Plant-based meals contain “shocking” amounts of salt and saturated fat
10 Mar 2020 --- Nearly two in five plant-based and vegan meals available in British fast food outlets and coffee chains contain more than 3 g of salt, which is half of an adult’s maximum daily intake of salt. This is the finding of a new UK survey conducted by health advocate Action on Salt (AoS), which has chipped at the health halo of plant-based meat analogs due to their notably high salt and saturated fat contents. The news could deter from plant-based meat’s rapid popularity ascension amid calls for increased transparency for meat analogs’ nutritional information and government-issued salt reduction targets.
“We should all be eating less meat for environmental reasons and it is positive that the number of plant-based options on the shelves are increasing. We hope our survey has drawn attention to the levels of salt and saturated fat in these products and the need for the food industry to take responsibility and make these products healthier,” Mhairi Brown, Policy and Public Affairs Coordinator for AoS, tells NutritionInsight.
The lobby group’s survey investigated 290 plant-based and vegan soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps collected from 27 restaurants and 18 fast food and coffee chains in the UK. It found that 96 out of 151 plant-based restaurant meals contain at least half of an adult’s maximum daily intake of salt. Moreover, 19 of these provide 6 g or more salt, which makes for an adult’s entire maximum daily limit in just one meal.
The results applied to a variety of vegan meals in different cuisines, including pizza, curry, Tex Mex, burgers, pasta and savory pies. The survey also found that some comparable meals had up to 7.7 times less salt per portion, indicating that salt isn’t the only seasoning needed for superior flavor and indulgent meals can still be made with much less salt.
Saturated fat is equally culpable in AoS’s eyes, noting that one in five dishes surveyed provided more than half of an adult’s maximum daily intake for saturated fat. One meal of a plant-based burger and fries contained 54.2 g of saturated fat, which makes up nearly three times a woman’s maximum daily intake, the health organization highlights.
Unwarranted popularity for plant-based health?
The growing popularity of plant-based products is undeniable, as Innova Market Insights highlights a 68 percent average annual growth in food and beverage launches with a “plant-based” claim (Global, CAGR 2014 to 2018). Moreover, the market researcher pegged “The Plant-Based Revolution” as its No.2 Top Trend for 2020.
“Plant-based is definitely something that’s very positively perceived by consumers. We think there is a lot more opportunity for mainstream plant-based claims. Consumers also think plant-based sounds healthier than vegetarian or vegan. Figuring out the terminology and marketing terms is always a really important part of promoting a trend,” says Lu Ann Williams, Director of Innovation at Innova Market Insights.
Indeed, the AoS survey also interviewed more than 2,000 UK residents above 16 years of age and found that of the 1,637 who buy plant-based food, 581 reported in doing so for health improvement. Substituting red meat with plant proteins is commonly associated with lowered risk for cardiovascular disease and extended life expectancy.
plant-based meat alternatives are often more processed and contain more salt than traditional meat. AoS has previously flagged the “dangerously high” salt contents running rampant throughout the UK food and beverage industry, ranging from UK picnic foods to children’s meals in UK restaurants.However,
Policymaking in the plant-based space
To prevent consumers from becoming subject to vegan labeling’s greenwashing attempts, AoS calls for clearer labeling on-pack of restaurant chain plant-based options. The Nutri-Score traffic light labeling system may be one option. The voluntary front-of-pack scheme classifies foods and beverages’s nutritional profile as unhealthy to healthy in red to green labeling and is currently being applied throughout continental European countries.
However, Brown affirms that it may be best to stick with the UK-established traffic light system (red – high, amber – medium and green – low for levels of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt, as well as nutrition content per 100 g) to avoid confusion. “Around two thirds of products display these labels and research shows that many people use them. We believe that the policy should be made a mandatory requirement so that all companies must display these labels on their products, creating a level playing field for the food industry.”
“If the Secretary of State for Health could be brave and state salt reduction as a clear priority, with all sectors of the food industry expected to comply and with penalties for those who do not comply, this would have a big impact. Government could also do much more to raise awareness of the impact salt has on health and the need to reduce the amount of salt we eat. This would also help ensure companies comply with targets – if there is public pressure for less salt in food, companies will react,” Brown concludes
By Anni Schleicher
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