Growing up, I could never rid my diet of meat, but my sister managed to keep it out for ten years. Our freezer was constantly filled with Boca Burgers and Morningstar Chicken. She was still eating these foods when CBS broke the news that such companies’ foods were chockfull of a neurotoxin called hexane.
The FDA doesn’t actually require food testing for hexane and the effects of eating are not yet known. However, exposure to hexane in the air can cause numbness, headaches, fatigue, blurred vision and muscle weakness. When you look at the ingredients and see soy protein isolate, that’s where hexane is hiding.
That all sounds pretty scary and you might want to run to your freezer to toss out everything that says Morningstar right now, but hold on a second. According to Shereen Lehman, MS—a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists—CBS seriously jumped the gun on this one.
Hexane is a solvent made from crude oil that is used to extract vegetable oil from plant seeds, like soybeans. It’s removed from the oil before it’s bottled and sold, but there’s always going to be some residue.
It’s impossible to know the effects of food-borne hexane on a person because that person would have to consume tons more hexane than is ever found in a person’s diet. Basically, if you’re eating a Morningstar burger even once a day, it’s very unlikely that you’re consuming enough hexane to actually hurt you. You’re much more likely to be hurt by hexane if you live near a factory, than if you’re eating a veggie burger.
But, just because it’s not going to hurt you, doesn’t mean that it’s going to help you. Soy protein isolate literally means that the protein in the soybeans were isolated. Soybeans on their own are filled with fiber, complex carbs, and minerals. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you might seriously be lacking in these. Veggie burgers with soy protein isolate are not going to help you replenish them. All that’s left will be the protein and the other nutrients will be left behind. You’re much better off just eating the soybeans themselves.
Yes, veggie burgers are filled with actual veggies. Morningstar burgers contain mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, carrots, red and green bell peppers, and black olives. Think about what happens when you leave veggies out for too long. It doesn’t take too long for them to go bad. Veggie burger companies can’t afford to have their products go bad so quickly so many of them resort to unhealthy additives. According to Foodtrainers founder Lauren Slatyon, MS, RD, the spray drying method used for soy can form nitrites, which can form carcinogens in the body.
Processed veggie burgers are very quick and easy meals for any vegetarian, but it might not be worth the trade off. You could be doing your body some damage by letting your diet consist of them so often. You are much better off avoiding the processed stuff and making your own burgers.