Does the Impossible Whopper Make Men Grow Knockers?

Reem Abouchleih, Scarlet Staff

In 2018, the mock meat industry grew to be a $5 billion industry; current estimates predict that the industry will be at $85 billion by 2030 (Ubs, 2019). With the number of vegans increasing sevenfold between 2014 and 2019 (Vegan Society, 2019), there is a high demand for mock meats. Plant-based companies like Gardein, Beyond Burger, and Impossible Burger have emerged with countless products, many of them soy-based beef and chicken imitations. In short, soy contains estrogen, a hormone produced by males and females, but is produced in higher levels in females. Estrogen and progesterone promote breast growth when taken in high quantities. 

In the summer of 2019, Burger King released the Impossible Whopper, a plant-based alternative to their classic Whopper sandwich. It is important to know that the Impossible Whopper has never marketed itself as vegan, only “0% Beef”. 

At the end of December, Doctor James Strange explains in a blog post for an online livestock industry publication, “Burger King’s Impossible Burger may cause men to grow breasts if eaten in a sufficient quantity.”

There is so much information to unpack within this sixteen-word statement. 

In the process of researching whether consuming estrogen in food promotes breast growth, many cited Strange as a doctor, not specifying what field he works in. Strange is a veterinarian. This cues into a larger conversation of how a person with no qualifications in a certain field, in this case, health or diet, can make a claim regarding health and have it be believed blindly by the public or people on Twitter. Until a registered dietician makes a claim that is substantiated by medical consensus, the claim should not be believed so quickly. 

Strange specifically said that eating four Impossible Burgers a day would add enough dietary estrogen to make men grow breasts. For a moment, let us assume it was true that four Impossible burgers made men grow breasts. No person would consume that much soy on a daily basis consistently that would make them grow breasts. 

Shawn Baker, an advocate of the meat-only carnivore diet that has recently emerged into the social media world, furthered Strange’s claims by posting an image above substantiating Strange’s claims on Twitter with the caption “It [sic] ok if you grow man boobs because you can pretend to be saving select species of cute animals” (Landsverk, 2019). 

The claim that estrogen makes men grow breasts was popularized, but not created when the Impossible Whopper came out. One case study in 2008 states that a man started to grow breasts after drinking three quarts of soy milk a day. According to Insider, “that case has been criticized on the grounds that excessive consumption of nearly any food could have unwanted side effects, and other available evidence found soy produces no noticeable effects on hormone levels in men.”

So is there anything to validate the claim that soy products will make men grow breasts?

Scientific consensus says no. 

Doctor Caroline Apovian, a professor of medicine in endocrinology, diabetes, nutrition, and weight management, stated “There’s no evidence to support this. There’s no reason to think that if you’re eating an Impossible Burger, you’re going to get breasts. That’s not true. We’ve been eating soy products for years, and no one has come up with evidence that this somehow is feminizing men. You can look at epidemiological studies of men, particularly in Asia, who eat soy, and there’s no evidence it affects estrogen or testosterone.” 

Apovian states that estrogen found in soy-based products is not human estrogen, it is a phytoestrogen, a plant isoflavone that does not have the same strength as estrogen found in women and men. Phytoestrogen can both promote and suppress estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects; phytoestrogen affects you based on your individual estrogen levels. Simply put,  phytoestrogen is not strong enough to promote breast growth in men (Landsverk, 2019). 

Seeing news like the stories above are extremely disappointing. A few news outlets like Rebel Media and Livestock News have pushed this story forward. At worst, Minister James Rutz claimed that soy “commonly leads to a decrease in the side of the penis, sexual confusion, and homosexuality.” Of course, this is completely false. There is no link between food eaten to sexuality. 

There is evidence to show that eating soy is healthy. For many vegans and vegetarians, soy is a good source of protein; in one serving of tofu (0.75 cup), there are twelve grams of protein. Additionally, soy is proven to improve cardiovascular health. Soy isoflavones have been found to help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol (known as “bad” cholesterol). Some clinical investigations have suggested that genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, has antioxidant properties that may inhibit the growth of cancer cells; specifically for prostate and breast cancer (Ware, 2017). 

Until there is a correlation between breast growth in men and estrogen from soy products, these claims are false news at best and fear-mongering at worst. Some men may still be afraid despite unfounded claims. In that case, if you eat less than four Impossible Whoppers a day, you should not grow breasts.