Is fake meat yet another dietary disaster waiting to happen?

An Austrian research team has just produced a report that demonstrates the extreme danger of dietary errors, and exposes the damage they can do.

A research team at MedUni Vienna’s Center for Brain Research has found that high-fat maternal diets can cause life-long changes in the brains of the unborn offspring. When a pregnant woman consumes a diet high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, her body produces an excess of endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), which overload the fetal system and impair the development of healthy brain networks. Such a mechanism seems relevant to pathologies such as ADHD, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. It is unlikely that such damage can simply be reversed by a subsequent change of diet.

There’s much more at the link.

Vegetarians, particularly vegans, and those eating vegetable-based meat substitutes such as Beyond Meat, have cause to be concerned by this research.  Karl Denninger points out:

The first sentence is highly misleading.

PUFAs, specifically those bearing Omega-6, are almost-exclusively found in plant-based sources.  Specifically, vegetable oils, essentially none of which are produced in nature, contain extremely high levels of this substance.  Note that there has been an extraordinarily-intensive campaign to get people to eat plant-based products, including their oils, rather than animal sources which tend to contain saturated fat and are in fact found in nature, obviously.

Now we have a study, albeit in animals, along with an identified molecular mechanism by which it is likely to translate directly into human development.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, or even if you’re eating a “standard, high-carb and high PUFA American diet” you may be creating this very environment that leads to materially-high risk of irreversible fetal cognitive damage should you become pregnant.

Worse, it appears there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it post-birth.

. . .

Our government and “health authorities” appears to have, for decades, directly advocated that Americans consume a diet that irreversibly damages children in the womb.

Again, more at the link.

That’s a heck of a leap to take from just one study . . . but Mr. Denninger poses a very valid concern.  Looking at the vast increase in the numbers of children diagnosed as ADHD, or “retarded” in some way, is it possible that the “recommended diet” on which they’ve been raised is responsible for that increase?

I think this calls for a great deal more research, and quickly.  However, given the entrenched interests who won’t want to see their claims denied or reversed (not to mention those whose commercial success depends on getting us to eat vegetable-based meat substitutes, rather than the real thing), I suspect that’s not about to happen.  Instead, I expect to see this research debunked, decried, and banished into academic limbo.



  1. I'm confused.

    Mr. Denninger says of vegetable oils "essentially none of which are produced in nature". Huh? Vegetable oils have been around a long time. Olive oil is produced in nature, corn oil is from corn seeds, etc. Or am I missing something.

    The original study also begins with high fat diets. Most vegetarian / vegan diets are high fat. They include vegetable oils, but so does the typical Western diet. If the mere existence of some of these oils in the diet is the problem then it's likely vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets that are at risk. On the other hand, if it needs to be a high fat vegetarian diet (presumably more than some percentage of the diet is fat) then it only applies to specific types of vegetarian diets.

  2. These studies (and I'm not addressing the one you referenced specifically) seem to have other studies come along a year later that debunk them. Eat hamburgers/don't eat hamburgers is one of the most recent.

    I think that 'moderation in all things' is the prudent way forward.

  3. @Thomas W

    Very few seeds produce oils extractable in food level quantities without premodern chemistry and other technologies.

    Omega 3 and omega 6 fats are essential, meaning we can't make them in our bodies. A significant part of the human population (due to disease, genetic predisposition, and a combination) has difficulty in converting the short chain omega 3 fatty acids found in seed oils such as flax and hemp (which are also highly subject to rancidity; another problem) to the longer chain EPA and DHA used by animals in their cell membranes and as signaling chemical precursors.

    There are two factors: a certain minimum baseline intake, and beneficial ratios between tissue levels of omega 3 and 6. The Standard American Diet (thank you, American Heart Association and Ancel Keys) reduced the intake of omega 3 oils and increased the intake of omega 6 at the same time that the agricultural sector was moving to grain fed and then soybean fed meats (lower omega 3 oils than purely grass fed beef, for example) and the increasing consumption of refined carbohydrates was raising the overall inflammatory burden.

    Wild game, and grassfed meats are much higher in omega 3 polyunsaturates than their industrially raised poultry or livestock; pastured and free range poultry as well with its consumption of insects and small reptiles and amphibians. Similar issues exist for wild vs farmed fish. Their fats are beneficial in the amounts found in traditional diets of healthy populations. When both omega 3 and 6 were hard to come by, you can get by with the baseline intake; when, for example, the intake of omega 6 fatty acids increases, the intake of omega 3, preferably pre-formed EPA and DHA must also increase to maintain a healthy balance in the tissues.

  4. Thomas W, Olives are fruits. You just have to press olives to get the oil, corn oil and most other vegetable oils, require some pretty complicated and chemically intensive processes. Corn oil is solvent-extracted using hexane or 2-methylpentane.

  5. I forgot to say this:

    All fats and oils can become rancid by hydrolysis and microbial action. Oxidative rancidity is mainly found in unsaturated and particularly polyunsaturated oils.

    Industrial methods of oil extraction from seeds that involve high heat (which can be from pressure on the seeds) tends to produce rancid oils and does produce trans fatty acids; when you uses solvents as well you tend to get toxic residues in the oils.

  6. I saw the pretend meat as another factory food, something that did not exist in nature. Can I make that in my kitchen? is the question for determining real vs factory foods.
    In my book all factory food is well down on the list of good for you.

  7. I would note with some degree of amusement that apparently there now exists a class action suit against Burger King for false advertising with their Impossible vegan burger. It seems that someone discovered that the veggie burgers are cooked on the same grill used for their real hamburgers thus contaminating the product, at least in the eyes of hard core vegans.

  8. I highly recommend the youtube channel of Dr. Shawn Baker.

    His language is rough, his attitude towards vegans is unforgiving, and his emphasis is the pure carnivore diet.

    He has a lot to say about meat substitutes, or as he calls it, pet food.

    1. Pure…carnivore…diet.

      How's that scurvy working out for him? There's one kind of stupid, then there's the other side of the pendulum swing…and it's no less stupid. Humans were meant to eat a diet of animal *and* plant products. Meat alone is a recipe for malnutrition and a slow, painful death. We are not cats.

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