The additives in some plant-based food cast doubt on health claims
Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Esme´ O’Keeffe
Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:
“Given the time of the year, in that many people are thinking of trying a vegan diet, many for perceived health reasons, it’s important to realise that many commercial vegan products are highly processed containing chemicals that may be detrimental to health.
An important quote from the article below: “People feel if they’re going vegan, they’re doing something healthy, but it is possible to be a very unhealthy vegan. There are so many foods vegans can eat that are highly processed.” The Centre for Consumer Freedom, in the USA, say chemicals used in vegan processed products can also be found in fire-extinguishing compounds, laxatives and pesticides.
So do your research before you embark on major dietary change (of any persuasion) and make sure that what you choose to eat is balanced and varied, contains enough macronutrients, in terms of protein, fat and carbohydrate and micronutrients such as vitamins minerals and fibre.
It may be possible for some people to follow plant based/vegan diets, with minimal negative impact on their health, but many clinicians worry that for many people they will not be getting appropriate amounts of essential amino acids (from protein), haem iron, B12, Vitamin D and other nutrients that animal products contain, never mind the potential negative effects of highly processed vegan food, flagged up by this article”
Some of the most popular vegan meals, from plant-based sausage rolls to cauliflower curries, are under fire for being “ultra-processed” and for containing more chemical additives than conventional meat and fish products.
Food companies are cashing in on the vegan boom with products containing “healthier and delicious” ingredients but rely on a cocktail of chemical food additives to replicate the taste, appearance and texture of meat and fish.
Joanna Blythman, an investigative food journalist and author of Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets, said: “Vegan products are often just high-protein flours with gums, glues, water and a range of additives. A lot contain a rogues’ gallery of additives and dodgy ingredients that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.”
The imitation meat products with chemical additives include:
- Gardein Golden Fishless Fillets sold at Sainsbury’s and This Isn’t Chicken Plant-Based Goujons sold at Waitrose contain titanium dioxide (E171) to whiten the products to look like fish and chicken. This colouring additive — also used in industry as a paint pigment — was removed from Dunkin’ Donuts in America in 2015 after a health campaign and was banned as a food additive in France this month over safety concerns.
Tesco Plant Chef Roast Cauliflower Masala has 14 chemical additives, including the yellow gelling agent polysorbate 80 (E433), also used in soaps and cosmetics, and propylene glycol (E1520), a non-toxic chemical used in antifreeze and e-cigarette fluid. Tesco’s Free From Chicken Tikka Masala has two chemical additives.
- Fry’s Vegan Sausage Roll sold at Sainsbury’s contains four additives, including butylated hydroxyanisole (E320). America’s National Toxicology Programme has concluded the preservative “is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”, but regulators say it is safe in small quantities in food.
Many processed vegan products use phosphate to mimic the texture of meat and fish. A 2012 review, Phosphate Additives in Food — a Health Risk, warned of a link between phosphate consumption and heart and kidney problems.
One of the most popular vegan products is the sausage roll from Greggs. The company said it contains pectins (E440), a natural additive used for texture, and calcium sulphate (E516), a firming agent.
The racing driver Lewis Hamilton is backing a new vegan burger bar, Neat Burger in west London, but the restaurant did not respond to questions on the E-numbers in its meals.
There are now 600,000 vegans in Britain, compared with about 150,000 in 2006, says the Vegan Society. Charlotte Cuenot, 24, a charity worker in London who is trying to eat a mainly plant-based diet, said: “People feel if they’re going vegan, they’re doing something healthy, but it is possible to be a very unhealthy vegan. There are so many foods vegans can eat that are highly processed.”
American farmers, often criticised for their use of chemicals, are targeting “fake” vegan foods over their additives, helping fund a campaign co-ordinated by the Washington-based lobbyist Richard Berman and his organisation the Centre for Consumer Freedom. They say chemicals used in vegan processed products can also be found in fire-extinguishing compounds, laxatives and pesticides.
Berman said: “There are more of these additives in these products than you would normally find in conventional processed foods. Nobody knows the long-term impact of combining all these chemicals in one product.”
The British Meat Processors Association also has concerns about the vegan market. Nick Allen, its chief executive, said: “Names of meat products such as sausages, bacon, chicken and steaks should have legal protection.”
Samantha Calvert, of the Vegan Society, advised eating mainly fresh fruit and vegetables, with pulses and whole grains. She said processed vegan foods were often bought by “flexitarians” who were cutting out some meat. “These convenience foods should be treats. They are not harmful in moderation if the bulk of the diet is whole food and plant based. Whether you follow a meat or vegan diet, you can still buy junk food. Nobody is saying veganism is a miracle diet.”
Andy Shovel, of meat-free food firm This, said titanium dioxide had undergone “24 comprehensive studies; each time it has been declared safe”. The Food and Drink Federation, representing food manufacturers, declined to comment.