The Impossible Burger: A New Source of Iron?

November 14, 2019 What's Really under the Bun? The Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger that has been widely praised for l...

November 14, 2019
What's Really under the Bun?

The Impossible Burger is a plant-based burger that has been widely praised for looking, smelling and – luckily for burger lovers – tasting just like the real thing. But if you have RLS and low iron stores, you may be wondering: Can it boost your iron?

Iron is essential for all living cells in the body. One of its main roles is as a component of hemoglobin (heme), the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency is a known contributing factor to RLS, so maintaining a healthy iron level is especially important for those with the disease.*

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 5% of Americans report they are vegetarian, and another 3% are vegan. (Vegetarians don’t eat meat; vegans don’t eat any animal products.) Individuals choose to limit their diet for a variety of reasons, but no matter why, removing meat from one’s diet can drastically reduce iron intake. To combat this iron deficiency, vegetarians have to work to fit other high-iron food choices (such as tofu, lentils and beans into their diets. Could the Impossible Burger be an iron-rich choice for vegetarians and vegans alike?

The Impossible Burger is a nationwide phenomenon. This 100% plant-based burger is known to taste like the real thing and even bleed. But how can a burger bleed if it isn’t meat? Scientists at Impossible Foods claim that heme is the molecule that makes meat taste and bleed like meat. The company genetically engineers yeast to make heme for the Impossible Burger.

However, the burger’s benefit as a source of dietary iron is up for debate. James Connor, PhD, a member of the RLS Foundation Scientific and Medical Advisory Board and a leading expert in brain iron metabolism, says that although the Impossible Burger contains heme iron, it is not clear to experts if this genetically altered molecule acts the same in the body as regular heme.

Additionally, Connor explains that soy protein actually inhibits iron absorption. Since the heme in the Impossible Burger is fermented in a soy plant, it is unlikely that any iron in the burger is absorbed into the body, according to Connor.

Overall, the Impossible Burger may be a tasty option for vegetarians or vegans who are craving a burger. Also, Impossible Foods states its main goal is “to reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by replacing the use of animals as food production technology.” However, choosing an Impossible Burger over a regular burger is probably not going to have much impact on your iron level.

The moral of the story is to do your research as a consumer. With so many products on the market and so much information on the internet and social media, it is sometimes hard to know if a product or service will provide the benefits you are expecting. Whether it is a new diet, a new drug or a new RLS treatment, make sure you understand the details and consult with your doctor before making any changes to your treatment plan.

Editor’s note: James Connor, PhD, is founder and chair of the board of Sidero Science, a competing specialty biotechnology company with an iron- based medical food product under development.

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