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Some Veggie and Vegan 'Meats' Are 'Saltier' Than Actual Seawater

Why Global Citizens Should Care 
The UN’s Global Goals call for action on both health, and on stopping climate change. As more people are eating meat-free, either for environmental or for health reasons, we need to look to the food industry to listen to the consumer and create healthy, environmentally friendly alternatives. Join us by taking action here to support the Global Goals. 

We’re increasingly becoming a nation of vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians. But the meat alternatives we’re tucking into might contain more salt than we realise. 

Action on Salt, a nonprofit team of specialists based at Queen Mary University of London, has issued a report warning that many meat-free products are exceeding salt targets. 

The organisation launched a nationwide product survey, examining the salt levels in 157 supermarket meat-alternative products — including substitute bacon, burgers, sausages, mince, and sliced “meat.” 

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And it found that 28% of all products it surveyed are higher in salt than their maximum targets, which, it says, were due to be met by the end of 2017. 

The survey specifically highlighted Tofurky’s Deli Slices Hickory Smoked and Tesco’s Meat-Free 8 Bacon Style Rashers as containing “much more” salt per 100g than seawater (specifically the Atlantic, according to the BBC) — 3.5g per 100g and 3.2g per 100g respectively. For comparison, seawater has about 2.5g of salt per 100g. 

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The highest average salt content per 100g was found in meat-free bacon and meat-free sliced meat. The report also found that, per portion, vegetarian kievs were the saltiest product on average — saltier than a large portion of McDonald’s fries, it said.

What’s more, according to the report, 20% of the products had no colour-coded labelling on the front of the packs.

But the report found that there is a huge variation in the salt content of products, even within the same category. Most meat-free categories had at least 50% difference in salt content between the saltiest and least salty products, it said — and meat-free mince had the biggest variation, with an 83% difference.

“This once again highlights that it is very easy to make products with less salt and so all manufacturers should aim to reduce salt in their products, not just the responsible few,” it said. 

Salt levels are important for health because eating too much of it can push up your blood pressure, according to Blood Pressure UK. The highest your blood pressure, the greater the strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys, and brain. This can lead to heart attacks, strokes, dementia, and kidney disease. 

Action on Salt is calling on Public Health England to do more to encourage the food industry to lower the amount of salt in our food. 

“Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from entirely unnecessary strokes and heart disease,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary’s and chairman of Action on Salt.

“Given the vast amounts of strokes and heart disease that could be avoided and huge savings to the NHS, it is incomprehensible that Public Health England are not doing more to reduce the amount of salt in our food,” he added.

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According to research released in February this year, some 29% of evening meals eaten in the UK now contain zero meat or fish. Around one in 10 shoppers in January 2018 bought a meat-free ready meal — an increase in sales of 15% compared to January 2017. 

In the past 10 years, the number of vegans in Britain has risen by 360%, according to the Vegan Society, and more than half of UK adults are adopting “vegan-buying behaviour.” Meanwhile, a third of Brits describe their eating habits as “flexitarian.” 

Major supermarkets are all releasing their own vegetarian and vegan products, and Quorn products — which are made by fermenting fungus to create Mycoprotein — has also expanded rapidly over recent years. 

“Research has highlighted that we must reduce the amount of meat we eat to reduce the negative impact of climate change,” said Mhairi Brown, nutritionist at Action on Salt. “The food industry have ensured greater availability of meat-free alternatives, but now they must do more to ensure that meat-free alternatives contain far less salt — at the very least lower than their meat equivalents.”

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Professor Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, told the BBC that, while salt consumption had fallen over the last decade, “there is still a long way to go.” 

“Government has been clear with the food industry on the importance of meeting the 2017 salt targets,” he added. “Since taking over salt reduction, PHE has been collecting data on industry’s progress and we’ll report later this year as planned.” 

The Vegan Society said that “well-planned vegan diets” feature plant foods like whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, and exclude animal products like processed meat. 

“It’s important to be aware that some of the plant-based alternatives to meat currently available are salty,” it added. “Look after your heart by using food labels to keep an eye on salt content and choosing lower salt everyday sources of protein like canned beans and chickpeas in water, red split lentils, pure peanut butter, unsalted nuts, pumpkin seeds, the dry variety of soya mince, and plain tofu, which can be seasoned using spices.”