Why Your Meatless Fast-Food Burger Could Be Covered in Animal Residue
By Brian Mastroianni
Earlier this year, fast-food giant Burger King announced it was going to offer a vegetarian-friendly version of its signature sandwich: the Impossible Whopper.
The new burger would use a patty from Impossible Foods, a company that makes plant-based substitutes for dairy and meat food products.
While welcome news at first for vegetarian and vegan consumers who in the past have always had difficulty finding options that work for them at places like their local Burger King, the new veggie option comes with a caveat.
On its website's description of the Impossible Whopper, the second-largest burger chain in the United States offers an asterisk: The patty is prepared on the "same broiler used for beef and chicken."
According to Fox Business, Burger King patrons reportedly have the option to ask that their veggie burgers be cooked in separate broilers from the meat products.
This is often a request that people who adhere to vegan diets make: not wanting their meals to be prepared alongside meat items, keeping animal residue from their food.
Whether this is a problem for you or not depends on how strict your stipulations are for adhering to a meat-free diet, says Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center.
"I do see a lot of restaurants preparing, beginning vegetarian burgers on the same grill as they do other burgers. I think it kind of depends on how strict the person was," Hunnes told Healthline.
"I for one would personally request that card on a different grill. However, I don't always know if this is feasible. Either way, it is definitely a step in the right direction to be offering these types of burgers," she said.
Registered dietitian Amber Pankonin, MS, LMNT, adds that some vegetarians and vegans are more strict for religious purposes, for instance.
On the flip side, she says there are plenty who share the same grill at home while eating with meat-eating family members. As with anything, those who are on vegetarian and vegan diets fall on a wide spectrum of experience.
If you're on a plant-based diet or one that avoids animal products of any kind and are planning a night out, is there a common protocol for inquiring about how your food is prepared?
Pankonin told Healthline this differs depending on the circumstance. For example, there's a difference between someone's food preference and concerns over a food allergy.
She says that being a vegetarian or vegan is often seen as a "food preference" in many commercial kitchens.
"When it comes to knowing how your food is prepared, unless you are actually there to observe in person, it's probably a guessing game. If you are truly concerned, it would be wise to look at the menu online and then call ahead and ask how vegetarian or vegan options are prepared," she said.
Hunnes says if you have questions about salt in your food, certain types of oils, other allergens, or, in this case, vegetarian or vegan requests, she suggests you ask whether the restaurant has the "ability to prepare the food in the way you want it prepared."
If the establishment can't accommodate you, she says it's your choice to go elsewhere.
Pankonin cautions that sometimes people mistake vegan and vegetarian options as being automatically "healthy." She says these aren't always the healthiest options on a menu when it comes to overall calories and sodium content.
For her clients with concerns about this, Pankonin encourages them to always apply the basic principles of MyPlate, the nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She stresses that you should always check the nutrition facts of any given dish if you're worried about calories or sodium.
"If there are no nutrition facts available, you can always ask the server how the meal is prepared and ask for substitutions if necessary," Pankonin said.
"If you truly desire to eat a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet, you should include a variety of plant-based foods and not just rely on overly processed meatless options," she added.
The Bottom Line
Back in spring, fast-food chain Burger King announced it was going to offer a vegetarian-friendly Impossible Whopper made out of plant-based ingredients instead of meat.
When reading the fine print on its website, some vegetarian and vegan customers might be dismayed to see the default preparation for these patties is for them to be cooked on the same broilers as beef and chicken items.
Dietitians stress that whether this concerns you will depend on how strictly you adhere to your vegetarian or vegan diet.
Do your research. If you're unclear about the ingredients of a dish when dining out or want to know more about how it's prepared, read the menu online beforehand, and make sure to ask your server.
If it isn't made in a way that serves your diet or takes into account a food allergy, you can politely ask to have it prepared in a specific way for you.
However, remember you might have to seek a different dining option if the restaurant can't accommodate you.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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