Fake meat too salty, research finds

Wednesday, 11 September, 2019

Fake meat too salty, research finds

Many meat-free alternative products are highly processed and packed with salt, according to the latest reporti from The George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation.

The report analysed the salt content in more than 560 meat alternative products on supermarket shelves from 2010 to 2019. It revealed meat-free bacon had the highest average amounts of salt (2 g salt per 100 g), containing well over a third of a day’s worth of salt, followed by falafels (1.3 g salt per 100 g) and meat-free sausages (1.3 g salt per 100 g), which contained over a quarter.

But it was a vegan pie that took out the saltiest product award, containing half of the daily recommended salt intake in just one serve.

Meat alternatives such as tofu and falafel can be good protein sources as part of a healthy balanced diet, but the report found that some products are too salty. The recommended daily maximum for salt intake is less than a teaspoon, or 5 grams, but Australians are consuming nearly double that.ii

Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong said the high levels of salt in falafels is a concern because they are increasingly popular, with five times as many products available in supermarkets now as in 2010 — a growth of 380%.

The George Institute’s Senior Public Health Nutritionist and the report’s lead author, Clare Farrand, said reducing salt saves lives and that setting salt targets for the food industry works, but Australia is lagging behind other countries.

“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,” Farrand 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.”

Key findings:

  • Of the 190 products surveyed in 2019, the highest average salt content was in meat-free bacon (2 g salt per 100 g), followed by falafels (1.3 g salt per 100 g) and meat-free sausages (1.3 g salt per 100 g).
  • The number of falafel products increased by 380% between 2010 and 2019 and had the largest range in salt content with Monjay Mezza Traditional Falafel and Spinach Falafel (3 g of salt per 100 g) 10 times saltier than Naturally Falafel varieties (0.3 g of salt per 100 g).
  • The number of meat-free burger products increased by 289% between 2010 and 2019, with the Fry’s Family Burgers Quinoa & Brown Rice Protein (1.7 g of salt per 100 g; 1.4 g salt per 80 g serve) six times saltier than the Unreal Co. Italian Beefy Burger with onion (0.3 g salt per 100 g; 0.4 g salt per 130 g serve).
  • The highest salt product per serving was the Bean Supreme Laksa pie, which contained 50% of an adult’s recommended daily salt intake (2.5 g salt per 220 g serve).
  • On average, flavoured tofu contained nearly 12 times more salt than plain tofu (flavoured tofu: 1 g salt vs plain tofu: 0.09 g salt).

[i] The report uses data from the 2010–2017 FoodSwitch Monitoring Dataset. The FoodSwitch Monitoring dataset is generated from annual in-store surveys done at large grocery stores owned by Aldi, Coles, Independent Grocers of Australia (IGA) and Woolworths. FoodSwitch data collection protocol was used to collect products for 2019 from January–June 2019. Products named in the report, and in this release, reflect those available for sale at that time.

[ii] Australia has committed to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of a 30% reduction in the average population salt intake by 2025. WHO and the Heart Foundation recommend adults consume less than a teaspoon of salt daily (5 g per day). Currently, Australians are consuming nearly double that amount (9.6 g per day).

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Vika

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