Heart Foundation report targets meat-free alternatives

Matt Woodley

13/09/2019 2:24:09 PM

More than 2.5 million consumers have been advised to avoid highly processed foods containing potentially dangerous amounts of salt.

Vegan patties.
The study’s authors have called for the Australian food industry to introduce voluntary salt targets.

A new study produced by the Heart Foundation, The George Institute of Global Health, and VicHealth, analysed the salt content in more than 560 meat-free alternative products from 2010 to 2019.
Meat-free bacon had the highest average amounts of salt (2 g per 100 g), containing more than a third of a day’s worth of salt, followed by falafels (1.3 g per 100 g) and meat-free sausages (1.3 g per 100 g), which contained more than a quarter. 
Other products in the increasingly popular segment, such as the Bean Supreme Laksa pie, contained up to half a day’s worth of salt in a single serve.
However, paediatric dietitian Karina Savage told newsGP the problem is not limited to meat-free alternatives, with the average Australian consuming nearly double the recommended daily intake of 5 g of salt.
‘Vegetarian eating and meat-free alternatives are becoming more popular for good reason – there are many health benefits associated with reducing intake of red meat, pork and processed meats,’ she said.
‘We do, however, have to watch the salt content of these meat alternatives.
‘In an ideal world we would make these meat-free alternatives, such as vegetable patties, at home using ingredients such as legumes and eggs; however, in our busy life this isn’t always possible.’
Ms Savage also said Australians overall need to be more aware of their salt intake.
‘Making small changes can make a big difference in the long run. Simply swapping salt for pepper, herbs and spices at the dinner table is a great start, [as is] label reading for sodium so that [patients] are choosing sauces and packaged products with a lower sodium intake,’ she said.
‘Many children’s packaged snack foods are loaded with salt, so we need to be very mindful about choosing lower salt options. It’s important we train our next generation’s taste buds to enjoy foods that are wholesome and flavoured more naturally with ingredients such as herbs, spices, lemon and garlic, rather than salt.’
The George Institute’s Senior Public Health Nutritionist and the report’s lead author, Clare Farrand, believes Australia is lagging behind other countries in terms of controlling salt intake, and targets should be established for the food industry. 
‘It’s concerning that, in nearly a decade, there has been no change to the salt levels in any of the meat alternative products we looked at, and that new products coming on to the market are so high in salt, despite government commitments to reduce population salt intake,’ she said.  
‘The UK has one of the lowest salt intakes of any developed country, and this has been achieved by setting voluntary salt targets and regular monitoring of the food industry to achieve those targets.
‘Salt targets for the food industry in Australia are coming, which is great, but there are no salt targets for meat alternatives, and this will need to be addressed.’
Ms Farrand also told the ABC the fact meat-free food is often marketed as a healthier alternative makes some of the results particularly problematic.
‘Many of these products do appear to be healthier, largely because of the marketing around the products themselves,’ she said.
‘But what we don’t realise, and what it doesn’t say on the front of the pack, is that it does contain salt, fat and sugar.
‘We really need to be looking at the information panels on the back of the pack to really understand what’s in these processed foods.’
Other key findings in the report: 

  • The number of falafel products increased by 380% between 2010 and 2019, and had the largest range in salt content. Monjay Mezza Traditional Falafel and Spinach Falafel (3 g salt per 100 g) are 10 times saltier than Naturally Falafel varieties (0.3 g per 100 g).
  • The number of meat-free burger products increased by 289% between 2010 and 2019, with the Fry’s Family Burgers Quinoa and Brown Rice Protein (1.7 g salt per 100 g) six times saltier than the Unreal Co. Italian Beefy Burger with onion (0.3 g per 100 g).

nutrition research salt sodium vegan vegetarian

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