Your meat-free favorite foods could be tricking you

They might be plant-based, gluten-free, organic and vegan, but many meat-free alternative products are highly processed and packed with salt, making them more stealthy than healthy.

More than 2.5 million Australians are eating meat-free and the choice of alternatives such as meat-free bacon, burgers and sausages has almost tripled in supermarkets in less than a decade.

But new research has revealed some popular products are hiding up to half a day’s worth of salt in one serve.

In a new report from The George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation, scientists revealed meat-free bacon had the highest average amounts of salt (2g salt per 100g), containing well over a third of a day’s worth of salt, followed by falafel (1.3g salt per 100g) and meat-free sausages (1.3g salt per 100g), which contained over a quarter.

But it was a vegan pie that took out the saltiest product award, containing half of the daily recommended salt intake in just one serve.

The recommended daily maximum for salt intake is less than a teaspoon, or 5 grams, but Australians are consuming nearly double that.

Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong said the report found high levels of salt in falafel, which is a concern because they are increasingly popular, with five times as many products available in supermarkets now as in 2010—a growth of 380 percent.

It also clearly shows that manufacturers can produce products that are much lower in salt.”

The report analyzed the salt content in more than 560 meat alternative products on supermarket shelves from 2010 to 2019.

The team found in the 190 products surveyed in 2019, the highest average salt content was in meat-free bacon (2g salt per 100g), followed by falafel (1.3g salt per 100g) and meat-free sausages (1.3g salt per 100g).

The number of falafel products increased by 380% between 2010 and 2019 and had the largest range in salt content with Monjay Mezza Traditional Falafel and Spinach Falafel (3g of salt per 100g) 10 times saltier than Naturally Falafel varieties (0.3g of salt per 100g).

The number of meat-free burger products increased by 289% between 2010 and 2019, with the Fry’s Family Burgers Quinoa & Brown Rice Protein (1.7g of salt per 100g; 1.4g salt per 80g serve) six times saltier than the Unreal Co. Italian Beefy Burger with onion (0.3g salt per 100g; 0.4g salt per 130g serve).

The highest salt product per serving was the Bean Supreme Laksa pie, which contained 50% of an adult’s recommended daily salt intake (2.5g salt per 220g serve).

On average, flavored tofu contained nearly 12 times more salt than plain tofu (flavored tofu: 1g salt vs plain tofu: 0.09g salt).

Heart Foundation CEO Victoria, Kellie-Ann Jolly, said eating too much salt is linked with high blood pressure, which affects more than six million Australian adults and is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.

The team provides several tips for customers:

Eating fresh is always best—check out quick and easy vegetarian and plant-based recipes via

Read the label and choose the lower sodium option. Options with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g are the best, and options with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g are good choices.

Be mindful of portion sizes as they can vary greatly.

Experiment with less processed (and cheaper) alternatives like chickpeas, beans and lentils.

Download the FoodSwitch app to scan product barcodes to find an alternative product with a lower sodium content. There’s even a SaltSwitch filter to focus on products lower in salt.

Visit for tips and resources on how to identify salt in packaged foods and reduce your salt intake.