Vegan food stuffed with salt, poses health risk - study

Australian researchers are warning vegans that their meat-free alternative food can pose significant health risks.

A new study released on Wednesday reveals that many of the products favoured by vegans are highly processed and stuffed with an unhealthy amount of salt.

The researchers surveyed 190 products and found meat-free bacon had on average 2g salt per 100g - more than a third of a day's worth of salt. Falafels and meat-free sausages also had on average around a quarter of a day's salt intake. 

But shockingly, one vegan pie contained half of the daily recommended salt intake in just one serve. 

The research from The George Institute for Global health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation says that the daily recommended salt intake is less than a teaspoon - about 5g.

"Our research showed that there are large ranges in the amount of salt between meat alternative products, but it is possible to choose a healthier item by picking the lower salt option. It also clearly shows that manufacturers can produce products that are much lower in salt," says Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong.

The researchers said more of the salty products are also coming onto the Australian market.

For example, the number of meat-free burgers in Australia increased by 289 percent betwen 2010 and 2019. The number of falafel products jumped 380 percent.

The George Institute's senior public health nutritionist and the lead researcher, Clare Farrand, said reducing salt intake could save consumers' lives.

"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."

The Heart Foundation Victoria chief executive Kellie-Ann Jolly says having too much salt is linked to high blood pressure, meaning consumers should watch out.

"The growing number of Australians choosing to eat more plant-based foods is a positive move for health, but it is important that people focus on the quality and sources of plant foods, as some can be highly processed and lacking in nutrients."

Too much salt is also associated with stroke and heart failure. 

New findings from a study last week found that vegans and vegetarians had a 20 percent higher risk of stroke than meat-eaters. One theory behind those findings is that Vitamin B 12 is mostly found in meat and fish which strict vegans don't consume. 

The researchers recommend consumers check the labels of products and be aware of portion sizes.

The study's findings can be found here.