This week, we see new research published into plant-based meat alternatives. This is the first study which has investigated the nutritional and health profile of plant-based meat (PBM) alternatives available in the UK. Reducing meat consumption is essential in helping consumers make the shift towards more sustainable diets. We see that supermarket shelves are stocking up on PBM alternatives and they are gaining in popularity. Thus, this study is of uppermost importance in understanding the role of such products in the diet.
WHAT DID THE RESEARCH INVOLVE?
The study aimed to compare the nutrient profile of PBM alternatives compared to equivalent meat products. The survey involved analysing 207 PBM alternatives against 226 meat products available from 14 retailers in the UK. Nutrients assessed (using product packaging) per 100g included:
- Energy density
- Total and saturated fat
Products were categorised into 6 main groups: sausages, burgers, plain poultry alternatives, breaded poultry alternatives, mince, and meatballs.
- Compared to the meat products, PBM had significantly lower energy density, total fat, saturated fat, protein and significantly higher fibre contents
- Salt content was significantly higher in five out of six PBM categories. The ‘plain poultry alternatives’ category had twice the amount of salt than the plain poultry
- Nearly three quarters of the PBM products did not meet the current UK salt targets
- There was varying levels of salt within similar PBM products. For example, under the category ‘Mince’, Richmond Meat-Free Mince contained three times less salt than Plant Pioneers No Meat Mince
- Using the UK’s front-of-pack labelling criteria, 20% of the PBM alternatives and 46% of meat products were high in either total fat, saturated fat or salt
- The majority of PBM products scored more favourably than their meat counterparts, with fewer products being classified as “less healthy” (13.7% vs. 40%, respectively) as defined by the UK’s Nutrient Profiling Model
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Overall, PBM products appear to have a more beneficial nutrient profile for health, in particular considering the lower levels of saturated fats and higher levels of fibre reported. However, the high levels of salt found within such products are of concern, especially considering that the current average salt intake in the UK is 8.4g per day (vs current maximum recommendations, set at 6g/1 teaspoon per day). Too much salt in the diet raises the risk of raised blood pressure, also known as ‘the silent killer’.
Being mindful of the varying levels of salt within similar products, it’s important to educate individuals about comparing products using food labels to make wise choices, especially considering that three-quarters of salt consumed by the population comes from manufactured food. A useful tool for this is FoodSwitch – an award-winning free smartphone app that helps individuals compare and understand food labels.
The authors of the study concluded that most PBM categories have a more favourable nutrient profile compared to their meat alternatives. However, salt levels were high and it was emphasised that manufacturers could effectively improve the nutritional quality of these products by reducing their salt content.
Here’s what Action on Salt have said about the latest research:
“Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to lower blood pressure, reduce health inequalities and prevent people from dying unnecessarily from strokes and heart disease. The UK Government put the food industry in charge of public health at the public’s expense. The time has now come to take back control and force the industry to act more responsibly.”, said Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London, Chairman of Action on Salt and co-author of the study.
“This data shows the large variation in salt content of these products, with some food companies producing foods with up to six times more salt than their competitors. It’s no wonder we are all eating too much salt when food companies use it to such excess. Reducing salt is clearly possible; it’s time these companies acted more responsibly for the sake of our health.”, states Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager for Action on Salt and co-author of the study
Action on Salt is now calling for the Government to reinstate a coherent salt reduction policy by mandating the salt targets so that all food manufacturers have to comply, and give them a level playing field, which the food industry much prefer.
Tanya Haffner RD, shares her thoughts on this new study:
“We are in the greatest health and planetary crisis of our time and our nations consumption of HFSS foods are one of the greatest contributors. Companies who are developing and marketing products that are high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) in any regard, which includes high salt might as well be promoting cigarettes to their customers. Its high time for greater responsibility and change. At MyNutriWeb we not only welcome urgent legislative government action on high saturated fat, salt and sugar foods. We welcome mandating all the targets and also call for a ban on the promotion of HFSS foods period. The urgency means we can no longer accept token half measures – there can be no more excuses and all efforts by government must now go towards ensuring a level playing field where the healthy choice is the default choice.”
ADVICE FOR EATING WELL ON A VEGAN DIET
To learn more about how to eat a healthy balanced vegan diet, take a look at the following MyNutriWeb webinars, available free to watch on demand:
How to be Vegan Savvy: A Practical Guide (2021) Azmnia Govindji RD discussing the key nutritional considerations when counselling clients who wish to adopt a vegan diet
Vegan diets, person centred practice (2020) Heather Russell, RD from The Vegan Society, talks us through the practical aspects of a vegan diet
To find out more about reducing salt intakes:
Reducing Blood Pressure – An Effective Approach (2021) – Sonia Pombo, Campaign Manager from Action on Salt discusses the latest into salt reduction
UPCOMING FREE SYMPOSIUM ON SUSTAINABLE EATING
In addition, we have an upcoming symposium on the 9th December where we shall be discussing the transition to more plant-based diets alongside talks into shifting our food system to support sustainable eating, for the simultaneous benefit of our climate and public health.
LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW RESEARCH, PLEASE COMMENT BELOW.