Plant-based cheese is saltier than dairy, experts warn

Plant-based cheeses contain more salt than dairy versions, as well as high amounts of saturated fat, experts have warned. Campaign group Action on Salt analysed the nutritional content of more than 600 hard-pressed cheeses.

Despite often being seen as a healthy alternative, plant-based types had the highest average amount of salt with 1.91g per 100g This compared to 1.77g for cheddar, 1.67g for double Gloucester and 1.10g for Wensleydale.

Vegan cheeses are usually made from soy, nuts such as cashews and macadamias, and vegetable oils such as coconut oil.

The research group, based at Queen Mary University of London, warned that hard cheeses were one of the top contributors to salt in UK diets.

For example, a small 30g portion of cheddar can contain more salt than a packet of crisps.

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Consuming too much can raise blood pressure, increasing risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Nutritionist Sonia Pombo, campaign lead at Action on Salt, said: “As a nation we are all eating far too much salt, much of which is already added by the food industry in everyday family favourites such as cheese and risks raising our blood pressure and impacting our health.

“The level of salt in some of these products is simply unnecessary and completely undermines the work of some more responsible businesses.”

Voluntary salt reduction targets have been set since 2004 in an effort to reduce people’s daily intake to 6g or below.

The latest target for cheddar and other hard-pressed cheeses said their salt content should be reduced to an average of 1.66g and a maximum of 1.90g per 100g by 2024.

The analysis found that overall, the cheeses surveyed contained an average of 1.72g salt per 100g.

Action on Salt urged ministers to “get tough” on the cheese industry by introducing stricter, mandatory salt reduction targets.

The group’s chairman Professor Graham MacGregor, an expert in cardiovascular medicine, said: “Reducing salt is the most cost-effective measure to lower blood pressure and reduce the number of people suffering from strokes and heart disease and life changing disabilities associated with this – all of which is completely avoidable.

“According to the Department of Health & Social Care, each one gram/day reduction in population salt intake, saves more than 4,000 premature deaths per year.

“And yet, the government do little to help the public in reducing their salt intake and should force the food industry to use much less salt in their products, with strict enforced targets.”

Dr Judith Bryans, CEO of Dairy UK, said the analysis “falls short and demonstrates a lack of understanding of how cheese is made and why salt is added in the first place”.

She gave the example of mature Cheddar, which requires salt to inhibit the growth of harmful organisms and control the breakdown of protein which plays a key role in development of flavour and texture.

Dr Bryans added: “A 30g piece of hard cheese like Cheddar provides a range of nutrients including protein, calcium, fat, phosphorus, B12 and vitamin A to name but a few of its nutrients.

“Making a comparison between the salt content of staple nutrient rich foods like cheese and a packet of crisps just doesn’t reflect overall nutritional differences between the two foods.

“Cheese makers.have made significant efforts to reduce the salt content of their products over the years and will continue to do so where technically possible and where this poses no risk to food quality and safety.

“However, we can’t ask cheesemakers to go beyond the current technical limits of cheese making and compromise the safety of the products they are putting on the market.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the salt reduction programme had cut the amount of salt in some foods by around 20 percent.

They added: “We are also promoting healthier choices for families, including by restricting the placement of less healthy foods in stores and online, and introducing calorie labelling on menus.

“High intakes of salt increase the risk of high blood pressure, which itself increases the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. The forthcoming Major Conditions Strategy will look at what more we can do to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease.”

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