Meat-free alternatives may not be as healthy as we think

Two red vegan burgers in their packaging with salad

Eating a whole foods diet with less meat is becoming increasingly popular, with many people turning to alternative meat-free products.But a new study has found many of these products are often high in salt, putting people at risk of high blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

Son Lu knows the dangers of having a diet too high in salt.   

"At home I remember in the middle of the night I wake up at night and I feel very heavy inside my chest."

That feeling was the result of 4 blocked arteries in his heart, which led to triple bypass surgery.

Mr Lu is one of the more than 2 million Australians who are now eating less meat.

That’s prompted a spike in the sale of meat-free alternatives at supermarkets in the past 10 years.

Meat-free bacon, sausages and burgers have almost tripled in sales.

VicHealth's Dr Lyn Roberts says people should exercise caution when tucking into some of these products.

"People might think they're actually purchasing a healthier product, because it's meat free and that eating vegetables is a good thing to do.  But actually, what this research shows is that some are really, really high in salt."

The study, done in conjunction with the Heart Foundation, VicHealth and The George Institute, looked at more than 560 meat alternative products.

The biggest culprits for high salt content were meat-free bacon, burgers and sausages.

And to the surprise of experts, some falafel brands also had high salt content.

The Heart Foundation's Kelli-Ann Jolly says too much salt in your diet can be harmful to your health.

"Salt can increase our blood pressure. And that is a major risk for cardiovascular disease. It's really concerning at the moment, because we do here we are seeing one in three Australians with high blood pressure."

Australians are on average consuming 9.6 grams of salt a day, with men consuming more than women and almost double the daily recommended intake of 5 grams.

Vegetarians say they're not deterred by the research.

"I think everything in moderation, I check things, the nutritional value - how much sugar is in things, carbs all that kind of stuff."

Vegan Australia says veganism shouldn’t be confused with a healthy diet.

But they support better labeling on food packages and say a wholefoods diet is always best.

Nutrition experts are urging the industry to set salt targets for meat free meals.

But the experts say there are healthy vegan options to choose from and, like anything, it's all about moderation.

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