I abhor concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). They are a wound upon the landscape, an aberration of nature, an affront to the dignity of the animals we raise for food.
That said, you might assume that I’d be a vegan and eschew meat altogether. You’d be wrong. Instead, I opt to purchase humanely-raised meats from local, pasture-based sustainable ranches and farms.
I do enjoy a good many vegan foods — even vegan convenience foods. Just the other day I picked up some of my favorite macaroons (which also happen to vegan) at the store.
So when Vani Hari of Food Babe asked me to write a post decoding labels for Beyond Meat’s Beyond Chicken: Southwest Style Strips, I jumped on board.
Here’s what the manufacturer claims:
“Free of gluten, GMOs, & antibiotics. Cholesterol-free. Real Meat made from 100% Plant Protein. As much protein as chicken.”
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Chicken (Southwest Style Strips): Ingredients
- non-GMO soy protein isolate,
- pea protein isolate,
- vegan chicken flavor (maltodextrin, yeast extract, salt, natural flavoring, sunflower oil),
- non-GMO expeller-pressed canola oil,
- non-GMO soy fiber,
- carrot fiber,
- white vinegar,
- garlic extract,
- onion extract,
- evaporated cane juice,
- dipotassium phosphate,
- titanium dioxide (for color),
- potassium chloride,
- paprika extract.
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Chicken (Southwest Style Strips): DECODED
First, I want to interject a small aside.
How on earth do they get away with calling this “real meat”?
Okay, back to our actual ingredients!
Non-GMO Soy Protein Isolate is the isolated protein of a non-genetically-modified soybean plant. While I applaud the fact that this is GMO-free, I can’t condone eating isolated soy protein. Read up on the history of soy and you’ll see why. Soy protein isolate is nothing more than an industrial waste product.
Even the USDA refuses to grant Soy Protein Isolate its coveted Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status. That means it is not a pre-approved safe food additive. Each time a company wants to add it to a food, they need USDA approval to do so.
In the video below, soy expert Dr. Kaayla T. Daniel (author of The Whole Soy Story) explains.
Thankfully, Pea Protein Isolate is not an industrial waste product. Rather, it is the product of the ever increasing demand by the health food industry for a non-soy plant protein. As more people become aware of the dangers of soy, they’re opting for pea protein instead. Generally, I dislike isolating individual nutrients if our great-grandparents didn’t also have the technology to do so in their own kitchens. That’s the rebel in me — the one that’s for eating according to the wisdom of our ancestors.
Amaranth is an ancient, gluten-free psuedo-grain that accounted for nearly 80% of the caloric intake of the Aztecs.
Maltodextrin is a kind of sugar produced by hydrolizing starch and is most likely used here as a thickener and sweetener. It’s most often made from genetically-modified corn, although GMO-free versions can be sourced from benign sources like cassava. Given that the ingredient list does not specifically say “non-GMO maltodextrin,” I felt compelled to ask Beyond Meat where they sourced their maltodextrin. They have not yet gotten back to me.
On their website, you can read the exact wording of their non-GMO claim:
We choose to side with Mother Nature and use only non-GMO ingredients, including herbs, flours, oils and, of course, our carefully cultivated soy and pea proteins.
It sounds pretty straightforward, but then I wonder why the ingredients label specifically claims which ingredients are “non-GMO”? Perhaps the only GMO-free ingredients are the “herbs, flours, oils and … proteins” leaving ingredients like maltodextrin free to be made from GMO corn?
Unfortunately, yeast extract always contains processed free glutamic acid — also known as MSG, or mono-sodium glutamate. Furthermore, natural flavors and spices can hide MSG too. (Read more about why MSG is dangerous.) Spices usually refers to a pre-mixed spice blend that’s added somewhere in the food manufacturing process. Unfortunately, it’s an ambiguous label because you don’t have to specify what exactly is in the spice blend. So, it could be hiding anything, including MSG.
Unfortunately, it’s perfectly legal for a company to say their food product has “No added MSG” so long as they don’t add an ingredient called “monosodium glutamate” to their food. MSG, however, hides in more than 40 commonly used ingredients in industrial food — ingredients like yeast extract. This means MSG can sneak up on you in a whole host of foods that don’t technically have a single ingredient called monosodium glutamate listed on their label.
Non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil is trying. It’s trying SO HARD. Trying to actually be healthy. Disturbed that most rapeseeds (from which canola oil is derived) are GMO? Have these non-GMO ones. Concerned that most canola oil is extracted with chemicals like hexane? Have this expeller-pressed oil instead.
Unfortunately, canola oil, no matter how you greenwash it, is never going to be a healthy oil. That’s because — no matter how you make it — the oil goes rancid in the extraction process, so it has to be bleached and deodorized to make it palatable:
You see, prior to the industrial revolution, making seed-based cooking oils was far too labor intensive and (in many cases) downright impossible. All the ancient cooking oils (like coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil, etc.) are easily pressed out of the plant without needing extremely high-pressure or high-temperature extraction.
After the industrial revolution, we had the technology necessary to create modern seed-based cooking oils. So, we did.
But the process of making and refining these oils translates into one thing: rancid polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). PUFAs don’t hold up well to heat or pressure. The same is true for both organic canola and organic soy oil. Soybean oil is roughly 58% polyunsaturated fatty acids — nearly twice that of canola! So, in the process of being extracted from the seed, these oils oxidize and many of them plasticize (turn into trans fats). The end result is stinky and unappetizing, so the oil is further “cleaned” using bleach or alternative chemicals to deodorize it.
Non-GMO Soy Fiber falls prey to the same faults as soy protein isolate, and like carrot fiber it makes the mistake of isolating a single nutrient from the whole plant in a way that would have been entirely unfamiliar to our great-grandparents.
White Vinegar sounds rather innocuous, but (in the U.S. at least), almost all distilled vinegar is made from genetically-modified corn. If you’re trying to opt out of the GMO food supply, then you’ll want to avoid distilled vinegar in favor of more robust kinds like apple cider vinegar (made from apples) or balsamic vinegar (made from grapes). Given that the ingredients list did not expressly state “Non-GMO White Vinegar,” I also asked Beyond Meat about where they source their vinegar and am still waiting for a reply.
Dipotassium Phosphate and potassium chloride are food additives commonly used as preservatives — both to slow the growth of bacteria and/or to act as a humectant (a substance preventing moisture loss). They are likely added here to extend the shelf-life of the food product. Dipotassium phosphate runs a slight risk for the development of calcium phosphate stones in people with alkaline urine. If you’re suffering from hyperphosphatemia or impaired kidney function, you should not take phosphates.
And finally, titanium dioxide is a mineral that occurs in nature. Here, it’s being used as a pigment because the color of pea and soy proteins in no way resemble chicken.
While it’s arguably safe to consume this “natural” food coloring, I still wouldn’t want to. Here’s why.
Beyond Meat’s Beyond Chicken (Southwest Style Strips): THE VERDICT
This is a no brainer!
What should I eat instead?
Real meat. And by real, I mean that it’s actually the flesh of an animal (preferably one that’s raised on pasture or in the wild).
For more on that read Grass-Fed Meats: Health Benefits.
If you are a vegan and won’t eat humanely-raised meats, then I am sorry to say that I have found no suitable “meat substitute” available on the market. Instead, you’ll simply have to eat a well-balanced diet of pulses, legumes, grains, nuts, veggies, and fruits.
If you are a vegetarian, rather than relying on edible food-like “meat alternatives,” you’d do better to include real animal foods from sustainable sources like eggs from pastured hens (BEWARE of deceptive labels like “cage-free” and “organic”) and sustainably-caught wild seafood (where I get mine).
Want Your Labels Decoded?
In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!
Thanks, Vani, for submitting this one!