Survey Shows Meatless Burgers Contain More Salt Than Real Burgers

Some products found to be saltier than seawater.

A homemade organic vegetarian mushroom burger, topped with tomato and guacamole.
Brent Hofacker / Shutterstock

Some products found to be saltier than seawater.

A new survey into the salt content of vegetarian and vegan meat alternatives found that meatless burgers contain high levels of salt that exceed the recommended limits, CNN reports.

The U.K. group Action on Salt, based at the Queen Mary University of London, found that burgers made from meat substitutes contained an average of 0.89 grams of salt per serving. The amount in real beef burgers averaged 0.14 grams less, at 0.75 grams per portion.

The group studied 157 meatless products from major retailers. Their findings showed that 28 percent of the products contained higher salt levels than the maximum targets set by Public Health England, which were supposed to be met by December 31, 2017.

“People don’t tend to think as [sic] meat alternatives as an unhealthy product,” Action on Salt nutritionist Mhairi Brown told CNN. “But this health halo is concealing quite high levels of salt.”

Meat free bacon was found to contain the highest average salt content per 100g, followed by meat free sliced meat. Two products in particular, Tofurky’s Deli Slices Hickory Smoked and Tesco’s Meat Free 8 Bacon Style Rashers, were found to “contain much more salt per 100g than seawater,” according to the study.

The group also found that 20 percent of products did not have color coded labels on the packages providing the nutritional information of the foods.

“Labels allow people to just glance at a product, and see if it is a healthy or less healthy choice,” Brown said.

Reducing meat consumption is a key factor in helping the environment, CNN reported. This is a major reason behind the rise in flexitarian diets, in which meat consumption is kept to a minimum. Brown believes that it is important to encourage reduced meat production due to the environmental impacts, but also that “the food industry should be encouraged to reduce salt intake” as well.

“If people are making those healthy choices are they really finding healthier choices?” she questioned.

According to CNN, the U.K. began implementing salt targets in 2006, and the PHE took responsibility for them in 2016. However, Brown noted that “very little action” has been assumed by the public body.

Action on Salt has demanded that Public Health England act now to lower the amount of salt in meatless products, as high salt diets can increase blood pressure — and are linked to heart disease and strokes.

Chairman of Action on Salt — and Queen Mary University of London professor of cardiovascular medicine Graham MacGregor — noted that reducing salt is the most cost-effective way to decrease the amount of people unnecessarily dying or suffering from these medical emergencies.

“Given the vast amounts of strokes and heart disease that could be avoided and huge savings to the NHS, it is incomprehensible that Public Health England are not doing more to reduce the amount of salt in our food.”

In an email to CNN, Louis Levy, spokesperson for Public Health England, said that salt consumption in the U.K. has “decreased over the last decade but there is still a long way to go, as some foods still contain too much salt.”

“Government has been clear with the food industry on the importance of meeting the 2017 salt targets,” he wrote. “Since taking over salt reduction, PHE has been collecting data on industry’s progress and we’ll report later this year as planned.”