True Cellular Formulas Team - Feb 6, 2023

Is Plant-Based "Meat" Poisoning You?

Although the case for plant-based meats typically revolves around health for humans and the planet, the reality is far from that story. Popular fake meats from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods serve up large doses of toxins. Today we debunk why plant-based meats aren’t healthy and call out the biggest offenders on the shelves.

Vegan Does Not Equal Health

This article isn’t about the ethical debate between plant vs. animal foods. However, it is vital to take a step back and realize that whether you eat animal products or not, the “vegan” label does not equate to health because health is not rooted in the absence of animal products. Some people argue that the fat-soluble nutrients and high bio-availability of animal products are crucial to a healthy diet, but whether or not you believe that, it’s time to debunk that all vegan food isn’t healthy. 

The Problem with Plant-Based Meat

Plant-based meats are fundamentally processed foods. I’m not talking about your homemade black bean burger pattie but rather the dozens of companies that have bombarded the vegan market in the last 10 years, offering packaged vegan burgers, chicken fingers, sausages, and more. These products from companies like Beyond Meats and Impossible Foods contain a wide range of ingredients to mimic the natural flavors of meat in a way that uses artificial ones .1-2

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably because it is. These fake meats have long shelf lives and contain an array of synthetic ingredients that have no place in a healthy diet. Here are only some reasons why plant-based meat should take a hike.

1. Tertiary Butylhydroquinone

Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is a synthetic preservative that prevents discoloration in processed foods. The FDA has placed a limit on the amount of TBHQ allowed in foods because studies suggest a link between TBHQ and cancer.3 In addition, TBHQ acts as an immunotoxin with varying effects on the immune system and interferes with the maturation of natural killer immune cells.4 Although the limit is set at 0.02 percent of the oils in the food product, this is because of the eventual link between TBHQ and cancer and not because any amount is actually safe.5

2. Erythrosine (Red #3)

This one is wild because Red #3 is an artificial food coloring that was banned for use in cosmetics in 1990 because high doses were linked to cancer.6 It can still be used in foods like fake meat and is found in various plant-based products to give the synthetic red color of red meat.

3. Ferric Orthophosphate

Also known as iron phosphate, ferric orthophosphate is used to fortify foods. Although it is generally considered safe for humans in small doses, FO is also used as a pesticide to kill slugs and snails.7 In humans, it can irritate the skin and eyes and upset the stomach.

This iron supplementation also speaks to one of the problems with assuming we can just substitute inorganic iron for the kind of bioavailable iron in real meat. Our human bodies simply do not respond to iron fortification with synthetic “fortification” in the way it does to real, whole foods. 

4. Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a synthetic diol alcohol, an almost tasteless and odorless compound derived from petroleum products. It is used to add moisture to packaged foods, and it’s also used as a liquid in e-cigarettes and is the primary ingredient in antifreeze… which begs the question, why is it in food?! As a synthetic toxin that adds a stressor to your kidneys and liver, best avoid it.8

5. Vegetable Oils

Vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, safflower, and cottonseed oil, are mass-produced, cheap oils that promote inflammation in the body. The problem with these oils is that they are dominantly polyunsaturated fats, a delicate chain of fatty acids that are easily denatured. Oxidation from heat and oxygen means they go rancid and wreak havoc in the body.9 Although raw sunflower seeds or even cold-pressed sunflower oil (consumed unheated), aren’t usually a problem— the kinds of refined oils used in plant-based meats are anything but raw and cold-pressed. 

6. Soy

Vegans commonly consume soy as a source of protein, but soy doesn’t behave like animal protein in the body. For starters, soy is an estrogen-mimicking food that impacts hormones.10 Secondly, most soy is of very poor quality, and the majority of the globe’s soy is genetically modified.11 The cultures that include soy as a part of their diet do so in much smaller quantities, using soy-based products more as a condiment or in its whole food form (like edamame), not in the highly processed and refined versions we see today in the West (soy burgers, soy milk).

7. Natural Flavors

Despite their name, natural flavors are anything but natural. This category of food additives includes hundreds of possible additives that don’t need to be listed. Although at its core, a “natural flavor” is derived from nature (as opposed to manufactured synthetically in a lab), solvents, emulsifiers, flavor modifiers, and preservatives often make up 80 to 90 percent of the mixture, none of which are included on the ingredient label.12

The Naughty List

  • Impossible Burger
  • Impossible Sausage
  • Impossible Chicken Nuggets
  • Beyond Burger
  • Beyond Steak
  • Beyond Sausage
  • Beyond Chicken Tenders
  • Upton Naturals Ground Seitan
  • Rield Roast Smoked Apple & Sage Sausages
  • Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders
  • Tofurky
  • Sophie's Kitchen Breaded Shrimp
  • Good Catch Tuna
  • Good Catch Plant-Based Breaded Fish Fillets
  • Lightlife Smart Dogs
  • Lightlife Meatless Smart Jerkey
  • El Burrito Soyrizo
  • MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips
  • Daring Foods Chicken
  • Quorn Meatless Patties
  • Quorn Chiqin Nuggets
  • Quom Vegan Meatless Buffalo Dippers
  • Quom Meatless Roast
  • Field Roast Vegetarian Grain Meat Sausages
  • Dr. Praeger's Black Bean Quinoa Veggie Burgers
  • Daring Original Plant-Based Chicken Pieces

The Better List

Although we typically include a “good list,” the “better list” is as good as we can do when it comes to plant-based meat replacements. The reality is no plant-based meat substitute product we found truly qualifies as good.

These are better options that contain no artificial ingredients but still typically have something that isn’t great (usually it’s vegetable oils). As you can see, these substitutes are better because they don’t try and imitate the flavors of meat. Meat is meat, and as soon as you try and outsmart nature, you’re doing it at the cost of your health!

  • Hilary's, Organic The World's Best Veggie Burger
  • Nasoya Organic Super Firm Tofu
  • Upton’s Naturals Jackfruit Bar-B-Que


Plant-based meats have been marketed to us as health foods but the reality is that most of them are quite toxic. Filled with synthetic ingredients, preservatives, and vegetable oils, these foods do not deserve a spot in our health food stores or grocery store health aisles. If you’re opposed to eating meat, make sure you’re making conscious choices by actually reading the labels so that the food you put into your body is truly in line with your morals and values.  

  1. “Burger: Plant-Based Burger Patties: Beyond Meat.” Vegan Burger Meat, Crumbles, & Sausages, 
  2. Impossible Foods. 
  3. Gharavi, Negar, and Ayman O. El-Kadi. “Butylhydroquinone Is a Novel Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Ligand.” Drug Metabolism and Disposition, vol. 33, no. 3, 2004, pp. 365–372., doi:10.1124/dmd.104.002253. 
  4. Pfiffner, Samantha et al. “The Effects of Tert-butyl Hydroquinone (TBHQ) on Estrogen Receptor Alpha (ERα) and Tumor Suppressor Gene p53 in Breast Cancer Cells.” Journal of the Endocrine Society vol. 5,Suppl 1 A493–A494. 3 May. 2021, doi:10.1210/jendso/bvab048.1009
  5. “CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.”, 
  6. Ap. “F.D.A. Limits Red Dye No. 3.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 30 Jan. 1990, 
  7. “Iron Phosphate.” National Pesticide Information Center,
  8. Neale, Bruce W et al. “Propylene glycol-induced lactic acidosis in a patient with normal renal function: a proposed mechanism and monitoring recommendations.” The Annals of pharmacotherapy vol. 39,10 (2005): 1732-6. doi:10.1345/aph.1G083
  9. Mboma, Jean et al. “Effects of Cyclic Fatty Acid Monomers from Heated Vegetable Oil on Markers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Male Wistar Rats.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 66,27 (2018): 7172-7180. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.8b01836
  10. Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, et al. “Soy: The Dark Side of America's Favorite ‘Health’ Food.” The Weston A. Price Foundation, 19 June 2017, 
  11. Food Insight. “Beans and Biotech: Why Soybeans Are the Stars of Genetically Modified Foods.” Food Insight, 10 Feb. 2021, 
  12. Group, EWG - Environmental Working. “Natural Vs Artificial Flavors.” EWG,

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