Category Archives: Culinary

Those “Impossible” Burgers

It may be a surprise to some, but not to me, that they are neither healthier for the eater or for the environment.

I’d like to eat actual lab-grown meat, but it has to be cost effective, and nutritionally equivalent to the stuff on the hoof (or claw).

[Update a couple minutes later]

In reading, as is often the case, part of the health claim derives from the false notion that eating “red meat,” and particularly saturated fat, is unhealthy. There is zero scientific evidence for either. So they’re basically proposing to replace something humans have been eating since the dawn of humanity with some lab-produced glop about which we are completely ignorant of its nutritional effects.

Meatless Burgers

Of course they aren’t any healthier, but this article (as is generally the case) is malinformed on nutrition:

Part of the appeal for diners is that eating less red meat can cut the risk of heart disease and other health risks. But nutritionists and registered dietitians say ordering a meatless burger at a chain — especially one where you can get fries with it — might not be that much better for you. “Are they healthier as far as sodium, calories and fat content? Definitely not,” Sharon Zarabi, a registered dietitian and bariatric program director at Lenox Hill Hospital, told MarketWatch.

There is zero scientific evidence that red meat increases your risk of heart disease (or any other health risk). And there is nothing wrong with sodium, calories (per se) or fat (at least saturated fat, though transfats and seed oils are terrible, nutritionally).

“It’s almost the same amount of calories as the regular burger. The fat is slightly lower, but the saturated fat is still pretty high,” notes Zarabi of the saturated fat, which is almost the same exact amount in each. Consumers can expect to pay at least 10 cents more for the Impossible Whopper ($4.29), with prices varying by location. In the Bay Area, the meatless Whopper is selling for $6.19 before tax, compared to $4.89 for the original version. (Burger King did not respond to a request for comment.) Zarabi urges consumers to look at the weight in grams for each menu option. At White Castle, the Impossible Slider is 90 grams in weight, compared to the Original Slider, which is 55 grams. If you don’t look at the nutrition facts, it could easily seem like the Impossible Slider is worse for you, but they’re actually almost on par with each other. The Impossible Slider is 210 calories with 11 grams of fat, and 4 grams of saturated fat, compared to the Original Slider’s 140 calories with 7 grams of fat and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. The Impossible Slider costs $1.27 more. White Castle did not respond to a request for comment.

This is all junk science. Calories aren’t the issue, saturated fat isn’t the issue, weight in grams isn’t the issue. And sliders are terrible, regardless of what the patty is made of, because they’re mostly bread. But at least this nutritionist gets it right:

Dr. Lisa Young, a registered dietitian and author of “Finally Full, Finally Slim,” says meat alternatives become even more unhealthy when you factor in the bread, condiments and French fries that typically round out a fast food meal.

Not to mention the sugary soft drinks. There may be sound ethical reasons for being a vegan, but don’t delude yourself that it’s a healthy diet.

How Americans Used To Eat

Hint: It wasn’t plants:

Early Americans settlers were “indifferent” farmers, according to many accounts. They were fairly lazy in their efforts at both animal husbandry and agriculture, with “the grain fields, the meadows, the forests, the cattle, etc, treated with equal carelessness,” as one 18th-century Swedish visitor described—and there was little point in farming since meat was so readily available.

Settlers recorded the extraordinary abundance of wild turkeys, ducks, grouse, pheasant, and more. Migrating flocks of birds would darken the skies for days. The tasty Eskimo curlew was apparently so fat that it would burst upon falling to the earth, covering the ground with a sort of fatty meat paste. (New Englanders called this now-extinct species the “doughbird.”)

In the woods, there were bears (prized for their fat), raccoons, bobo­links, opossums, hares, and virtual thickets of deer—so much that the colo­nists didn’t even bother hunting elk, moose, or bison, since hauling and conserving so much meat was considered too great an effort. A European traveler describing his visit to a Southern plantation noted that the food included beef, veal, mutton, venison, turkeys, and geese, but he does not mention a single vegetable.

Infants were fed beef even before their teeth had grown in. The English novelist Anthony Trollope reported, during a trip to the United States in 1861, that Americans ate twice as much beef as did Englishmen. Charles Dickens, when he visited, wrote that “no breakfast was breakfast” without a T-bone steak. Apparently, starting a day on puffed wheat and low-fat milk—our “Breakfast of Champions!”—would not have been considered adequate even for a servant.

Indeed, for the first 250 years of American history, even the poor in the United States could afford meat or fish for every meal. The fact that the workers had so much access to meat was precisely why observers regarded the diet of the New World to be superior to that of the Old.

Lobster used to be fed to prisoners, because it was considered inferior to other meats. The notion that we ate plants is all part of the junk science of nutrition.

Statins

When the benefits outweigh the risks. These two grafs stuck out to me:

My decision to take a statin was not made casually. I first tried a stricter-than-usual diet of home-cooked meals rich in vegetables plus fish and nearly devoid of saturated fats, processed foods and refined carbs and sugars. I took supplements of fish oils, fiber and plant sterols, among other nonprescription products said to lower cholesterol. And, of course, I kept my weight down and activity up — a daily regimen of walking, swimming and cycling. All, alas, to no avail. [Emphasis added]

So if she’s only eating fish, it’s likely that she’s not getting enough protein. She doesn’t explain why she’s not eating land animals. And she seems to think that saturated fat is harmful, when there’s no scientific evidence that consumption of it either increases cholesterol, or health risks. There’s also not much evidence that exercise controls cholesterol. Next:

…for those facing a higher-than-average risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, the first step in reducing that risk is not a drug but getting modifiable risk factors under control. Even if you plan to take a statin, the drug will be most effective when combined with measures that reduce cardiovascular risk.


That means adopting and sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, peas and beans, nuts and seeds and contains little or no saturated fats, the fats found in meats, poultry and dairy products that are not fat-free. Substitute whole grains for refined ones. The best oils to use for cooking and salads are olive, canola, grapeseed and avocado.

So she’s recommending eschewing animal products in general, and (again) eliminating saturated fats, with their healthy omega 3s. And substituting seed oils (canola and grape), with their high omega 6s for them, promoting inflammation. She also imagines that whole grains are all right, when refined aren’t when (again) there is little scientific evidence to support it.

One other point: This is exactly the kind of uncontrolled experiment that gives us so much junk nutrition science (e.g., she didn’t try a high-meat, high-fat, low-carb diet; she just assumed that the one she was on was best to lower cholesterol, then gave up and switched to taking statins).

Given that I have never had a cardiovascular event, I think I’m going to stick with my current meat-rich (and saturated-fat-rich) diet, and continue to eschew statins.