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Most meat alternatives contain ‘excessive’ amounts of salt, study says

A significant number of vegan and vegetarian meat products have “excessive” levels of salt compared to their meat counterparts, a study has found.

Researchers investigated the nutritional profile and overall healthiness of plant-based meat products in the UK, analysing 207 items against 226 meat products.

The study, published in the journal Nutrients, found the plant-based meat alternatives had significantly fewer calories, total and saturated fat, and more fibre than meat.

But the salt content in plant-based products was significantly higher than meat, with only two plant-based items considered low in salt compared to 45 meat products.

More than 75 per cent of the plant-based products analysed did not meet the government’s salt reduction targets of less than 0.3g of salt per 100g.

According to Action on Salt, salt is a “major factor” that contributes to high blood pressure, which leads to 60 per cent of all strokes and 50 per cent of all heart disease.

“Indeed, recent evidence confirms the importance of reducing salt intake and the global burden of disease demonstrates that more than two million people a year die from eating too much salt,” said the specialist group, which is based at Queen Mary University of London.

More than three in four plant-based products that were analysed failed to meet their respective salt reduction targets, said the study.

Researchers looked at plant-based and meat alternatives in six categories, which included breaded poultry, burgers, meatballs, mince, poultry, and sausage.

Items that were given a red, high salt rating include M&S Food Plant Kitchen’s No Chicken Kiev (1.78g of salt per 100g), Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Meatballs (1.7g per 100g), The Vegetarian Butcher Vegan What the Cluck (1.7g per 100g), and Quorn Best of British Sausages (1.9g per 100g).

In light of the findings, Action on Salt is calling on the government to mandate salt targets so that all food manufacturers have to comply, in order to reinstate a “coherent salt reduction policy”.

Roberta Alessandrini, lead author of the study and researcher in public health nutrition at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Plant-based meat is a healthier alternative to meat as it has fewer calories and less saturated fat.

“However, our data shows that salt levels in these products are unnecessarily high. Manufacturers have a vital role to play in providing consumers with products that are not only better for the planet and the animals but that are 100 per cent healthy and low in salt.”

Professor Graham McGregor, chairman of Action on Salt and co-author of the study, added: “Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to lower blood pressure, reduce health inequalities and prevent people from dying unnecessarily from strokes and heart disease.

“The UK government put the food industry in charge of public health at the public’s expense. The time has now come to take back control and force the industry to act more responsibly.”

In response to the study, a spokesperson for Linda McCartney said it recently updated the recipe for its vegetarian meatballs to reduce salt from 1.7g to 0.85g per 100g.

They said: “We moved to a new meatball recipe with lower salt content in September 2021. However, in order to minimise our environmental impact and packaging waste, the packaging change was a soft one… meaning that some stock of old packaging could still be present in the market.

“Rest assured the recipe has fully changed and packaging will catch up very soon.”

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