vegan veggie burger

Many people are turning to meat alternatives to lessen their impact on the environment. But retailers and manufacturers shouldn’t lose sight of another major reason people are choosing to eat less meat: their health

I can’t say it came as a huge surprise to find out some ‘meat alternatives’ aren’t quite as healthy as they’d like to make out.

According to a study published today by Action on Salt, meat-free burgers contain on average more salt than real meat burgers. And some deli slice and bacon alternatives contain more salt than seawater.

That’s a lot of salt. And it’s a stark reminder that many of these products – which are benefitting from the ‘health halo’ around vegan foods at the moment – are in fact heavily processed.

Back in February, we pointed out meat alternatives being touted as healthier options than animal protein are packed full of ingredients like soy protein isolates, hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers, modified starches, firming and gelling agents – which would put them firmly on the list of ultra-processed foods linked to higher cancer rates.

Battle of the burgers: are plant-based patties really more sustainable?

Now, we learn almost a third of supermarket meat alternatives (28%) are exceeding industry targets for salt reduction. Which is unacceptable, really, given that every 1g reduction in national salt intake could prevent 7,000 deaths, 4,000 of which are premature, from strokes and heart disease.

To make things worse, almost a quarter of products surveyed – including big brands like Linda McCartney’s – have no front-of-pack colour-coded labelling. Meaning shoppers are in the dark about just how salty some of these products are.

In depth: are meat-free diets a fad or the future of food?

There is mounting pressure on society to eat less meat to help prevent future climate change – and the industry has responded to consumers’ desires to cut back on animal protein with admirable speed and agility. But in the rush to jump on the plant-based bandwagon, retailers and manufacturers shouldn’t lose sight of another major reason people are choosing to eat less meat: their health.

At the very least, manufacturers should be flagging up on pack if their products contain high levels of salt, sugar or fat. And arguably, responsible businesses should be going much further than that – and doing their utmost to ensure their plant-based products are genuinely healthy alternatives to fresh meat.