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No, The Impossible Whopper Won’t Make Men Grow Boobs

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Plant-based meat substitutes are becoming increasingly popular as the quality increases and costs fall. You can even buy an Impossible burger from Burger King now. This situation has clearly caused some alarm among meat producers, and they’ve dug up some old pseudoscience to try and convince people that meat substitutes are bad for them. A livestock trade publication called Tri-State Livestock News (TSLN) has resurrected the claim that soy causes feminization in men. Don’t clutch your pearls — there’s no evidence for that

The post on TSLN covers several points, none of which are free of spin. Veterinarian James Stangle complains about protein measurements, GMO status, and more. The most outrageous claim is that the Impossible Whopper has 44mg of estrogen, which is 18 million times more than a beef burger. He warns that too much plant-based meat will cause men to grow breasts, which is at best a half-truth. 

TSLN as a publication is aimed at people in the livestock and farming industries, so the goal here is probably to give them talking points that sound legitimate. However, some conservative news outlets have started repeating these claims, too. What Doctor Stangle doesn’t explain is that an Impossible Whopper doesn’t actually contain any estrogen. What we’re really talking about here is a class of molecules called isoflavones that are structurally similar to estrogen. Many isoflavones can act as a “phytoestrogen” that activate estrogen receptors in the body. 

The structural similarities of some phytoestrogens and estrogen (bottom).

Some in the medical community have expressed concern over the effects phytoestrogens could have on people, but no study has yet to show compelling evidence of negative effects. Not everyone metabolizes isoflavones in the same way, but the hormonal impact of phytoestrogens seems generally weaker in most people than the native biological hormones. Someone who is particularly sensitive to phytoestrogens and consumes a huge amount of foods rich in them can exhibit some hormonal changes. There are several anecdotal reports of this is the literature, but that’s all they are — anecdotes. So, saying an Impossible Whopper has 44mg of estrogen is profoundly misleading on several levels. The one case in which a man developed breast tissue as a result of eating soy was from a 2008 case in which the man had been drinking three quarts of soy milk a day. Drinking too much iced tea can cause kidney failure. Drinking too much water can literally kill you. There is no special, unique, or particular risk to eating soy. Also, 5G does not cause cancer

Most doctors no longer consider isoflavones in soy to be an issue — after all, we get plenty of phytoestrogens in our diet from oats, rice, beans, and even beer. That hasn’t stopped certain internet communities from calling people with whom they disagree “soy boys,” with the implication being that they have been feminized by eating soy instead of meat. Doctor Stangle perpetuates this nonsense with his misleading article.

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