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Action on Salt

Excessive Salt Levels Found in So-Called Healthy Plant-Based Meat

  • Salt content in plant-based meat significantly higher in salt than meat equivalents 
  • More than three in four plant-based meat products exceed salt targets 
  • Action on Salt calls for mandatory salt targets to level the playing field 
Published:

NEW research published today in Nutrients shows that the salt content of plant-based meat products is unnecessarily high, with more than 75% of the products surveyed not meeting the Government’s salt reduction targets (Nutritional quality of plant-based meat products available in the UK: a cross-sectional survey)[i].

This is the first study which has investigated the nutritional profile and overall healthiness of plant-based meat available in the UK. Researchers analysed 207 plant-based meat products against 226 meat products and found plant-based meat to have significantly fewer calories, total and saturated fat and more fibre than meat equivalents. However, their salt content was significantly higher than meat in five out of six product categories[ii]. Furthermore, only two (surveyed) plant-based products would be considered low in salt with a green label on front of pack (i.e. <0.3g/100g), compared to 45 meat products. 

Plant-based foods often have a perceived ‘health halo’ (i.e., a product is automatically assumed to be healthy simply because it is vegetarian or vegan), however this research highlights that these foods can still be high in salt. Salt is the major factor that puts up our blood pressure and raised blood pressure is responsible for 60% of all strokes and 50% of all heart disease, the biggest killers in the UK. Indeed, recent evidence confirms the importance of reducing salt intake[iii], and the global burden of disease demonstrates that more than 2 million people a year die from eating too much salt.

Overall, more than three in four plant-based products surveyed failed to meet their respective salt reduction targets[iv] – making it even more pertinent for the food industry to prioritise salt reduction (the most cost-effective strategy to improve public health)[v]

Action on Salt is now calling for the Government to reinstate a coherent salt reduction policy by mandating the salt targets so that all food manufacturers have to comply, and give them a level playing field, which the food industry much prefer.

The research also highlights how unnecessarily high in salt some products are, with similar products providing varying levels of salt content (Table 1); this clearly demonstrates that the salt content of these products can easily be reduced.

 

Table 1. Examples of products with varying levels of salt*

The UK was the first country in the world to have a coherent plan to get the food industry to slowly remove the excessive amounts of salt they add to food. This plan has been copied all over the world, however the Government failed to continue the salt reduction policy when they made the food industry responsible for policing themselves[vi] (Responsibility Deal 2012, Andrew Lansley Secretary of State for Health).

Roberta Alessandrini, Researcher in Public Health Nutrition, Queen Mary University of London and lead author of the study explains, “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% healthy and low in salt."

Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for Action on Salt and co-author of the study, adds: “This data shows the large variation in salt content of these products, with some food companies producing foods with up to six times more salt than their competitors. It’s no wonder we are all eating too much salt when food companies use it to such excess. Reducing salt is clearly possible; it’s time these companies acted more responsibly for the sake of our health.”

Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, Chairman of Action on Salt and co-author of the study says: “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.”

Industry Comments:

*Spokesperson from Linda McCartney said:

The data presented on Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Meatballs in the Action on Salt report (25.11.21) as published in Nutrients contains a factual inaccuracy. The salt content within Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Meatballs is 0.85g of salt per 100g - not 1.7g per 100g - as stated in the Actions on Salt report. The data has been taken from old packaging that is still present in store, despite the product recipe being updated.

As a responsible brand we are continuously looking to improve our nutritional profile. We moved to a new meatball recipe with lower salt content in September 2021 and at this point in time all nutritional information on retailer websites was updated to reflect the change. 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 on the 18th November.

Our Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Meatball products contain 0.85g of salt per 100g, below the maximum salt level target of 1.19g per 100g as set out by the Government.

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

 

[i] Alessandrini, R.; Brown, M.K.; Pombo-Rodrigues, S.; Bhageerutty, S.; He, F.J.; MacGregor, G.A. Nutritional Quality of Plant-Based Meat Products Available in the UK: A Cross-Sectional Survey. Nutrients 202113, 4225. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13124225

[ii] Products were categorised into 6 main groups: sausages, burgers, plain poultry alternatives, breaded poultry alternatives, mince, and meatballs.

[iii] 24-Hour Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion and Cardiovascular Risk,” Yuan Ma, Feng J. He, Qi Sun, Changzheng Yuan, Lyanne M. Kieneker, Gary C. Curhan, Graham A. MacGregor, Stephan J.L. Bakker, Norm R.C. Campbell, Molin Wang, Eric B. Rimm, JoAnn E. Manson, Walter C. Willet, Albert Hofman, Ron T. Gansevoort, Nancy R. Cook, Frank B. Hu, NEJM, online November 13, 2021.

[iv] PHE (2020). Salt reduction targets for 2024. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/915406/2024_salt_reduction_targets_070920-FINAL-1.pdf    

[v] WHO Salt Reduction Key Facts: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction

[vi] MacGregor GA, He FJ, Pombo-Rodrigues S. Food and the responsibility deal: how the salt reduction strategy was derailed. BMJ. 2015 Apr 28;350:h1936. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h1936. PMID: 25922339.

 

 

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