Planted-Based Substitutions and a Low Sodium Diet

By

Mckenzie Ellis

A whole food plant-based diet is naturally lower in sodium. Research shows those who eat a plant-based diet have lower blood pressure than those following the Standard American Diet, which includes meat, dairy, eggs, and processed foods.

Meat substitutes are often loaded with sodium and not as healthy as we think. Here's how to balance your plate while still enjoying that plant-based burger.

There's a growing trend towards eating less meat and more plant-based foods. But are all meat-free products equal? Find out what to look for when you're shopping and the best foods to include in your plant-based diet.

So, what’s motivating this change? Health is the #1 reason, closely followed by the environment, animal welfare and the cost of meat.

A plant-based diet lowers your risk of heart disease and benefits your overall health. Plant foods like vegetables, fruit and legumes are low in saturated fat and contain heart-healthy fats and fiber. Every plant gives our bodies different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which offer protection against disease. So, the more varied your plant-based diet is, the better!

How much salt is in meat-free products?

There has been a recent surge of various meat-free products available in supermarkets these days. These products are often marketed as 'plant-based' and 'organic' however many are highly processed and can hide high levels of salt.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. It's the sodium that raises blood pressure and is linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. We can easily eat too much salt each day, particularly if our diets contain processed and manufactured foods.

What is clear from researching the shelves is that there's a wide range in the salt levels between different meat-free products. Falafel, meat-free bacon and meat-free burgers had the biggest variation between brands. For example, one falafel product had 1260mg sodium (per 3.5oz) whereas another falafel product had a much lower level of 124mg sodium (per 3.5oz).

There’s a wide range of fresh and frozen meat-free products in available in America. One vegetarian burger brand contains 1100mg sodium (per 3.5oz) – which is just under half the maximum daily amount of salt recommended for the day.

What are the healthiest plant foods?

The best foods for our bodies are foods that have had little to no processing. This includes fresh, frozen and no-salt canned vegetables and fruit, whole grains like oats, quinoa and barley, legumes, like chickpeas and lentils, and nuts and seeds.

Any foods that have been highly processed are likely to have a longer list of ingredients and salt, saturated fat or sugar added during processing.

Five tips for choosing the best meat-free products

1. Choose fresh and whole foods where possible

Make whole foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes the main part of your meals and snacks instead of relying on processed and packaged meat-free products.  

Meat-free products are a quick and easy option and can be great to have on hand when you’re pushed for time, but we recommend basing your meals around whole foods when you can.

2. Read the label

Not all meat-free products are equal and there's a huge range in the amount of sodium, additives and preservatives between brands. Read the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) and choose the product with lowest sodium. Less is better, especially if you're managing high blood pressure.

The ingredients list can also help you to find a product that is less processed. Search for products with the least number of ingredients.

3. Choose plain meat-free products instead of flavored versions

Choose unflavored tofu, tempeh and other meat-free products and add your own herbs and spices for flavor during cooking.

4. Try using dried or canned legumes

Legumes, like lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans, are a cheap and easy way to include protein, fiber, iron, and zinc in your diet. Choose legumes that are dry or no-salt added canned varieties.

5. Make your own

Try making a batch of falafel or meat-free patties in advance and freezing them so that they're ready when you're short on time. Home-made versions are not only lower in salt, but they taste better too.

Here are some great low salt plant-based recipes to get you started:

  • Corn Avocado Salad
  • Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Soup
  • Zucchini Cakes with Tomatillo Cilantro Salsa
  • Broccoli Salad
  • Cauliflower Soup with Mushrooms, Cumin & Truffle Oil
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