Salt content of plant-based meat alternatives “excessive,” warns Action on Salt
26 Nov 2021 --- The salt content of plant-based meat products is “unnecessarily high,” with more than 75% of the products surveyed not meeting the UK government’s salt reduction targets. Lead study researcher Roberta Alessandrini at Action on Salt, a UK lobby group, says she was surprised to see that the overall nutrient profile of plant-based meat is better than their meat equivalents.
The study has been published in Nutrients and is the first to investigate the nutritional profile and overall healthiness of plant-based meat available in the UK.
Researchers analyzed 207 plant-based meat products against 226 meat products and found that the plant-based meat salt content was significantly higher than meat in five out of six product categories. Further, only two surveyed plant-based products would be considered low in salt with a green label on front of pack (i.e., <0.3 g/100 g), compared to 45 meat products.
Salt levels and nutrition
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Alessandrini, researcher in Public Health Nutrition, Queen Mary University of London, says the researchers weren’t surprised to find out that plant-based meat has high levels of salt.
In 2018, Action on Salt carried out a similar investigation and came out with similar findings,” she outlines.“
Plant-based meat products have fewer calories, less total and saturated fat, and more fiber than their corresponding meat products. “Plant-based replacements are often classified as ultra-processed or junk food, but in reality, very little is known about their long-term health effects and overall nutritional quality,” notes Alessandrini.
How can industry invite change?
Action on Salt is now calling for the UK government to reinstate a coherent salt reduction policy by mandating the salt targets so that all food manufacturers comply and give them a level playing field, which the food industry prefers.
The lobby group also believes that manufacturers have a vital role in providing consumers with products that are better for the planet and animals but are 100% healthy.
“Manufacturing less salty products would be a simple and effective way of producing healthier products. Our study showed a large variation of salt levels within each product category. Some companies add up to six times more salt than their competitors. This indicates that salt reformulation is entirely possible,” Alessandrini states.
She further explains how more awareness is needed for healthy plant-based meat alternatives. “Consumers need to check product labels whenever possible and choose products with a green traffic light for salt. Unfortunately, out of 207 products, only two products were low in salt. Both were dry soya mince, products that require some food preparation.”
Plant-based foods often have a perceived “health halo,” however, this latest research highlights that these foods can still be high in salt.
Salt is the major factor that raises blood pressure, and raised blood pressure is responsible for 60% of all strokes and 50% of all heart disease.
Overall, more than three in four plant-based products surveyed failed to meet their respective salt reduction targets – making it even more pertinent for the food industry to prioritize salt reduction.
Sonia Pombo, campaign manager for Action on Salt and co-author of the study, adds: “It’s no wonder we are all overeating salt when food companies use it to such excess. Reducing salt is possible; it’s time these companies acted more responsibly for the sake of our health.”
Action on Salt plans to conduct a similar investigation in the out-of-home sector as food bought in restaurants and take-aways is notoriously less healthy than food available in supermarkets. “We will also repeat the survey of manufactured plant-based products to monitor reformulation efforts,” concludes Alessandrini.
Earlier this month, a US study found that there are fewer digestible amino acids in plant-based Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers than in pork or beef versions. Therefore, it suggests that protein is expressed on current nutrition labels – a single generic value expressed in grams – can be misleading.
Meanwhile, in October, FoodIngredientsFirst delved into how plant-based and meat analogs could be causing a problem for salt reducers.
By Elizabeth Green
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