As veganism grows in popularity and vegan food becomes more accessible in mainstream retail outlets, one question on the savvy buyer’s lips is likely to be: how healthy is vegan food anyway?

Some brands are addressing these concerns by reducing sugar and salt levels in processed vegan food, removing allergens and adding ingredients beneficial for the vegan diet. Also of concern is the calorie content of product offerings.

How healthy is vegan food?

3% of UK respondents described their daily diet as vegan, a moderate figure, but still bigger than the global 2%, according to a third-quarter 2018 survey by GlobalData.

Growth in the vegan food sector is mostly due to the rise in consumers who describe themselves as flexitarian, those willing to stick to a vegan diet for a period of time or a few days each week.

This has led to a number of major brands rolling out more vegan products and private labels launching vegan options to their line-ups. While these products have direct animal welfare implications, not all vegan foods are healthier than the standard options, a fact noticed by the consumer.

Questions over M&S Plant Kitchen

M&S’s new Plant Kitchen vegan range has come under fire over its allergy labelling that not contradict the vegan nature of the range, but also suggest a risk for allergy sufferers.

Complaints appeared in social media earlier in January that some meal options included words that said in small print “not suitable for milk or egg allergy sufferers” – seeming to imply that non-vegan ingredients may have been included in the range, bringing into question issues about the manufacturing processes.

While some consumers do not question the ethical aspect of the range, it is clear that certain health-related attributes are being increasingly scrutinised.

Greggs and vegan processed food

Greggs’ recently popular vegan ‘sausage’ roll has been reported to have more salt than the original and contains nearly a gram of sugar, which makes its health benefits debatable. There is increasing awareness that some vegan products on the market contain highly processed ingredients or excess levels of sugar and sodium.

While it is true that consumers want vegan products to be healthier alternatives to meat and dairy, the lack of clarity over this issue may help put some buyers off.

True vegan food

Future trends in vegan food can be expected to follow the same precept that consumers apply to food in general: eat whole, real foods with as little processing as possible.

Vegan food products will need to keep this doctrine central to their products, as many have been doing for decades.