For food that boasts about being “plant-based”, actual vegetables are suspiciously absent from most ingredient lists. It’s partially a consequence of the trend toward creating products that mimic the texture and mouthfeel of real meat, and partially because processed ingredients are just so much cheaper and shelf stable than high-quality ingredients. By prioritizing texture over health, many plant-based alternatives contain an extensive ingredient list that is at odds with the better-for-you image they’re cultivating.
Red #3 is an artificial food dye that the FDA has recognized as a thyroid carcinogen since 1990. It is prohibited from use in cosmetics and topical medications, but the agency’s repeated attempts to ban Red #3 from food use were stopped by special interest groups.
Red #40 is an artificial food dye suspected of causing hyperactive behavior in children.
Caramel coloring refers to any of the four classes of caramel food coloring, two of which are associated with cancer. The manufacturing process of Class III and Class IV caramel color produces carcinogenic byproducts that can remain in the final product.
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is a synthetic preservative that prevents discoloration in processed foods. Studies of TBHQ in laboratory animals have found associations with increased risk of convulsions, liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, and tumors. Consequently, the FDA limits the amount of TBHQ allowed in foods to less than 0.02 percent of fat content.
Sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) is a synthetic preservative that helps processed food retain tenderness and moisture during storage and transportation. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), STPP is a suspected neurotoxin and can cause digestive distress in high enough quantities.
Methylcellulose is a thickening agent, which also happens to be the active ingredient in many laxatives. It might explain why so many people report digestive trouble after eating alternative meats.