When is a ‘healthy’ food not a healthy food after all?

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t believe much conventional nutritional ‘wisdom’, including the notion that some highly processed, relatively new-fangled foods are somehow ‘healthy’, and perhaps ‘better’ for us than those we’ve been eating for, say, hundreds of thousands of years.

One commonly-employed tactic used by the food industry to convince us of the value of processed foods is to point to point to the ‘low fat’ nature of their product, and use to claim that this makes it healthier than a higher-fat food found in nature. It’s not uncommon for the ‘perils’ of saturated fat and cholesterol to be alluded to here. This ploy is used to sell everything from margarine to low-fat ice cream. It’s a great way, I reckon, to give a thoroughly unhealthy food a nice, nutritious sheen.

The problem is that the low-fat line in meaningless. For a start, the evidence doesn’t support the idea that food constituents such as saturated fat and cholesterol are not the dietary spectres they’re so often made out to be. And even if they were hazardous to health, that does not make a food low in them automatically healthy (soil, say, is low in fat ” that doesn’t make it a good food to fill up on).

One food the manufacturers of which take the ‘low-fat’ tack is Quorn. Some of you may have heard of it, Some of you may not. Few of you, I suspect, will know what it’s made from, so let’s cover that first:

The main ingredient in Quorn is ‘mycoprotein’. This actually comes from a mold organism (Fusarium venenatum) that was discovered in soil by British scientists in the 1960s. This organism is them multiplied en masse in steel containers with some added sugar and nutrients and then contrived into foods such as burgers, sausages and meat.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I don’t rate this food. And I said as much when assessing it as part of giving my thoughts on the shopping basket contents of the soulstress Joss Stone for the Observer Food Monthly magazine here in the UK a week back.

I’ve realised over the years that the food industry tends to leave you alone as long as you do not mention specific product names. Once you do, however, the PR machine usually cranks up and a letter or email of complaint may well come your way. Because Quorn appeared in Joss Stone’s basket, I was duty bound to refer to it specifically. And predictably, I suppose, I have heard from its manufacturers.

What follows is the email exchange I had with Tim Finnigan, head of new product development at Quorn. I’ve posted this exchange as an example of how food companies use dietary misinformation (including the idea that eating less saturated fat/cholesterol has benefits for health) to sell its wares to an unsuspecting public.

Notice throughout how Mr Finnigan seems to for Quorn to be viewed as a ‘natural’ food, even though it is anything but. More than once I ask if it would be possible for me to witness the manufacturing process and take some photos. Mr Finnigan starts by seemingly ignoring my request, and then when pushed, declares photography is not possible because of a ‘no glass policy’ in the manufacturing area.

In the last email of our exchange I challenge this policy, and suggest that perhaps Mr Finnigan might like to send me some photos of his own, with a detailed prescription of the manufacturing process. I’ve not heard from Mr Finnigan since. But if I do, I’ll let you know what his response is�.

Email from Tim Finnigan to John Briffa – 1st April:

Dear John

What’s in your basket – Joss Stone. 24th February 2008

Your comments about QuornTM have caused quite a stir. A number of our loyal fans have written to us to complain about your observation that ”Quorn” has ‘no great nutritional value’.

They are rather puzzled and so are we. The mycoprotein in Quorn products is a source of high quality protein. It’s naturally low in fat and saturates; it contains no cholesterol and few calories. What’s more, unlike meat it’s a good source of essential dietary fibre. To dismiss Quorn products as having no great nutritional value seems perverse.

You also describe ”Quorn” as unnatural, but the process for making mycoprotein is no more unnatural than that used to make cheese or beer. Mycoprotein is made by fermentation of our nutritious fugni, using glucose and minerals. Quorn products are made from mycoprotein with a small amount of egg protein, vegetable flavourings, and other ingredients including onion, etc., depending upon the type of product, (mince, burgers, sausages, deli, etc.), being made.
I’d be more than happy to discuss this with you further and you’d be most welcome to visit us at Stokesley where Quorn products are made.
Kind regards
Yours sincerely
Tim Finnigan

The defence of Quorn, you may notice, uses that classic ‘low-fat’ line. Note also how Mr Finnigan questions my assessment of Quorn as an unnatural food by likening it to cheese and beer. That’s another classic tactic used by the food industry to give quite unnatural foods a ‘natural’, wholesome image.

Anyway, complaints from food companies need to be taken seriously, so I responded to Mr Finnagan’s email the following day:


Email from John Briffa to Tim Finnigan ” 2nd April:

Hello Tim

I’ll take your main comments and points in turn:

A number of our loyal fans have written to us to complain about your observation that ”Quorn” has ‘no great nutritional value’. They are rather puzzled and so are we.

Would it be possible to see these complaints (even anonymised)?

The mycoprotein in Quorn products is a source of high quality protein.

Could you give me more information to substantiate this claim? How was protein quality assessed, and what were the results?

It’s naturally low in fat and saturates; it contains no cholesterol and few calories.
Can you provide the evidence that a diet lower in saturated fat and/or cholesterol is beneficial to health?

What’s more, unlike meat it’s a good source of essential dietary fibre.

Can you quantify and qualify this (how much fibre and in what form)?
Would you also mind summarising what you feel the potential benefits of the form of fibre found in Quorn are?

You also describe ”Quorn” as unnatural, but the process for making mycoprotein is no more unnatural than that used to make cheese or beer.

I don’t see taking a mold organism from soil and multiplying it en masse (with sugar and minerals) as particularly ‘natural’. Do you?

I’d be more than happy to discuss this with you further and you’d be most welcome to visit us at Stokesley where Quorn products are made.

Thanks for this offer. Would you be happy for me to witness the manufacturing of Quorn and perhaps take some photographs?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

John Briffa

Email from Tim Finnigan to John Briffa ” 4th April:

Hi John,

My apologies again for the tardiness of my reply, I seem to have been driving the length and breadth of the country this week. Anyway, if in this instance I could first try to answer your specific questions relating to the nutritional value of Quorn foods.

At the heart of all of our food is mycoprotein and thus I will address your points in relation to mycoprotein and the published nutritional data. I have copies of most of the published papers to which I refer and could forward them if you would like to review their content.

I am back in the car after about 2pm today so will not be able to pick up emails until Monday but will then be happy to try to answer any questions that you have.

Protein Quality
Quorn products are a source of high quality and easily digested protein. As you know, the quality of dietary protein is based on its content of nine essential amino acids. Mycoprotein contains all nine and its PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) is 0.91, only fractionally behind beef at 0.92. I attach a short paper which explores this in more detail.

Saturated fat/cholesterol
I am aware that some studies question the link between total fat intake and the risk of developing CVD. However, there is a powerful body of evidence which shows that elevated levels of saturated fat in the diet is linked with increased disease risk and this is reflected in current Department of Health advice.

It is also reflected in Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, a joint report published in 2004 by the World Health Organisation and the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United States.

Mycoprotein is both low in saturates and high in the more desirable unsaturated fatty acids and has also been been studied over the years in relation to hypocholesterolaemia, the findings of which have been published in peer reviewed journals; for example:

* Turnbull, WH, Leeds AR and Edwards, DG (1990) Effect of mycoprotein on blood lipids. Am J Clin Nutr. 52. (4) 646-650.
* Turnbull, WH, Leeds, AR, and Edwards, DG (1992). Mycoprotein reduces blood lipids in free living subjects. Am J Clin Nutr. 55. 415 – 419.
* Nakamura, H. et al (1994). Effects of mycoprotein intake on serum lipids of healthy subjects. Progress in medicine. 14. (7). 1972 – 1976.
* Homma, Y. et al. (1995) Effects of 8 week ingestion of mycoprotein on plasma levels of lipids and apo proteins. Prog. Med. 15. 183 – 195
* Ishikawa, T. et al. (1995). The effect of mycoprotein intake (12 and 24g day) over 4 weeks on serum cholesterol levels. Prog Med. 15 61 – 74.

Fibre
Mycoprotein contains 4.8g of dietary fibre per 100g. For comparison baked beans contain 3.7g per 100g and a slice of brown bread contains 1.3g. The fibre in mycoprotein is especially interesting as it is primarily polymeric n-acetyl glucosamine (chitin) and beta1,3 and 1,6 glucan. There is considerable interest in the literature in the beneficial effects of beta glucans of this type as well as interest in naturally occurring polymeric glucosamine.

In addition, independent studies have shown a link between consumption of mycoprotein and satiety as well as beneficial effects on glycaemia and insulinaemia. The causal mechanism is likely to be associated with the fibre content but the published observations require further study.

* Blundell, J (2002) Mycoprotein and satiety. Paper presented at JONAS symposium, Paris 18/1/02.
* Burley, VJ, Paul, AW and Blundell, JE. (1993) Influence of high fibre food (mycoprotein) on appetit: Effect of satiation (within meals) and satiety (following meals). Euro. J. Clin. Nutr. 47. 409 – 418.
* Turnbull, WH. Bessy, D, Walton,J and Leeds. AR. (1991) The effect of mycoprotein on hunger, satiety and subsequent food consumption. In ‘Obesity in Europe 91′ p 67 – 70. Ed Ailhaud, G. etal.
* Turnbull, WH, Walton, J and Leeds, AR (1993) Acute effects of mycoprotein on subsequent energy intake and appetite variables. Am J Clin Nutr. 58:(4). 507 – 512.
* Marks, L. I. (2005). Effects of mycoprotein foodstuffs on glycaemic responses and other factors beneficial to health. Ph. D. Thesis. School of biomedical sciences. University of Ulster.
* Turnbull, WH and Ward, JH. (1995). Mycoprotein reduces insulinaemia and glycaemia when taken with an oral glucose tolerance test. Am J Clin Nutr 65 (1). 135 -140
* Turnbull, WH. Mycoprotein as a functional food. Effect of lipaemia, glycaemia and appetite variable. 16th Int Congress of Nutrition. 249 – 251.

The Process
We do not think of tofu, cheese or beer as being unnatural, yet none of these foods occurs spontaneously in nature. The same is true of mycoprotein. The raw ingredients are all natural; we put them together to make mycoprotein.

John I hope that this begins to address at least some of the nutritional questions that you posed. Mycoprotein is a fascinating (and I hope you agree, nutritious) new discovery. I would love to get the opportunity for our chefs to prepare a range of Quorn foods for you to show how we are also passionate our food.

Would it be possible for you to suggest some dates when you are available to visit us in Stokesley (North Yorkshire) so that we can share a more extensive overview of our food and why we think that we are helping to extend consumer choices in healthy eating. Any chance we could do this in May only we are flat out finalising our new products for early May launch at the moment??

kind regards

Tim

TJA Finnigan BSc (Hons). Ph.D
Head of New Product Development (Quorn and Cauldron)

Email from John Briffa to Tim Finnigan – 10th April:

Hi Tim
Thanks for your email. Sorry about the delay – I was away for a few days until Tuesday and I’m a bit behind on correspondence.

Whilst I am grateful for your response, there are a number of issues I raised in my email to you that do not seem to have been addressed. Let’s get down to specifics regarding the questions I asked and the completeness (or otherwise) of your responses:

1, I asked is it was possible to see the complaints from your loyal fans.

You did not answer this.

2. I asked you to substantiate your claim that regarding Quorn supplying high quality protein.

Thank you for this, and I accept your point regarding the ability of Quorn to offer high-quality protein.

3. I asked you to provide the evidence that a diet lower in saturated fat and/or cholesterol is beneficial to health.

You provided no evidence for either of these contentions. You did refer to conventional recommendations (which have no validity unless their robustness in science can be proven).

You also referred to a ‘powerful body of evidence’ that shows that: ‘elevated levels of saturated fat in the diet is linked with increased disease risk. Can I ask you to provide this ‘powerful body of evidence’? Can I also ask you to let me know your opinion of the role of epidemiological studies in showing ‘causality’ (i.e., just because two things are associated, does that mean one is causing the other?).

And finally (and this is the most important thing of all) can you please actually answer the original question by providing evidence that eating a diet lower in saturated fat and/or cholesterol is actually beneficial to health.

4. I asked if you could provide information on the quality and quantity of fibre in Quorn, which you have done.

However, I also asked if you would summarise what you feel the potential benefits of this fibre is. You did not answer this question.

5. I asked if you see taking a mold organism from soil and multiplying it en masse (with sugar and minerals) as ‘natural’. You replied:

We do not think of tofu, cheese or beer as being unnatural, yet none of these foods occurs spontaneously in nature. The same is true of mycoprotein. The raw ingredients are all natural; we put them together to make mycoprotein.�

First of all, you position depends on on who the ‘we’ you refer to are. Because, as it happens, I don’t see any of the foods you chose to use as examples as particularly natural, and I don’t advocate any of them (and am on record for saying as much). I am also not convinced that just because the organism from which mycoprotein is made is found in nature that it therefore deserves the ‘natural’ sheen that has been bestowed on it. I mean, there’s a bunch of other organisms found in soil (and maybe the faeces that can adorn it too) that are ‘natural’, but in this context we get to see just how meaningless this adjective is.

I suppose we’re going to have to agree to differ on the point of whether taking mold organism from the ground and making it into a quite processed foodstuff using additives including sugar is ‘natural’ or not.

6. Finally, you say you’d be more than happy to discuss this with me further and that I’d be most welcome to visit us at Stokesley where Quorn products are made.

What I asked specifically was if you would be happy for me to witness the manufacturing of Quorn and perhaps take some photographs?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

John Briffa

Email from Tim Finnigan to John Briffa – 15th April.

Hi John, thanks for your email. I too have been out and about and so am a little behind on correspondence and hence the small delay.

Perhaps I could pause to reframe the context of my original email. As a reader of the Observer and as someone who enjoys the scientifically challenging stance you often take within your BLOG, I was disappointed to learn that you felt ‘Quorn has no great nutritional value’. As someone who has spent many years working with mycoprotein and developing Quorn foods I didn’t feel that my products deserved the label and thus felt a little misunderstood. On this basis, our conversations began.

I have provided you with evidence that Quorn is able to offer a good quality protein and was pleased that you accepted this. I have provided you with information on the quality and quantity of the fibre which you acknowledge and have also tried to develop this by proposing that the fibre itself may be a factor in the causal mechanism(s) within the peer reviewed publications that describe mycoprotein and hypocholesterolaemia, satiety and positive impact on glycaemia. However, I acknowledge that we require to continue to seek further independent research into these attributes.

Let me turn to your points about the evidence for the benefits of a diet low in saturated fat and/or cholesterol and your subsequent point about the benefits of a diet high in fibre. I acknowledge that there is scientific debate around these issues but at present the advice is that generally speaking people need to reduce the amount of fat and saturates in their diet, to manage or reduce cholesterol and to increase consumption of dietary fibre. The DoH and FSA are satisfied that the evidence for the health benefits of these dietary changes is compelling. We take our lead from them and offer consumers products which allow them to make choices in line with prevailing dietary advice.

Regarding the debate about whether Mycoprotein can be described as natural, my point is that it is no more unnatural than tofu, cheese or beer and that these products are not commonly thought of as being unnatural. I accept that the use of the pronoun ‘we’ was misplaced.

You asked to see copies of correspondence we received regarding your original article. We received a number of phone calls and, in confidence, I attach a scanned copy of one letter we received from a consumer. I hope you understand that I have removed the consumer’s name and address.
I regret that unfortunately, we have a strict no glass policy within the manufacturing area which means that photography is not possible. This is standard practice for food manufacturing, applies to ‘Prince or Pauper’, and there is no way for me to get around this.

John I have embarked on this email exchange with the hope that I could give you reasons to think differently about the nutritional value of mycoprotein. However, it looks as though we will always struggle to find a common ground which is a shame, at least in my opinion.

kind regards

Tim

Email from John Briffa to Tim Finnigan – 16th April:

Hello Tim

Thanks for getting back to me again.

You say that the DoH and FSA are satisfied that the evidence for the health benefits of saturated fat/cholesterol reduction is ‘compelling’, but this is meaningless unless this can be demonstrated. My belief is that this specific dietary approach is not broadly beneficial to health on the basis of existing science. So when someone claims it is, or alludes to its supposed benefits, then I see it as part of my job to challenge this.

You say you enjoy the scientifically challenging stance taken in my blog. But not on this occasion, it seems. Could that be because in this instance the challenge in part deflates the ‘message’ that Quorn is ‘healthy’ on account of it being low in fat/cholesterol?

Does it seem unreasonable to suggest that if you wish to use this ‘line’ in the marketing of your product then it is your responsibility to prove its validity? Until you or someone else can provide it, then it seems reasonable for individuals to express doubt about the usefulness of diets lows in saturated fat and/or cholesterol and the value of products promoting on this basis.

I regard this of importance because I believe the low saturated fat/cholesterol message represents misinformation, and allows some food manufacturers to sell some really not very healthy foods as ‘healthy’. I believe this to be of such importance that I will be shortly devoting a blog to this very issue, and will be including our correspondence in it as a sort of ‘case study’.

It seems odd to me that you have a ‘no glass’ policy in the manufacturing area. Can you explain the thinking behind it? And if I’m not allowed to see the manufacturing of Quorn and photograph it, maybe you could send some photographs along with a detailed description of the manufacturing process. This would help, I think, individuals decide whether Quorn is as natural as you claim it to be.

Yours sincerely

John Briffa

57 Responses to When is a ‘healthy’ food not a healthy food after all?

  1. Anne 18 April 2008 at 4:34 pm #

    My husband is very intolerant to Quorn. Since discovering this some years ago (we never eat the stuff now) we’ve heard of a number of other people who have this same intolerance. When my husband has eaten something made from Quorn he experiences stomach aches/diarrheoa/vomiting within a couple of hours. At first I thought this was just coincidence because I fell for the natural health food it was marketed as, so one day I gave him some Quorn without him knowing, just a tiny bit…did I regret doing that :-(

    It is dreadful stuff and neither natural nor healthful :-( I’m glad other people are realising this.

    Anne

  2. Norma 18 April 2008 at 4:48 pm #

    Having read the above I don’t think that Quorn is as bad as I thought it was and I’m not sure it’s worth the battle. Being low fat in itself isn’t a bad thing or we wouldn’t eat cabbage and at least you can saute it in coconut oil if you want to. It’s no less natural a food than pasta and at least it’s not high carb, which pasta is. I think the comparison with beer is a reasonable one.

    I don’t eat it myself as it gives me constipation.

    I think Quorn is a better food than industrial milk or grain fed diary and with beef you don’t tend to know what the animal has been fed on or how it died.

  3. Kay 18 April 2008 at 5:00 pm #

    I have been a vegetarian for many years, and although I have tried Quorn and tofu, I find neither necessary to a healthy diet. The tins of various beans now widely available, and the introduction of frozen soya beans in their natural state, provide adequate protein at very reasonable cost.

  4. Anna 18 April 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    Hmmm, I or just about anyone else can make tofu, cheese, or beer at home in a typical kitchen with a book of recipes/instructions from the library (I do make cheese, yogurt, vinegar, sauerkraut and other simple cultured foods). All those “processed” foods basically take what naturally happens in nature (spoilage) and control the process to a certain degree to preserve and enhance the food for human use. Humans discovered by observation how to control spoilage thousands of years ago as a way to manage their food supplies. I doubt the average person could make Quorn. That’s *my* barometer for if a processed food is “natural” or not.

  5. Sue 18 April 2008 at 7:04 pm #

    I like to think I am relatively careful about what I buy and eat. As a non meat eater with an interest in healthy eating I am unpleasantly surprised by what i’ve read. We do eat some quorn products – fortunately without any of the negative effects sufferered by others who have commented. Now I reaslise I have not taken the trouble to inform myself fully – I thought it was made with something to do with mushrooms! I will be reconsidering my purchasing decisions in future. Thank you to Dr Briffa and those above for “putting me right”

  6. Jenny Ruhl 18 April 2008 at 8:15 pm #

    We don’t seem to have Quorn here in the U.S.

    What we do have is a lot of “vegetable protein” coaxed out of soybeans which is equally unhealthy. This is promoted as health food though soy is damaging to the thyroid, stimulates food allergies, and upsets sex hormonal balances. Soy proteins can also cause severe mood changes.

    In her excellently researched book, The Whole Soy Story, Kaayla Daniel, Ph.d. makes it very clear that the Eastern cultures that eat soy eat only tiny amounts of it, not the huge amounts eaten by today’s “health conscious” vegetarians. Those cultures traditionally ate those small amounts of soy after it was fermented using long drawn out processes no food producer (including those in Japan).

    It is also worth noting that the culture that eats the most highest fermented soy products also has the high rate of stomach cancer in the world.

    So much for that “health” food.

  7. Chris Highcock 18 April 2008 at 8:17 pm #

    That was a really good and revealing post John. Thanks

    Chris

  8. Sue 19 April 2008 at 2:07 am #

    Quorn is your alternative to the nasty meat! I think I’d rather have my meat full of fat and high in protein and natural – not fake like Quorn.

  9. emma bruce-jones 19 April 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    I certainly think you need to pick your battles and there are far worse things out there than quorn (low fat, sugar and sweetener filled yoghurts, processed ham etc etc) which is something that many people genuinely find useful when trying to lose weight. Whilst I believe in the low carbohydrate way of eating I also acknowledge that it is not the only healthy way of eating and have to agree with the above post that you cannot call something unhealthy purely on the basis that it is low fat. Quorn, tofu and cheese may not be ‘natural’ products by the strictest standards but they must certainly be lesser evils than some of the other far more processed foods on offer in the modern world. I think for people who have other reasons for avoiding meat (ethical reasons for example) Quorn provides a valuable source of protein.
    The poster above who mentions fermented soya and stomach cancer – do you mean the japanese? They also eat high levels of fish, rice and salt so to try and link any two specific factors is more complicated than just saying ‘they eat alot of…’

  10. Alison 19 April 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    It can be difficult to obtain adequate protein without the use of quorn, tofu and soya products which taste good, are quick to prepare and rarely cause sensitivity\allergic reactions

  11. karen 19 April 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    John

    I regularly cook with quorn, and my family haven’t had any of the side effects mentioned by others. However, I am not sure how often I’ll use it in the future now that I have more knowledge of how it’s made – like Sue, I thought it was something to do with mushrooms.

    Reading the correspondence between you & Tim, he seems reasonable, and much less challenging than you!

  12. Dr John Briffa 19 April 2008 at 2:44 pm #

    Karen
    Perhaps the reason for why I seemed more challenging than Tim in our correspondence has something to do with the fact that he has made the claim that Quorn is a nutritious food, and that’s something that I felt needed ‘challenging’.

    Karen and Sue
    Quorn’s manufacturers have, I think, attempted to give their product a natural ‘flavour’ by likening it to mushrooms and truffles. However, according to Professor David Geiser of the Fusarium Research Center at Pennsylvania State University in the USA, drawing parallels between the organism used to make Quorn and mushrooms is like: “calling a rat a chicken because both are animals”

    http://www.cspinet.org/new/200208121.html

  13. Chris Highcock 19 April 2008 at 10:56 pm #

    Wikipedia has a funny one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quorn#Controversy

    The CSPI, observing that while a mushroom is a fungus, fusarium is not a mushroom, and they quipped, “Quorn’s fungus is as closely related to mushrooms as humans are to jellyfish.”

  14. Chris Highcock 19 April 2008 at 10:58 pm #

    Alison – meat and eggs are great sources of protein ;-)

  15. Anna 20 April 2008 at 2:22 am #

    Alison said “It can be difficult to obtain adequate protein without the use of quorn, tofu and soya products which taste good, are quick to prepare and rarely cause sensitivity\allergic reactions”.

    Unless one is opposed to eating meat, it isn’t really that difficult to obtain adequate protein. Humanely raised, pastured and grass-fed beef can be very quick to prepare and rarely causes sensitivity/allergic reactions.

    Tofu and other soy products, on the other hand, are highly allergenic for many people, as well as goitrogenic (harmful to the thyroid gland). And if one is watching/controlling blood glucose with diet, steak doesn’t spike blood sugar the way starchy lower quality plant-based proteins can.

  16. helen 21 April 2008 at 12:17 am #

    Well done Dr Briffa, I think there should be a bit more of this challenging of claims made by food “manufactures” in regards to their foods being healthy! Just look at soy & margarine & cereal all promoted & advertised as “healthy” foods that are good for you & all anything but! Especially anything created in a lab talk about frankenstein’s monster!

  17. Sue 21 April 2008 at 2:29 am #

    “and have to agree with the above post that you cannot call something unhealthy purely on the basis that it is low fat.”

    Dr Briffa is not saying Quorn is unhealthy purely because it is low fat – he is saying the marketing tactics to sell a product is to say its low fat which really sells especially to the fat-phobiac market. Quorn is unhealthy because its a fake food product.

  18. Richard 21 April 2008 at 1:38 pm #

    Many ‘foods’ may be derived from nature, but what is natural food? Surely food natural to humans is that which we have evolved with, which our bodies have evolved too.

    We all know people that have overt reactions, like allergies, to modern foods like soya, grains and dairy. As we didn’t evolve on this I don’t consider that a surprise.

    Perhaps Quorn would make a good substance to combat the starvation of the poor in famine stricken regions? I would only eat it if I was starving and had no other choice.

  19. Sue 21 April 2008 at 11:04 pm #

    Did anyone see this news piece on PETA:
    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=450950
    PETA offers millions for test-tube meat
    Tuesday Apr 22 06:45 AEST
    Steaks out of a test-tube? The animal rights group PETA is putting up a US$1 million (A$1.06 million) reward for anyone who by 2012 can grow in-vitro meat that looks and tastes like the real thing.

    “In-vitro meat production would use animal stem cells that would be placed in a medium to grow and reproduce. The result would mimic flesh and could be cooked and eaten,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement.

    The reward will go to the participant who manages by 2012 to put test-tube chicken into commercial production and successful sell it in at least 10 US states at a competitive price.

    Teams of researchers around the world are already working on producing meat in a laboratory, but it will be several years yet before in-vitro meat makes it onto the dinner table.

    A team of 10 PETA jurors will taste the entries to make sure they match the texture and flavor of chicken, and they must score at least 80 out of 100 points to win the prize.

    The New York Times revealed that the scheme almost triggered a civil war within the headquarters of the organization dedicated to fighting for animal rights. But PETA argued the move would help avoid unnecessary suffering.

    “More than 40 billion chickens, fish, pigs, and cows are killed every year for food in the United States in horrific ways,” it said in its statement.

    “In-vitro meat would spare animals from this suffering. In addition, in vitro meat would dramatically reduce the devastating effects the meat industry has on the environment.”

    And it added that while “humans don’t need to eat meat at all” since many people continued “to refuse to kick their meat addictions, PETA is willing to help them gain access to flesh that doesn’t cause suffering and death.”

  20. Michelle Williams 22 April 2008 at 10:40 am #

    I was vegetarian for 5 years and initially ate quite a lot of quorn but as I educated myself better I started to eat more lentils and beans and get my protein from those sources and eggs. I also discovered after a few times of cooking with quorn ie substituting it for mince in recipes that my stomach bloated out painfully for several hours later I have never encountered this with any other food. I have now returned to meat but am careful to ensure that it comes a from a reliable source. My son is still vegetarian and I have the odd quorn product (fake chicken burgers) in the freezer for emergency quick meals but it is rare and definitely not with any health benefits in view.

  21. Anna 23 April 2008 at 12:46 am #

    “A team of 10 PETA jurors will taste the entries to make sure they match the texture and flavor of chicken, and they must score at least 80 out of 100 points to win the prize.”

    PETA jurors judging for texture and flavor of chicken? ROFLMAO!

  22. Joan 25 April 2008 at 9:33 am #

    I was (and perhaps will be again) a vegetarian for many years for ethical reasons. My problem was that I felt so self-righteous and was having dreams that I’d eaten meat and thereby broke my record.
    When I moved here from America in the 80s I was thrilled to find Quorn. But I tried it only twice and become so horribly ill (as if I’d been posioned) that I never got it again.
    I hope that another way can be found to get good quality protein for vegetarians but for me Quorn was definitely not it.

  23. George 25 April 2008 at 6:18 pm #

    John
    Re the “no glass” policy. I find it hard to believe you don’t get that one. “No glass” because glass can break, chip, shatter, etc, and get into production – resulting in potentially costly liability law suits at worst and embarrassing recalls at best. I welcome food mfrs who are careful in this respect. Other than that – well done.
    George

  24. Dr John Briffa 27 April 2008 at 2:14 pm #

    Thanks George – now you explained it, it seems obvious. Though it shouldn’t stop the manufacturer sending me some pics and a detailed description of the manufacturing process…

  25. Chris 18 February 2009 at 12:45 am #

    John, I find the discourse between you and Tim Finnigan highly illuminating. Despite the claimed benefits that ‘Quorn’ may help regulate my blood sugar, promote weight-loss or reduce my cholesterol I can now side with you wholeheartedly.
    I did try ‘Quorn’ briefly. I experienced the undesired effects of bloating, nausea, and slight headaches.
    I read your book, ‘The True You Diet’ and I highly recommend it to anyone who comes to read this.
    I do not challenge the claimed benefits of ‘Quorn’, but I would no more continue to eat it than I would eat the pistons from my car engine. The pistons of my car engine are a product of a process called ‘Engineering’.

  26. Steph 31 March 2009 at 12:49 pm #

    Particularly to Anne (message #1) – when I was younger I was intolerant for a number of years to an increasing list of foods that at one stage limited me to a diet of rabbit and cauliflower. Does this mean none of the other foods are “natural and wholesome”????

    If you have a problem with the “engineering” of quorn then I’m sure you also have a massive problem with the entirely “unnatural” way in which we have selectively bred cattle, sheep and chickens for maximum production, as well as introducing “unnatural” foreign plants such as potatoes into our country, and I expect you all to stop eating them forthwith.

    Will make the sunday roast a little boring though :P

    In conclusion: if you don’t like it don’t eat it! But don’t dismiss anything that isn’t natural as bad for you, look at the facts as the author of this article does.

  27. paula 17 May 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    An informed choice is the only real defence we have against an ‘unhealthy’ diet – anything that facilitates this is good news.

  28. Flame 11 June 2009 at 4:40 am #

    I think in regards to the Quorn debate it is the possible intolerances that are most relevant. Most people do not know where Quorn comes from & like myself may be eating it when they have a Fungus intolerance. As a Vegetarian I had valued it as a source of protein – it’s nice to have the variety.
    It has taken me years to figure out but I get cystitis if I eat it several weeks running. If only I had known it was fungus I might have figured it out earlier. I know I am allergic to that!
    It needs to be more commonly known what Quorn is made of, then people can make their own decisions.

  29. caos 28 August 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    I have been eating this product for a year or so, It is a nice alternative to rice and beans which I eat almost twice a day. Sometimes you just need a break. I know there are thousands of alternative recipes. Sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking. I have my own organic eggs, but they raise my cholesterol, I have my own homegrown vegetables so most of the time I have very natural food. I think , ( unless they find something else wrong with it, not just for sensitive people) I will keep eating it. I have had no problems with it so far. I see a lot of evidence that soy products ( unless fermented) do have health problems related to it. I would like to find out if there are any more problems with it. I make my own beer and it sounds like the way they make it is exactly like any micro brewer would make his beer. thanks

  30. RT 29 November 2009 at 7:33 pm #

    I completely agree with the questions you asked the manufacturer. However, I didn’t read anything that would cause any alarm for myself, I can eat Quorn just fine, no problems.

    And there is a BBC show that actually showed the manufacturing of Quorn, back during the war or just after, when they were going to use it to replace meat due rations. Doesn’t look appetizing at all, but its easily grown, unlike many other foods.

    It’s been around for awhile but I will definitely keep my eyes & ears open regarding any studies on Quorn.

  31. Trevor Minton 21 February 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    Why don’t the manufacturers of Quorn inform us of the possible mould intolerance some people have of this product?
    I have tried this product 3 times and all 3 times I have vomitting, Diarrhoea, Profuse Sweating,extreme stomach . If anyone else has had the same problems I would love to chat with them.

  32. Judy 2 April 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    oh well, I think this is the old debate about healthy food and it drives me crazy.Whatever food I look up I can find debates as to whether we should eat it or not or whether it is healthy…And I seem to get the impression that we can’t eat anything nowadays cause everything is polluted or unnaturally processed…to be honest, the thought of getting my protein from beans and eggs makes me feel sick. I neither like beans nor eggs particularly – so what alternative do I have (I am not defending quorn here but I do like the odd tofu curry…)???

  33. Sarah 3 April 2010 at 1:24 am #

    I have the same problem, I get stomach cramps, vomiting and diarhoea when eating Quorn.

  34. Kyle 3 May 2010 at 1:59 am #

    Uhm, not to start a flame war or anything, but could it be those of you who vomited or whatever could be allergic to it? Since I’ve eaten quorn almost all my life and not once have I felt sick or anything. :s

  35. pamela amos 1 August 2010 at 11:39 am #

    anyone had vertigo and/or low blood pressure after eating quorn. I feel very ill eating this stuff but it took a long time for me to make the connection. Very bad pains in the head and nausia also Pam

  36. Ashley 19 August 2010 at 12:02 am #

    I certainly agree with the good Doctor Briffa that marketing a product as healthy because it is ‘low in fat’ (I have seen ‘Fat Free’ emblazoned upon a bottle of water. Water. No joke) is misleading and pandering to crazed market propaganda. I appreciate the work he has done in bringing this to the attention of his readers. Many high-fat foods– eggs, avocadoes, olives, herring, prawns, to name a few– are perfectly healthy and have been part of the human diet for ages. We need fats in our diet; without them, we cannot metabolise the fat soluble nutrients we need. Fats are good for us in reasonable quantities balanced with other things we need.

    However– and this is not a point I understand Dr, Briffa to be advocating, but one that easily might be inferred– is that something being processed and therefore ‘unnatural’ means that it is unhealthy. That’s simply not true. As Anna above has stated, processing foods is easy and perfectly serviceable. It’s a natural part of the human dietary repertoire: we’ve evolved to the point where we can no longer get the nutrition we need from raw foods (or at least, not easily or cheaply); we need to be able to store food against shortage, either seasonally or planning ahead for famine years as routinely happen in some areas of the world; we need to be able to modify food so that we can gain maximum benefit from it (cooked meat is more easily digested than raw meat); we need to sterilise food so that harmful bugs do not kill us. No other animal may do this to the extent that humans do, but this does not make the process necessarily ‘unnatural’ or ‘unhealthy’. Whoever discovered that you can make cheese out of milk did an honest service to humanity by making that protein preservable. Whoever discovered that beer kills harmful germs and still quenches thirst did so too.

    So is growing an edible protein from mould using higher levels of technology ‘unnatural’? Maybe, but does that make it wrong or unhealthy? I realise that many people may find the idea of eating something derived from mould to be disgusting, but I certainly don’t. Rather, I find that the advancement in technology that allows us to extract edible, nutritious food from a previously unaccessible source is a natural extension of our natural human adaptation of and to our environment, as necessitated by whatever: food shortage, rampaging vegetarianism, whatever. There are huge resources that we simply do not exploit because people find them icky, but there are an awful lot of people, and if we want to be able to provide high quality nutrition to all of us, we should be using our technological knowhow to get at these resources. I don’t object to a foodstuff *just* because it’s processed.

    I do object to manipulation of food production that disenfranchises farmers or enslaves them to giant corporations. I do object to battery farming. I do object to subjecting animals to levels of growth that endanger their health. I do object to the pollution of foodstuffs with all kinds of rubbish to make it look more appealing on its styrofoam platter. I do object to high-fructose corn syrup. I thoroughly object to the aggressive marketing of nutritionally dangerous fast-food products to children. I don’t, and never will, object to intelligent technological innovation to make good food where we couldn’t have made good food before.

    Whether or not Quorn qualifies as such a thing I don’t know, but it sure does taste nice. If it’s a common dietary offender, well, I have friends who are intolerant to gluten, dairy, tomatoes, nuts, and I myself am intolerant to dust mites. You won’t find any of us condemning these things, only avoiding them. And surely I can’t be the only person who reads labels beyond the ‘low fat’ sticker? The information on what it is and where it comes from is not that hard to find.

  37. Suzanne 2 October 2010 at 2:17 am #

    I suffer with intermittent bouts of IBS and became suspicious just this week that it may be connected to eating Quorn products (which I love), having had 2 VERY painful and severe bouts recently which occured after eating it. I decided to do an internet search just to see if there was any information available. I am saddened to discover that it appears that my suspicions are confirmed and also shocked to discover how it is made (I too thought it was made from mushrooms).

  38. Tricia 22 December 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    I am so glad to hear that other people have the same reaction to Quorn as I do, well maybe glad is not the right word. Everytime I have eaten it I get a very bad stomach ache a couple of hours later and then vomit a lot then fall asleep, so I have just given up on it, as a vegetarian its so annoying that its the leading brand!! However I hear that Nestle may buy it, as Nestle are the same company as Garnier (who test on animals), I hope people will stop buying it and give other brands a chance!!

  39. Nate 16 January 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Should we ban peanuts because folks have allergic reactions to them as well? Or ban wheat? Or how about shellfish. My son is allergic to shellfish, but guess what? In order to quell the allergic reaction, he doesn’t eat them. Seriously people, allergic reactions happen.

  40. Dianne 4 February 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    I just started eating Quorn mycoprotein as, I thought a way to eat healthier and cut out meat. I got curious as to whether it is healthy or not and I am glad I found this site. I think it is best to eat food that comes naturally ready to eat or maybe cooked gently to retain nutrients. “Mycoprotein” does not sound like real food. Since I learned that soy is so unhealthy except when fermented, what does that leave for people who beans do not agree with? Also, has anyone ever seen a camera lens break…even when a camera falls then lens is recessed and protected. This concerns me more than the deceptive labeling. What are they hiding?

  41. Emily 19 February 2011 at 3:07 am #

    I have to say that I find this article a tad naive and inflationary for the sake of argument/ controversy. I have seen many articles on the internet where people decided to take an opposing view on a given topic to sound important/ well informed or more knowledgeable than others.

    I am not a vegetarian. However I do eat vegetarian meals once or twice a week as part of a healthy and varied diet and often turn to quorn products for variety along with other vegetarian dishes such as pulses.

    I would just like to point out that fungus IS natural! It grows in/ on the ground like any other plant or organism. If we are saying that it is unnatural because it is cultivated and processed then are we also saying that yeast and ultimately my nice homemade bread is unnatural? Just because I can ‘pick’ yeast out my garden does not mean it is some kind of alien being.

    If the general feel of this article was that global food companies use sneaky tactics to sell food then I agree 100%. Low fat does definitely not mean healthy. Bags of sweets are now labelled as ‘fat free’. I believe that we should not listen to what industries tell us is healthy or not but that we should listen to our intuition. McDonalds keep telling me that their burgers are 100% lean beef, nothing ‘fake’ about beef but I sure as hell aint eating one!

    However, the notion that we should all avoid any food that has been manufactured in any way as it is all unhealthy IS misguided. Boiling a potato alters its chemical structure and therefore manufactures it in some way, surely it is not far to say that this is unhealthy.

    Frankly I feel my diet is healthy with or without the inclusion of quorn products. The key to a healthy diet is not to go running around forests eating only things that grown on trees for fear of eating a ‘fake’ product!

  42. Cora James 19 March 2011 at 7:17 am #

    John, I am thrilled that you are questioning these claims – but at some point in the discussion it seems as though you are only trying to stand behind your acquisitions to solidify your original content. Do you dish out this much grief to cheese, beer or soy manufacturers? I have consumed the product (and enjoyed it) and admit that I still would after reading this. I am not sure I would like to see or know the process of making it, as long as it is deemed safe. One thing is for certain; I would much rather eat fungus than eating an animal. Thanks again!

  43. Catherine 24 April 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I’ve been eating Quorn for years. So have my children. I thought Dr Biffa’s questions were answered well and with respect. I imagine he gave up replying as Dr Biffa seemed unwilling to let go inspite of – in my view – sufficient evidence to suggest that Quorn is not the villain it had been portrayed. If the point was not resolved that diets low in saturated fats being unhealthy is a fallacy, that’s the only one, as far as I could tell that wasn’t. I see nothing which suggests that Quorn is remotely unhealthy, only that its claims to be a positive force for health might be a little exaggerated. I’m happy to continue enjoying it and don’t feel my health will be remotely undermined by so doing.

  44. Terry 30 May 2011 at 12:51 am #

    …if there is a no glass policy how come we have all seen countless films, documentaries, news items etc on all sorts of food production? Film of food being prepared, food on conveyor belts and countless other situations. Take a camera with a plastic lens.. or is there a no plastics policy! Are there windows at these premises… does anyone wear glasses… contact lenses? If you have not actually seen cheese or beer being made your experience of it will be the result of someone having filmed it through a glass lens! Has anyone ever actually witnessed and filmed the process of Quorn manufacture… why not? Could Quorn please publish the ingredients and a recipe necessary to make this product in the same way you could obtain such recipes for say tofu or beer to make at home?

  45. Niles 5 August 2011 at 11:30 pm #

    I think the no glass policy is probably because light would inhibit the ability of the fungus to grow.

  46. Dread 20 September 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I expected to find some enlightening information, but all I see is a completely bogus complaint from so called Dr.Briffa. Your complaint and letters are drivel and make no sense. I expected a little more, but all you have done is make me believe that mycoprotein is a good product.

  47. jonathan somogyi 22 September 2011 at 5:56 am #

    This has nothing to do with quorn and everything to do with companies’ using bad info to sell products (IE propagating the myth that low fat is necessarily healthier).

  48. Nancy 25 September 2011 at 10:01 am #

    I love Quorn products! They taste delicious and I have not had any ill effects. I did think they were mushroom based and I am more educated now about it’s production. I’m still ok with it!!! Sounds a little bit like a whiskey distillery. Xylitol, on the other hand, does a number on me, along with other artificial sweeteners.

  49. St0ked 22 November 2011 at 4:28 am #

    We tried Quorn at dinner for the first time and both my husband and I experienced severe stomach problems throughout the night. We were both fine the next morning but you can bet that we won’t be consuming any myco-mold products in the future.
    I thought that I was diligent in reading labels and knowing what was in the food that I served my family. Shame on me but shame on Quorn for trying to pass off its product as something akin to mushrooms.
    It seems that intolerance to mycoprotein has been an issue for years now so why aren’t there any warnings on these products?

  50. Cl6ire 24 November 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Dear Tim, Congratulations to Quorn! We love you in our house!!! having been a veggie for the last 16 yrs I don’t quite know what I would of done without you. I think this whole argument against you is a joke.. DR. Biffa just makes himself sound like a jobs-worth with no real argument, I can see why you gave up on him- what a hopeless cause. I have cooked Quorn in many forms for hundreds of friends and family. Have managed restaurants, pubs and hotels, I have served it up quite happy without a single complaint…. in fact many of my friends and family now eat it all the time are meat eaters! May I suggest to those that have food poising from Quorn first check the temperature of their fridges. Or perhaps take cooking lessons.
    No really, it may just be possible that you are intolerant to the product just as many are to nuts, bread or cream. As for the no glass policy, it is a food safety regulation from E.H.O, It is a policy that I have carried out in many establishments. Very wise I wouldn’t want to be eating pieces of glass in my dinner. Then you would all be complaining! ;-)

  51. Heather 17 February 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    I do like quorn and think it is a good texture, tastes ok, although a little bland. Could not eat chunks of it on it’s own, like I could with chicken. I’m not a vegetarian, although most of what I eat is plant based. For what it is, I think Quorn is pretty expensive and not all that healthy – if you read the label on the back, it has a list of ingredients I’ve never heard of. But then if you think of all the hormones and antibiotics pumped into animals these days, meat doesn’t seem all that healthy either. And as for the cheese and beer being natural, they add a load of chemicals to beer to kill off the yeast and prevent further fermentation, and isn’t cheese one of the things that can trigger migraines because of the tyramines in it?

    Anyway, no matter what you eat, there will always be someone who will tell you it’s bad for you. I like quorn so I’ll continue to eat it. Luckily I’m not allergic. Oh and before I go, quorn with soy sauce is beautiful :) It makes a lovely stir fry with some veggies.

  52. Kris 29 June 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Dr Briffa,
    I cannot agree more with your principal of challenging advertised health claims on food packaging. It annoys me when misleading marketing is used by organisations; not just in food, but in other industries also (e.g Cosmetics. (Personally i find the marketing ploys of the cosmetic industy insulting to the intelligence of the consumer, yet it also saddens me that it seems to work on so many people)).
    So i would like to say thank you for taking a stance against this issue. I would, however, like to show my dissapointment that it is Quorn who are taking all the stick in this case.
    I understand your reasoning for your opinion on Quorn, but i believe the challenge put towards the company it is excessvely aggressive.
    I would have been more on your side if the argument were against a more worthy opponent, and i feel that i must stick up for Quorn because, at the end of the day, the majority of their finished products are high in protein and low in fat, and as a vegetarian of 4 years i’ve not yet bought a quorn product with atrificial preservatives or masses of saturated or hydrogenated fats. I understand that you can argue that this doesn’t automatically class the foodstuff as being fantastically nutritional, but i believe that the properties of Quorn are such that it would have been time better spent taking up the argument with a more worthy opponent. What i mean is, it’s not like Quorn are advertising their products as low in fat and actually containing, for example, 10 grammes of saturated fat per 100g product.
    At the end of the day, all you could comment on was what was available in the shopping basket of the original article, so the reason for this debate starting in the first place is justifiable. I’d have just enjoyed this article more if it were aimed at a more worthy opponent.

    Thanks,

    K.

  53. Malinda 24 October 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    I like Quorn and I don’t think their claims are far fetched. Their products taste great and nutritionally better value. I didn’t like your approach I had a sense that they really CARE about their products and image. They are not like some sort of con artists at all. If any company deserve a slap it would be Flora margarine for the way they mislead poor folk into believing it was healthy.

  54. Leigh 30 April 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    I must disagree with the previous comments. Quorn certainly ARE deliberately misleading the public, and deserve to be called out for it. Don’t believe me? Check their Wikipedia page, from which all mentions of ‘mould’ have recently been mysteriously removed.

    They are not interested in providing honest information to consumers at all. They are afraid that once we find out how their product is made, we won’t buy it anymore.

    But they’re probably overestimating the general public, to be honest. People still drink beer and eat cheese, despite knowing how it’s made. Quorn, please give us accurate and complete information, and let us decide for ourselves.

  55. caroline spear 17 September 2013 at 10:48 am #

    With quorn containing vegetable extracts, does this mean it contains Mono sodium glutamate?

  56. Rod Prime 22 June 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    I have eaten this for years with no problems and find most of the range tasty. When you think what is used in real meat products I know what I prefer. Also on some of the articles about vegetarian food where they are put down the person who wrote the article has something to do with the meat industry.

  57. Geraldine Sebastian 1 July 2014 at 11:45 am #

    Hi
    I am have been a vegetarian/vegan for over 30 years and I tried quorn. I will never eat it again as I used to feel a little queasy after eating it , suffering palpitations stomach ache and nausea. I also developed vertigo which was horrendous. Having been veggie for so long, it’s been quite an experience seeing how the food industry try to justify selling us the most unhealthy products imaginable, and the lengths they go to in order to prevent healthy food being produced. I blame governments also for putting tax profits before health and allowing the food industry to get away with it! If they banned all additives , pestisides and chemical spraying of our foods and farm lands, all the money saved by the NHS for treating the affects of these practises, could go to producing healthy organic food. I am 68 this year and would love to go into a shop and buy fresh produce without having to worry all the time that it’s saturated with chemicals or other things that might cost me my life.

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