When Greggs, the High Street baker with stores in just about every town in the UK, introduced their vegan sausage rolls, it caused quite a stir. Many vegans hailed the introduction of a vegan version of an old British favourite, while some meat eaters were none too pleased at what they saw as a threat to their traditional fare. But it did get us thinking about the nutritional values of the wide variety of processed vegan products that are now widely available in takeaway shops and supermarket chains around the country.
So let’s have a look at a couple of products that are proving very popular. Firstly, Greggs’ famous vegan sausage roll, while not containing any meat or dairy ingredients, is perhaps not quite as healthy as we would have expected. The vegan sausage roll uses a fungal mycoprotein instead of pork, to give the roll a meaty taste. But being vegan does not necessarily make this product healthy -and the main reason for this is salt content. For sure the vegan version contains marginally less fat than the meat variety – 19g compared to 22g, of which 9.4g is saturated compared to 13g. But this is still far above what could deemed healthy. It does contain, however, higher protein levels – 12g compared to 9.4g. But it is the salt content which really should be of concern, and it is even higher than in the meat sausage roll – 1.9g compared to 1.6g.
Dr Michael Greger, the well-known advocate of a healthy vegan diet, is uncompromising when it comes to the damage too much salt in our diets can cause our bodies. “The two most prominent dietary risks for death and disability in the world are not eating enough fruit and eating too much salt.” (Watch his video on the subject here.) So it certainly not good news that the vegan version of Greggs sausage roll contains even more salt which, we can only assume, is added to improve flavour for palates that are used to the taste of meat.
So how does another family favourite, Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Sausages, compare? Made from rehydrated textured soya protein, the sausages are labelled vegetarian, although the company claims that they are suitable for vegans. This product does compare better to the one of the UK’s most popular brands of traditional pork sausages, Richmond’s. Per 100g, they contain 6.2g of fat compared to 15.9g in the traditional sausage, 18.6g of protein compared to 11.7g, and marginally less salt at 1.4g compared to 2.2g. Clearly this sausage is not surrounded by pastry, which no doubt helps its nutritional figures, but they do, at least perform better, especially when it comes to salt content. (Figures obtained from my own research.)
Now, a lot depends on why the individual is looking at a vegan diet. If for moral and environmental reasons, it is certainly true that these products do not harm any animals, and have less of an environmental impact. However, many individuals turn to a vegan diet for health reasons and, as such, many of the processed vegan products currently on offer are not as healthy as it would appear, although most are likely to be less harmful than their traditional meat-based rivals. So there can be little doubt that the best vegan diet consists of home-prepared dishes using fresh produce. But we are all human, and our busy lifestyles mean that this is not always possible. And a little bit of what you fancy will do you good!