Vegan health halo disguises massive salt levels in plant-based meals

Papa John's plant-based pizzas

Despite the vegan health halo around plant-based meals in the eating out sector, research has revealed that many contain a massive amount of salt and saturated fat.

Data from a recent public opinion poll accompanying the survey highlights one of the main reasons why people consume plant-based food is that they are perceived to be healthier.

However, the Action on Salt survey of 290 plant-based and vegan meals collected from 45 restaurant, takeaway, fast food and coffee chains, reveals many have hidden levels of salt and saturated fat.

In restaurants

Three out of five plant-based restaurant meals surveyed with nutrition information contain 3g or more salt – half of an adult’s maximum daily intake of salt. 19 of these provide 6g or more salt, which is adult’s entire maximum daily limit.

One of the worst offenders identified was Papa John’s Vegan American Hot Medium Pizza which contains 9.28g of salt – more than seven McDonald’s hamburgers.

If these restaurant chains were to display colour-coded nutrition information on their menus like packaged food in supermarkets, more than four out of five plant-based meals would have a red label for high salt content.

Where fast food and coffee shops are concerned

Two thirds of plant-based meals available in fast food and coffee chains would get a red label for being high in salt – along with nearly two in five meals containing 3g or more salt i.e. half of an adult’s maximum daily intake of salt.

The worst offender identified here is the Wasabi Pumpkin Katsu Curry Yakisoba with 10.3g salt which is saltier than eight McDonald’s hamburgers.

Not only salt

It’s not just salty food being served up by UK restaurants, fast food and coffee chains, with over half of all restaurant meals surveyed would qualify for a red label for saturated fat, and more than one in five dishes provide more than half of an adult’s maximum daily intake for saturated fat.

One of the worst offenders is Harvester’s The Purist Burger (served with triple cooked chips), containing 54.2g saturated fat in a meal, nearly 3 times a woman’s maximum daily intake.

Zoe Davies, Nutritionist at Action on Salt, said: “Making healthier choices isn’t always the easy option, but whereas much of the retail sector voluntarily displays clear nutrition information on the front of their packaging to help shoppers find the healthier options, the eating out sector have yet to be as transparent.

“In fact, they are hiding behind labels such as ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’, and our research shows this is misleading customers into thinking they are healthy.

“We therefore need to see clear nutritional information displayed both online and on menus, to make it easier for diners to make genuine, informed healthy choices.”

Action on Salt is now urging the Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, to implement more robust salt reduction targets with proper enforcement in order to create a fair and level playing field across both the retail and eating out sectors.