(NaturalNews) Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is an ingredient often listed on a wide spectrum of "healthy" products including many energy bars and veggie burgers.
Some novice vegetarians, as well as people seeking a protein source with a lower price tag than meat, may purchase bulk TVP as a meat substitute for use in favorite recipes. TVP, also known as Textured Soy Protein (TSP) or as soy protein isolates, can seem like a good way to include vegetarian protein in your diet -- until you do a little research into how this pseudo-food is created.
Every time you eat any product containing TVP you are consuming traces of hexane, the petroleum chemical, in which soybeans are treated in order to convert them into TVP. Soy processors use hexane as a solvent to separate soy fat from soy protein. The procedure involves soaking the soybeans in hexane, a by-product of gasoline refining.
The protein portion of the hexane-treated soybeans then undergoes a process known as "extrusion cooking." High nitrogen solubility index (NSI) defatted soy flour and water are combined to form dough in an industrial mixing cylinder. This dough passes through through the barrel of a screw type extruder. The resulting product is then cut with revolving knives and oven-dried to achieve the desired form of granules, flakes, or patties.
This highly processed "food" may be shipped in bulk as TVP for home cooking. Many vegetarian cookbooks, magazines and websites still include recipes including this ingredient. In other cases the TVP may be sold to the manufacturers of protein bars, frozen vegetarian meat substitutes and other purportedly healthy foods that show up on the shelves of your local market.
Hexane's Health Effects
Independent testing in 2009 by Natural News in conjunction with The Cornucopia Institute confirmed that hexane residue survives the extrusion cooking process and is present in products containing TVP.
Curiously, the FDA has no requirement that food manufacturers test their products for hexane levels. This is especially interesting because hexane is registered with another government agency, the EPA, as both an air pollutant and a neurotoxin.
Although the EPA website includes an entire page devoted to the potential health hazards of hexane, including accidental ingestion as well as skin exposure and inhalation, the FDA has not tested the health effects of hexane-contaminated food.
The agency, whose history as a purported public watchdog turned corporate lap dog has been documented in books like "The Hundred Year Lie" (http://www.hundredyearlie.com/), relies on "current good manufacturing processes" to determine the maximum allowable amount of hexane and other toxins in our food. A few independent studies seem to indicate that high levels and/or long-term ingestion of hexane-contaminated foods can cause neurological problems.
Hexane Plants Dangerous to Workers and Environment
Workers in plants where hexane is present have developed nervous system disorders as well as skin problems. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines the maximum permissible exposure level to hexane at 500 parts per million (ppm) for workers with 8-hour exposures. Higher exposures can cause respiratory tract and eye irritation, as well nausea, vertigo and headaches. Some studies have linked hexane to Parkinson's disease.
Hexane is also highly flammable, causing plant explosions in the U.S, Mexico and South Africa. Two workers died as a result of the hexane gas igniting at a Sioux City, Iowa, soybean processing plant in 2003. Even living near a plant that uses hexane, or along the path of one of its trucks, can be hazardous: a truck carrying 4,500 gallons of the chemical caught fire and exploded in 2001, setting fire to nearby homes.
Additionally, hexane from soy processing plants poses an environmental danger. The EPA categorizes hexane as a dangerous air pollutant, a term which the agency uses for airborne compounds "that cause or may cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental and ecological effects." The most recently available EPA figures show grain processors produce more than two-thirds of all hexane emissions in the United States, releasing 21 million pounds of this hazardous air pollutant.
Read labels carefully to see if TVP is an ingredient as this substance indicates soybeans bathed in hexane. Remember to check also for its alternate names of soy protein isolates and textured soy protein (TSP). If you live in the U.S., look for the green USDA Organic seal on the package of any food product containing soy.
Note that some manufacturers may try to mislead consumers with labels boasting "made with organic soy," this may indicate organically grown soybeans treated with hexane.