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High sugar levels in vegan ready meals, warns campaign group

High sugar levels in vegan ready meals, warns campaign group. (Image: Shutterstock / Prostock-studio)
Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

Tue. 28 February 2023


Action on Sugar, a campaigning group which informs and influences sugar reduction policies in the UK, warns that vegan ready meals can contain more than seven times as much sugar as meat-based alternatives. They urge consumers to check food labels before purchasing these seemingly healthy options.

The sugar advisory group has highlighted a butternut, almond and pecan nut roast from the Plant Kitchen range at Marks & Spencer, which has 7.7g of sugar per 100g, compared with M&S’s roast beef Yorkshire pudding meal, which contains 1.1g of sugar. Additionally, the Plant Kitchen version of spaghetti Bolognese has 3.6g of sugar per 100g compared with 2.3g in the meat version.

High sugar levels in vegan food isn’t exclusive to ready meals. Action on Sugar also found that vegan food at restaurant and fast-food chains can also be high in sugar and salt, including pizzas, chilli, burgers and pies.

Nutritionist Zoe Davies, of Action on Sugar, said products labelled 'vegan' and 'plant based' are not necessarily healthy, while there is research to suggest that many people wrongly believe they are.

Despite the decreasing levels of tooth decay over the past decades, it still remains one of the most common problems in the UK, second only to the common cold. It is estimated that 1 in 3 adults suffers from dental caries and close to 1 in 4 children equally suffer from some form of tooth decay. World Health Organisation (WHO) research shows evidence that dental caries incidence is lower when free sugars intake is less than 10% of energy intake.

Dental Hygienist and Nutritionist Juliette Reeves comments: “Recent research suggests a link between dental erosion and the vegan diet. An increased consumption of acidic foods in the diet seems to be the culprit. In addition, high levels of hidden sugars increase the risk of dental caries. The vegan diet is particularly at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency in the long term.

B12 is found only in animal produce, and although the body needs relatively small amounts, gastro-intestinal conditions, prolonged antibiotic use, potassium chloride supplementation and some cholesterol lowering drugs can adversely affect B12 synthesis and absorption from the gut. Processed foods and the refining of grains vastly reduces B vitamin levels and inadequate protein intake can also affect B vitamin status. Avoiding processed foods and ensuring the inclusion of a wide range of fresh foods such as cereals, nuts and pulses provides adequate complete proteins, good vitamin B complex intake and lower sugar, salt and saturated fats in the diet.

“So, whilst the adoption of a vegetarian or vegan diet has health benefits such as a lower mean BMI, cholesterol, and a lower mortality from ischaemic heart disease, simply avoiding animal products or relying on processed readymade meals can be detrimental. The reality is that plant-based diets require considerable nutritional competence, determination and perseverance with diet and supplementation regimens to avoid both oral and systemic health consequences.”


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