Friday, July 9, 2010

Are Veggie Burgers Deadly?

I get shivers down my spine when I am at a BBQ, watching the burgers and hotdogs on the grill, and then see someone add a veggie burger. Though that person might think that the veggie burger is healthier for them, they might be very wrong. They might be ingesting a potentially harmful toxin.

In the current issue of Mother Jones magazine (August 2010), there is a one-page article, Get Behind Me, Seitan by Kiera Butler. It discusses veggie burgers and and how some contain hexane, an EPA registered air pollutant and suspected neurotoxin. Why do some of these burgers contain hexane? Well, producers want to make their burgers low in fact and the cheapest way to do so is to use hexane to remove the fatty sobyean oil.

A 2009 study by Cornucopia Institute, a sustainable-farming nonprofit, found that Boca, Morningstar Farms and Gardenburger and numerous other producers of veggie burgers used hexane. As an aside, hexane is also used in other natural soyfoods such as nutrition bars and protein shakes.

The report states: "Hexane is used to extract oil from grains such as corn, soy, and canola. It is a cost-effective and highly efficient method for separating whole soybeans into soy oil, protein, and fiber. In conventional food processing, soybeans are immersed in what the industry calls a “hexane bath” before they are further processed into ingredients such as oil, soy protein isolate, or texturized soy protein (TVP). The soy protein ingredients in most nonorganic foods such as vegetarian burgers and nutrition bars are processed with the use of hexane."

The EPA regulates hexane emissions because of potential carcinogenic properties and environmental concerns. It is worrisome though that the FDA does not monitor or regulate hexane residue in soy foods plus little research has been done on the potential dangerous effects of consuming hexane residues in food. The few, limited studies on rodents do seem to minimize any potential danger from hexane but more study is warranted.

What is important to realize that one needs to look beyond the surface of all foods, and especially processed foods, to ascertain any potential hidden dangers. A veggie burger might sound healthy on its face, but the processing it underwent may have tainted it. The same thing applies to foods that are labeled as "natural." Such items may not be as "natural" as you think as legal definitions and rules considering labeling grant much leeway in such matters. Just think carefully when you go shopping, and don't make assumptions based on appearances.


The Two Palaverers said...

We never eat veggie burgers. But, Trader Joe's does make a very tasty vegetable masala burger without TVP. Worth seeking out.

Couves said...

Interesting (and provocative!) post. I wonder if the vegetable oils you mention also contain hexane - that would be of far greater concern, since they are used in so many processed and prepared foods.

The problem with these sorts of reports is, there are measurable carcinogens in pretty much everything we eat. Many animal products (not just fish!) contain measurable levels of PCB’s and dioxins, black pepper has 13 carcinogens… it just goes on an on. Not to minimize any of it, but it takes careful study to determine what’s really worth being concerned about.

adele said...

Ugh. All the more reason to stick to my current position, I think: I'll eat vegan food as long as it's not pretending to be meat.

Grilled vegetables, anyone?