Adverse Reactions to Meat Substitute
A high frequency of adverse reactions appears to be associated with the ingestion of a new meat substitute called quorn, according to a report published in the American Journal of Medicine (2003;115:334).
Quorn is a high-protein processed food made from a fungus called mycoprotein, a relative of mushrooms. It is used to make meatless foods such as frozen "chicken" nuggets and breaded cutlets. Although the effects of quorn on health and disease risk are not known, it is marketed as a healthful meat alternative for vegetarians and non-vegetarians who want the taste and texture of meat-based foods. It is high in protein and fiber, low in fat, and has no cholesterol or saturated fat.
Quorn was introduced in the United Kingdom more than ten years ago and in the United States last year. The first reports of adverse reactions to quorn surfaced shortly after its introduction to the UK market. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has collected 597 reports of adverse reactions to quorn and has previously reported that 67% of these reactions included vomiting and 33% included diarrhea. Other reported symptoms included rash, fainting, bloody vomiting, burst blood vessels near the eyes, rectal bleeding, swelling of the face or throat with difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction).
The current report was based on the results of a telephone survey. Researchers contacted 1,004 people, of whom 396 had eaten quorn. All the participants were questioned about food sensitivities in general and quorn eaters were further questioned about symptoms experienced after ingesting quorn. Sensitivity to quorn was more common than sensitivities to any other foods, and was found to occur in 5% of people who had eaten it. The second most common food sensitivity was to shellfish, occurring in 3% of people surveyed. The symptoms of quorn sensitivity included stomachache or cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, indigestion, nausea, hives or rash, headache, and flatulence (intestinal gas).
The results of this survey suggest that quorn may not be safe for all to ingest. Further studies are needed to evaluate the safety of this substance and determine the effects of other factors on risk of quorn sensitivity. For now it is advisable to include warnings of potential hazards on the labels of quorn products. Furthermore, people who suspect that they might be sensitive to quorn should be alerted to ask if it is an ingredient in meat-like vegetarian foods served in restaurants.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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