Vegan diets and plant-based mock meat has become the mainstay of meals and conversations in today’s world of food options.
But are vegan meat substitutes, also known as mock meats or fake meats, actually better for you and the planet than meats? We sought to compare the best mock meat on the market today.
We also take a comprehensive look at this topic from all angles so that you can make an informed decision for you and your patients related to their thyroid in this post.
There is no question that we are eating foods with a negative impact on today’s society. But, do plant-based burgers solve these issues? And importantly, are they good or bad for the thyroid?
Types of Mock Meat
In today’s fast-paced world, convenience is king. Especially when it comes to our food. Traditional whole food vegan recipes have been pushed aside to make way for the fast and easy packaged mock meat products.
Walk down the freezer aisle of your favorite store and you will find an infinite number of vegan and mock meat.
Even fast-food restaurants are jumping on the plant-based bandwagon. You can find products like Beyond Meat sausages and the Impossible Burger at your favorite burger joint.
Due to the large variety of meat substitutes, it’s not like comparing apples to apples. There are 5 main types of mock meat out there on the market right now. They include:
- Pea Protein
- Soy Protein
- Gluten Protein, also known as seitan
- Legume Burgers
Research Ties to Industry in Meats
Recent evidence has come to light that much research is skewed by interest groups that stand to gain money based on the outcomes of their research.
This happens on both sides of the fence: the plant-based mock meat movement and the meat industry [R].
David Katz and many other so-called experts in plant-based movements have come under scrutiny due to being paid off by sugar-laden food companies [R].
What is the public supposed to think?
Could there be a better option for your health and the planet?
We present the information here from all angles to help you and your patients decide the most sustainable and honestly healing foods for your thyroid.
Effects of Pesticides on the Thyroid
The prevalence of thyroid disease has skyrocketed within the past decade. According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.
What Causes the Epidemic of Thyroid Dysfunction?
A number of growing research points the finger at environmental pollution. Data supports the role of organochlorines and fungicides in the etiology of thyroid disease.
Organochlorines are perhaps the most widely studied and show a reduction in the thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3) when there is consistent exposure. However, pesticides in food are considered neurotoxic and we are not 100% sure how they affect the human body.
2 Things We Know About Pesticides:
- The use of limiting pesticide in developing children due to growing body and brain
- Pesticides disrupt the endocrine system. But more research is needed.
Ways to Reduce Pesticide Exposure
A way to reduce pesticide exposure is to reduce body fat. Our adipose tissue in our body stores and holds on to pesticides and other toxins, by lowering body fat percentage (within normal limits) your body will hold on to fewer pesticides [R, R].
Bottom Line: reduce exposures of chemicals in food and stay a healthy, lean weight for the health of your thyroid.
Soy Mock Meat Burgers
Soy-based burgers are the most popular mock meat on the market today. These plant-based burgers are lauded for their environmentally friendly and sustainable features. They also claim to be healthier for you.
But are they healthy for you and your thyroid?
Let’s take a look at their ingredients, and then we will break down what these ingredients’ impacts are on the environment and on our health.
Impossible Mock Meat Burgers
By far the most controversial of the burgers is the Impossible Burger by Impossible Foods. Now sold at fast foods, and there have been shortages because they are so popular. Here’s a look what they contain:
Impossible Burger Ingredients:
- Soy Protein Concentrate
- Coconut Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Natural Flavors
- Potato Protein
- Yeast Extract
- Cultured Dextrose
- Food Starch Modified
- Soy Leghemoglobin
- Soy Protein Isolate
- Mixed Tocopherols
- Zinc Gluconate
- Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1)
- Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C)
- Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Vitamin B12.
Nutrients in Impossible Burgers are primarily fortified, not found naturally. Also, notice the bolded ingredients. Thes are all the ingredients that are modified.
Genetically Engineered Ingredients in Soy
Leghemoglobin and Other Processed Soy Ingredients
Giving Impossible Burger it’s “bloody” characteristic, the compound called leghemoglobin is far from natural. The other soy ingredients found in the Impossible burger are protein concentrate and soy protein isolate. These compounds are also genetically modified. What does that mean for your health?
Leghemoglobin and Soy Products Impact On Your Health
Leghemoglobin is a bioengineered product that is genetically modified (GMO) [R].
The soy protein in plant-based burgers on the market today are usually made from GMO ingredients. GMO crops of soy use heavy amounts of herbicides and pesticides in their production.
Roundup, or glyphosate, accumulates in GMO soy. This means that when you eat genetically modified soy, you are eating the herbicide Roundup [R].
Leghemoglobin and Soy Products Not Environmentally Friendly
GMO soy and other crops that go into making plant-based burgers are definitely not environmentally friendly. GMO soy has begun to overtake the Amazon rainforests [R].
FDA Approve Leghemoglobin Without Any Safety Testing Done
Finally approved by the FDA, leghemoglobin began being used as a coloring agent in July of 2019. Note that the approval was AFTER it had been released for consumption. Still, people should be aware that no safety testing has ever been conducted on leghemoglobin [R].
Issues with the Approval of Leghemoglobin
If that didn’t sink in regarding safety testing of leghemoglobin, consider this from the Center for Food Safety (CFS):
“CFS objects to the approval of the new color additive petition for GMO ‘heme’ because
- The FDA did NOT require testing of the raw product or the genetically engineered yeast
- FDA’s approval will allow GMO ‘heme’ to be used in new cell-based products without additional testing;
- The product is not properly labeled
- FDA failed to satisfy the “convincing evidence” standard that applies for approval of new color additives,” CFS said.
The company even admitted that it didn’t know about all of the constituents of leghemoglobin.
Epigenetic Effects of Leghemoglobin and Other Soy Products
“GMO ingredients like soy likely have epigenetic effects on us and also our children and our children’s children when we eat them,” according to the regenerative agriculture expert Allen Williams, P.H.D.
Other Concerns of Soy
According to Allen Williams, P.H.D, from Understanding Ag, crops like soy use intensive amounts of chemicals to bring them to your plate. Additionally, 95% of soy today is not organic.
The chemicals used to make up a typical plate of soy include synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, desiccants like glyphosate, insecticides, and fungicides.
As you may recall, fungicides and pesticides likely have a negative impact on thyroid function.
Growing soy also requires a lot of tillage, especially if it is organic soy. This is to keep weeds under control while growing it. Tillage of the soil releases carbon into the atmosphere. It also destroys the natural ecosystem that creates healthy soil. Tillage increases runoff and erosion.
It does not support a healthy environment.
This is the whole argument behind soy is that it helps save the planet.
It turns out that growing massive fields of soy doesn’t seem to be the answer at all.
BOTTOM LINE: thyroid experts today like us generally recommend avoiding soy because most are heavily sprayed with chemicals and contain questionable ingredients with no safety testing.
Seitan Mock Meat Burgers
Seitan burgers or burgers with high gluten content are also popular today. The main source of protein is gluten, which is an incomplete protein.
Served on a gluten bun, they are far from nutritionally complete.
In practical terms, seitan burgers contain almost exclusively gluten, and this is not good for thyroid function.
Gluten is problematic for health in just about everyone with thyroid issues.
Here is a list of ingredients found in a seitan burger called Field Burgers:
- Vital wheat gluten
- Filtered water
- Organic expeller-pressed palm fruit oil
- Expeller-pressed safflower oil
- Tomato paste
- Naturally flavored yeast extract
- Onion powder
- Barley malt
- Sea salt
- Carrageenan (Irish moss sea vegetable extract)
- Celery seed
- Balsamic vinegar
- Black pepper
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Porcini mushroom powder
- Yellow pea flour
Desiccation of Wheat Crops and your Thyroid
The soy type of mock meat fake burgers aren’t the best for you or the environment, so are seitan burgers better for the environment?
Wheat crops today are often heavily sprayed with Roundup or glyphosate as well. Glyphosate likely alters the bacterial balance in your gut, or your microbiome [R].
Wheat is often sprayed with chemicals during the 24-48 hours of harvest [R].
Vital wheat gluten is also sprayed with chemicals by default. It is a highly processed food. Other foods that are desiccated include soy, corn, oats, canola, and legumes.
Translation: Unless you are eating organic grains and legumes, there is a good chance you are serving up a portion of chemicals at your table too. This definitely doesn’t help thyroid function perform at its optimum levels.
Pea Protein Mock Meat Burgers
Pea protein is formed when the protein is extracted from the starch and fiber of a pea bean. The protein content of these pea isolates is about 80 percent and are high in essential amino acid content [R].
Despite the high nutritional content, pea protein has poor functionality. This protein has a low solubility making the applications of this protein difficult to use.
While pea protein mock meat burgers may seem a better option, you are mostly paying for water (yes, these burgers are very expensive).
Pea protein crops also face many of the issues that soy crops face: when mass-produced, they are bad for the ecosystem, according to Dr.Williams.
Beyond Burger Ingredients include the following:
- Pea Protein Isolate
- Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil
- Refined Coconut Oil,
- Contains 2% or less of the following: Cellulose from Bamboo, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Yeast Extract, Salt, Sunflower Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Dried Yeast, Gum Arabic, Citrus Extract), Ascorbic Acid, Beet Juice Extract, Acetic Acid, Succinic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Annatto
Pea protein is at least not GMO at this point in time.
BOTTOM LINE: Pea protein is gluten, dairy, and soy-free. Those with thyroid conditions can tolerate it however, it is not compatible with the autoimmune protocol diet.
Mycoprotein Mock Meat Burgers
The most interesting of the mock meat substitutes are made from mycoprotein or mushroom protein.
Quorn Burgers-Quorn vegan burgers are based on mycoprotein and in many ways are healthy. The downside: wheat gluten is included in the binding of these burgers and for people with thyroid disorders, gluten often creates imbalances.
Quorn meatless pieces or Quorn sausages Quorn meatless roast are gluten-free varieties.
Typical Quorn burger-ingredients: Mycoprotein, Egg White, Wheat Flour, Onion, Palm Oil, Canola Oil, Milk Protein Concentrate. Contains 2% or less of Natural Flavor, Roasted Barley Malt Extract, Salt, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Calcium Chloride, Calcium Acetate, Potassium Chloride, Citric Acid, Sugar, Potato Dextrin, Yeast, Coconut Oil, Black Pepper.
Likely a better option than soy-based burgers, mycoprotein burgers have been in the margins for a long time, and scares of allergies have kept many people away from them.
Regardless, they are a nutritious fungus. Downside: the burger varieties have gluten while the meat crumbles do not.
They are a good source of protein, better amino acid composition than soy, and more micronutrients.
Mycoprotein is also greener than soy. Mycoprotein has a 90% lower carbon footprint than most foods out there.
Always consider travel of foods to your plate: Quorn originates in England and Australia, not the United States.
Legume Mock Meat Burgers
Another class of mock meat burgers is based on beans, such as garbanzo beans. An example of this is the Sweet Earth Fresh Veggie Burger.
This legume burger includes the following ingredients:
- Garbanzo beans
- Vital wheat gluten
- Green peas
- Bulgur wheat
- Bell peppers
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Red onion
- Nutritional yeast
- Granulated garlic
- Sea salt
- Granulated onion
- Lime juice concentrate
- Canola oil
While somewhat more whole-food based than other commercial plant-based burgers, these mock meat products still are not organic and have gluten.
Take home: For those with thyroid issues, the Sweet Earth Fresh Veggie Burger is not the best choice.
Mock Meat Plant Proteins Need Further Investigation
Consumers seek plant proteins that are non-allergenic and non-GMO and many producers are trying to respond to this need. Unfortunately, the interest and demand are increasing faster than the research can show these are quality alternatives.
The research that has been done is far from what it should be. Often incomprehensive there is still a need to fully understand how the extraction and processing technologies are affecting the protein structure, taste, and nutritional quality. How waste streams from these processes are affecting the environment need to be taken into consideration [R].
What About Omega 3’s?
As you may know, the American diet has a dismal ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats. Recent research shows that the omega 3 content of your blood is a big predictor of heart health. It is perhaps even more important for heart health than cholesterol like LDL [R].
Omega 6 to 3 ratio, or the omega 3 index, also plays an important role in your thyroid.
Grass-fed beef that is finished on grass contains an omega 6 to 3 ratio from 5:1 to 2:1. In contrast, the standard beef in the store can contain a whopping 20:1 to 55:1 on grain-fed beef [R].
This makes grass-fed beef closest to any food as the omega 3’s as wild salmon, which ranks at a 1:11 ratio [R].
Soy’s omega 6 to 3 ratio is 7:1, making it more inflammatory in nature than grass-fed beef.
Chickpeas are 26:1, also not a great ratio.
Chicken? Also not great at a 24:1 ratio unless it is pasture-raised, in which case it is 5:1 ratio [R].
Grass-Fed Beef Healthier than Standard Beef
When you look at types of beef, you also aren’t comparing apples to apples. The common beef of today is far from natural. In contrast, grass-fed beef is the only true healthy beef option.
Grass-fed beef is one of the most nutrient-dense proteins you can buy. But there is a lot of confusion because on January 12, 2016, the U.S. The Department of Agriculture dropped the grass-fed as an official term, Grass-finished is the new term [R].
Grass-fed and organic are not the same. “Organic” is a USDA-regulated term that means the beef must be produced or raised on a farm that doesn’t use harmful pesticides, genetic engineering (GMOs), or sewer sludge.
Grass-fed beef will provide a label with a stamp of approval by the American Grassfed Association (AGA). The AGA guarantees the animals never received antibiotics, hormones, or were never fed grains.
The Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed Beef has fewer Calories
The fat content is lower in grass-fed because of a clean and natural diet of grass and alfalfa.
Grass-Fed Beef Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Grass-fed beef contains a certain beneficial fatty acid called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). CLA can help prevent diabetes and obesity. A recent double-blind, randomized study concluded people given CLA demonstrated better insulin levels over those who weren’t given CLA [R].
Grass-Fed Beef Contains Electrolytes
One strip steak contains the following
- 732 milligrams of Potassium
- 49 milligrams of Magnesium
- 118 milligrams of Sodium
Grass-Fed Beef Has More Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Grass-fed beef has twice the amount of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) compared to grain-fed beef. CLA is one of the strongest nutrients which may defend against cancer in animal studies [R].
Grass-Fed Beef Contains More Healthy Fat
Grass-fed provides six times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. Omega-3 is highly effective in decreasing inflammation.
Grass-Fed Beef Contains Less Bacteria
Conventional beef is more prone to containing bacteria than grass-fed beef. Most food poisoning and outbreaks come from conventional beef that has added hormones.
Eating Grass-Fed Beef May Decrease Heart Disease Risk
Increased CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) can improve your heart health by higher antioxidants Vitamin E, higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, less healthy fats, and lower the amounts of bad cholesterol (a marker of cardiovascular disease).
Nutrients Lacking in Mock Meat & Plant-Based Diets
The thyroid needs certain nutrients in order to produce enough thyroid hormone for proper body function.
An imbalance of iodine, zinc, tyrosine, selenium, and iron can lead to thyroid conditions including both hypo and hyperthyroidism.
Plant foods contain many of the essential nutrients the thyroid needs. That is why the thyroid nutrition protocol focuses on a largely plant-based diet of fruits and vegetables.
Thyroid experts Isabella Wentz and Amy Myers have found typical vegetarian diets consisting of large amounts of grains, whole wheat bread, yogurt, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contributed to having a leaky gut and an autoimmune thyroid condition.
This diet was also lacking in essential amino acids and bioavailability of certain nutrients in order to stabilize the thyroid and improve her illness.
The protein-rich meat is a low glycemic food that can be beneficial to regulate blood sugar. Meat also is a good source of amino acids needed for energy metabolism which can be a problem for those with thyroid conditions [R].
- Fat-soluble Vitamins A,D,E,K
- Omega 3 fatty Acids
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Essential Amino Acids
Organic, Grass-fed, Pasture-Raised Meat is Best for Thyroid
The quality of meat is another factor to consider. Nutrients found in this type of meat can improve health conditions by strengthening the immune system, regulate metabolism, lower inflammation, and boost mood and brain function.
Organic grass-fed, pasture-raised meats tend to be higher in essential vitamins and minerals when compared to grain-fed meats [R].
Meat from a grass-fed, pasture-raised animal has a higher concentration of omega 3 fatty acids when compared to grain-fed meats. This included EPA, EPA, and DHA. Grass-fed meat had a more favorable omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids ratio over those meats that were fed grains [R].
Conjugated linoleic acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats formed as a byproduct of polyunsaturated fat digestion in ruminant animals. Diets rich in grass and lush green forages had 2 to 3 times more CLA than those on high grain diets. Primarily due to better pH levels in the rumen [R, R, R, R].
Polyunsaturated fat is known for helping to combat inflammation so the production of CLA helps to lower the inflammatory response [R].
Nutrients found in grass-fed meat were shown to improve brain health, serotonin levels, and immune function. Lower incidences of depression were seen in those with higher omega 3 intakes. [R].
Improved metabolism is another benefit of a diet with lean meat. Similar weight loss was found between a group of overweight women who consumed either chicken or lean beef. No changes in cholesterol were seen in either group demonstrating diet and exercise can help to lose weight regardless of whether the protein source is chicken or lean beef [R].
BOTTOM LINE: Beef protein is Paleo and Autoimmune Paleo-friendly. It is Gluten-free, soy-free, and free of casein and whey (two very reactive proteins found in dairy products). It is a complete protein, meaning it contains the essential amino acids we need to survive. Hydrolyzed beef protein offers a special advantage, as it is less likely to cause additional food reactions due to the hydrolysis process, which breaks the protein into tiny pieces.
Nutritional Comparison of Various Real and Mock Meat Burgers
What’s the nutritional content of all the various meat products? See below for the available nutritional analysis.
Note that grass-fed beef and standard grain-fed beef will vary a lot depending on the quality of their diets.
As you can see, plant-based meats are often higher in sodium, saturated fats, and lower in micronutrients. They also usually have less zinc, with the exception of mycoprotein.
Plant-based burgers also fall behind on absorbable micronutrients.
Protein Quality Among Various Mock Meat Plant-Proteins
Is the protein quality equal?
Soy and pea proteins are low in some essential amino acids. These are methionine, taurine, threonine, and lysine.
Seitan is low in lysine. Adding a bun doesn’t help much either.
Grass-fed beef has glutamine in addition to being a complete protein, so its protein quality exceeds plant-based proteins.
Absorbability and Bioavailability of Mock Meat
Legume-based proteins have phytates and oxalates, which reduce the absorption of micronutrients, especially minerals like zinc.
This means that while Sweet Earth burgers have some zinc, a very small percentage is absorbed.
Therefore, the net nutrient amounts are even less than the stated values in the charts.
Large Amounts of Carbohydrates Found In Mock Meat
Sweet Earth burgers serve up a whopping extra 32 grams of carb. Add in a bun and you have about 90 grams of carb without fries or soda.
Excess carbs in a meal, especially from grains, may wreak havoc on the gut-thyroid axis.
Is Red Meat Bad for the Planet?
The truth lies in how meat is raised. Factory farms are devastating for our planet, there is no doubt. They destroy ecosystems and are largely inhumane.
Grain-fed cows are often fed a very low-quality diet, which in turn, passes along a low-quality food to you.
A big concern about eating meat is the amount of methane that is released into the environment from cow belching.
Is this as concerning as people think?
Cows do, in fact, release methane. So do you or any other animal on the planet.
In contrast to beef, rice and many field crops contribute a large amount of methane into the environment [R].
There is no escaping methane, and it is a natural compound in the environment.
According to research, the best ways to alleviate climate change include the following [R].
- Regenerative agriculture
- Managed grazing
- Tree intercropping
- Conservation agriculture
- Farmland restoration
Are Regenerative Meats a Better Option?
Did you know that farmers only make up 0.85% of the population now?
Who is advocating for nurturing the soil, then?
It is definitely not mass-produced soy, corn, or wheat farmers that try to seek out a living by receiving rock bottom commodity prices. It is not even the general public or healthcare professionals generally.
This is because we are so far removed from our roots.
Regenerative agriculture groups like Understanding Ag are aiming to change this.
By growing regenerative meats like grass-fed beef, they are helping to restore both the ecosystem and health.
Better than sustainable beef, regenerative beef simulates nature by what is called adaptive grazing, according to Dr. Williams.
Soil is allowed to be restored by growing what naturally grows in a particular region, which is grass, soils teeming with healthy mycorrhizae, probiotics.
We need more soil, less dirt. Soil is different than dirt.
The soil requires both plants and animals to help balance the ecosystem.
Some research shows that these regenerative practices even sequester carbon [R]
Carbon Footprint of Food Travel
Do you know where you live in relation to where your food is grown? The amount of time that food travels to get to your plate plays a big role in its impact on global environmental costs.
Each time you eat, the estimated time food travels to your plate is 1400 miles.
That’s a lot of fossil fuels.
Does choosing a plant-based, meat-like Impossible Burger help this? No.
Most mock meats contain foods from all ends of the globe, making the true carbon footprint of these foods less-than-transparent. For example, palm oil and coconut oil from Asia, canola oil from the United States?
I’m very skeptical of the idea that these are “green” foods. The truth is, there is no sourcing of these foods at all. Clean eating groups really haven’t done a thorough job of looking at these inputs, unfortunately [R].
Bottom line: a big part of the sustainability of a food is how far it has had to travel to get to your plate. Local food is superior to most industrialized and packaged mock meat.
Small Scale Farms Save Communities and Your Health
When you know where your food comes from, it is not only more sustainable, it supports the growth of healthy communities.
Finding local grass-fed beef and local produce, in our opinion, has the biggest impact on your thyroid health and the health of the environment.
Eating whole foods close to home is the best answer for your health and the environment. It supports the local economy and community growth as well [R].
What is a Vegetarian to Do?
If you are vegan or vegetarian, choosing unprocessed, whole, and fermented foods are the best option; plant-based burgers on the market generally are not.
Quorn Crumbles offer a gluten-free alternative that is fairly thyroid friendly. Still, be aware that it is a possible allergen.
Find recipes and foods that support local economies and local growth. Try to avoid gluten-based burgers and soy-based burgers, especially from commercial brands.
If you do choose a vegan burger, our recommendation is to try Quorn, but be aware that it is sourced far from the United States.
When choosing burgers, the best choice for your thyroid health is local, grass-fed beef that uses regenerative agriculture practices.
Know your farmer to get the best quality foods for your thyroid, overall health, and to help repair and regenerate farmlands that desperately need it.
As food technology expands, so does the risk of thyroid disorders. While we can’t say this is causal, eating foods that are closer to nature is a smart move for anyone with thyroid disorders.
Here is an invaluable quote from Sustainable Dish, “Meat is not the villain. Engineering ourselves away from nature is.” [R]