight-gain-birth-control-pills

The idea that birth control pills make the user gain weight has been floating around since the first appearance of contraceptive pills on the market in the 1950’s, but hasn’t been true for quite some time. Early contraceptive pills used only estrogen to prevent pregnancy, and they used it in massive quantities- initial pills had 10 mg of estrogen per daily pill. As the science of contraception developed however, it became obvious that lower doses of estrogen would accomplish the same effects (with fewer side effects), and the doses eventually dropped to the modern average of 35 µg per daily pill. While the high doses of estrogen were associated with weight gain in users, the modern amounts have dropped so low that studies find no relationship between combination birth control pills and the weight of their users. 

Myth busted!