Salty veggie products cause concern

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Salt content Vegetarian cuisine Meat Pork Food standards agency

The salt content of vegetarian sausages and burgers can often be
the same as, or even higher than, their meaty equivalents,
according to a recent survey.

The UK's Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) released its findings, which suggest vegetarian products may not always be the healthy option, to coincide with this week's National Vegetarian Week.

The saltiest vegetarian burger surveyed by CASH contained more salt than three packet of crisps, while the sausage with the highest salt content contained more salt than five packets of crisps.

This raises questions about the overall perception of vegetarian food, often considered by consumers to be the healthy alternative, and whether vegetarian food manufacturers have an even greater need to cut salt.

"We all need to make sure we eat less salt," said Professor Graham MacGregor, CASH chairman.

"My worry is that people are choosing vegetarian products thinking that they are healthier for them than meat products and in terms of salt content.

Our research shows that this is not necessarily the case."

Numerous scientists are convinced that high salt intake is responsible for increasing blood pressure (hypertension), a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD) - a disease that causes almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe.

As awareness grows on the possible health risks of salt, pressure has been mounting on food manufacturers to reduce the salt content of their foods.

According to research by TNS Worldpanel released earlier this year, reformulation in the food industry reduced British salt intake by 2,000 tonnes last year.

MacGregor said: "A lot of work has been done by the food industry to reduce the salt content of meat products such as sausages and burgers.

The same should now be done by manufacturers of vegetarian products."

Survey results The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends a limit of six grams of salt per day for the general population, and less for children.

The saltiest sausage in CASH's survey, Fry's Vegetarian Traditional Sausage, was found to contain 2.8 grams of salt per sausage, compared to one pork sausage from Sainsbury's, which had 0.7 grams of salt.

This means eating two of these sausages as part of a meal would almost provide an adult's maximum recommended daily limit.

However, Tammy Fry, marketing director for Fry Group Foods, told that these sausages are much larger than the average pork sausage, weighing 62.5 grams each, and so it would be usual to only eat one in a meal.

She added: "Meat alternatives are ready-to-eat without sauces or gravies.

Animal flesh is normally very bland and requires sauces/marinades when served which vastly increases the salt percentage.

It is probably a better option to compare ready meals."

The research found large variations in the amount of salt in vegetarian sausages.

For example, Linda McCartney Vegetarian Sausage has 38 per cent more salt than an equivalent Quorn sausage.

The survey also found that while some of Quorn's vegetarian products are in the list for having the highest salt content, many of its products also appear in the ten lowest list.

Premier Foods, which owns the Quorn brand, said: "The FSA has established targets for salt content and many of the products in our range already fall within these guidelines.

All our products will meet the FSA targets for salt content by the 2010 due date."

It also owns the Cauldron brand, which had some of the highest salt contents for both sausages and burgers.

A Cauldron Savoury Burger contains 1.5 grams of salt, while an ASDA beefburger contains only 0.3 grams.

Premier Foods said: "Whilst the CASH research shows that Cauldron sausages contain a little more salt than some meat sausages it fails to acknowledge that other meat sausages are considerably higher in salt and it also fails to address the role of fat, saturates, trans fats, cholesterol and calories.

"Cauldron sausages are lower in all of these nutrients compared with their meat alternatives.

Indeed our sausages are completely free from trans fats and cholesterol."

Sodium versus salt Some products only provided the sodium content.

In these cases, CASH had to multiply the sodium content by 2.5 to calculate the salt content.

CASH said the difference in labelling causes confusion, as many people take sodium and salt to mean the same thing.

However, salt is made of ionically bound sodium chloride.

Carrie Bolt, CASH nutritionist, said: "We would urge people to look carefully at the labelling to help make sure that they are buying lower salt products wherever they can."

In the UK, the FSA encourages manufacturers to display the salt content of their products.

Meanwhile, t he FSA announced last week that it is to hold a public meeting next month to publicise the results of eight salt-reduction projects that have been running over the past year.

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