Excessive salt levels lurking in processed meat-free foods, survey finds

Excessive salt levels lurking in processed meat-free foods, survey finds
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Sunny Forest

Over a quarter of all processed meat alternatives, including meat-free sausages, burgers and bacon, were concealing high levels of salt.

This is the finding of a new UK-wide product survey report undertaken by Action of Salt which has exposed the perceived health halo of processed meat alternatives.

29% of all the products surveyed were higher in salt than their maximum salt targets which we due to be met at the end of December 2017.

According to Action on Salt, this “reaffirms how ineffective the voluntary salt targets are due to complete lack of monitoring and guidance from Public Health England”.

The saltiest products in the survey – Tofurky’s Deli Slices Hickory Smoked and Tesco’s Meat Free 8 Bacon Style Rashers – both contain much more salt per 100g than seawater.

In fact, of the 157 supermarket meat alternative products surveyed, the highest average salt content per 100g was found in meat free bacon (2.03g/100g) and meat free sliced meat (1.56g/100g).

Per portion, on average vegetarian kievs were the saltiest (1.03g) – saltier than a large portion of McDonald’s fries – followed by meat free sausages (0.96g) and plain meat-free pieces and fillets (0.87g) – as salty as three portions of salted peanuts.

Action on Salt last surveyed vegetarian alternatives in 2008 and while the average salt content per 100g has decreased for both meat-free sausages and meat-free burgers, the average salt content per portion of meat-free burgers has increased from 0.80g to 0.89g.

Although many of these meat free alternatives are perceived as the healthy option, the survey of real beef burgers from leading retailers – including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda – has revealed that their average salt content per serving – 0.75g – was lower than that of meat free burgers at 0.89g per serve.

Regardless of Action on Salt highlighting in 2017 that certain vegetarian sausages have as much salt as the saltiest meat sausages, Quorn’s 4 Best of British Sausages with 1.9g/100g still remain the saltiest vegetarian sausages available – providing more than 2g salt (2.2g) per 2 sausages.

Furthermore, 20% products included in the survey had no front of pack colour-coded labelling including Linda McCartney’s entire product range.

Only three of all products surveyed were low in salt with 0.3g per 100g or less. Around a fifth of products also have no portion size, making it hard for consumers to judge how much of a product they should eat and gauge their daily salt intake.

There is, however, a large variation in the salt content of products within the same category. Most meat-free categories had at least a 50% difference in salt content between the saltiest and least salty products – 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.