Centre for Food Safety and Consumer Council Joint Study
Sodium, Sugar, Fat and Energy Contents in Local Vegetarian Dishes

Abstract

Excessive intake of sodium (salt) may have higher risk of developing hypertension. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, etc. In addition, frequent consumption of too much sugar can lead to excessive energy (calorie) intake and dental decay. Excessive energy intake can also in turn increase the risk of overweight and obesity. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and the Consumer Council (CC) thus have conducted a joint study to examine the nutrient content (including sodium, sugar, fat and energy, etc) of vegetarian dishes provided by local food premises, in order to increase consumers' understanding on the nutrient content in local vegetarian dishes, as well as to encourage the trade to take actions to reduce the sodium, sugar and fat contents of vegetarian dishes.

The Study

  1. The study covered 10 types (99 samples) of non-prepackaged vegetarian dishes collected from vegetarian restaurants and non-vegetarian restaurants that provided vegetarian dishes during June to July 2020. These samples were tested for the contents of sodium, sugar, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and energy by the Food Research Laboratory.

Sodium content

  1. The mean, minimum and maximum sodium contents per 100 g of the 10 types of vegetarian dishes are summarised in the table below. None of the vegetarian dish samples were considered high in sodium (> 600 mg/100 g). Among the 10 types of vegetarian dishes, the mean sodium content of “Veggie burger (素漢堡包)” ranked the highest, followed by “Vegetarian fish fillet in sweet corn sauce (粟米素魚塊)”. The relatively higher sodium content in these dishes could be due to the use of condiments and raw ingredients (such as vegetarian meat) with relatively higher sodium contents during cooking.
Vegetarian dish types No. of sample Sodium content (mg/100g)
Mean Minimum Maximum

Veggie burger (素漢堡包)

10

420

350

470

Vegetarian fish fillet in sweet corn sauce (粟米素魚塊)

9

380

240

510

Vegetarian wheat gluten (Lo-Mei) platter (齋鹵味拼盤)

10

360

230

450

Braised eggplant (素魚香茄子)

10

350

170

480

Buddha's delight (羅漢齋)

10

330

240

410

Vegetarian Fukien style fried rice (素福建炒飯)

10

290

220

390

Pasta with truffle and mushroom (松露野菌意粉)

10

270

130

430

Braised tofu (紅燒豆腐)

10

240

190

280

Sweet and sour vegetarian pork with pineapple (菠蘿素咕嚕肉)

10

210

110

330

Vegetarian taro fish (芋頭魚)

10

200

50

360

Overall

99

300

50

510

Sugar content

  1. The mean, minimum and maximum sugars content per 100 g of the 10 types of vegetarian dishes are summarised in the table below. Most (a total of 79) of the vegetarian dish samples were considered low in sugar (≤ 5 g/100 g). Among the 10 types of vegetarian dishes, the mean sugar content of “Sweet and sour vegetarian pork with pineapple (菠蘿素咕嚕肉)” ranked the highest, followed by “Vegetarian wheat gluten (Lo-Mei) platter (齋鹵味拼盤)”. The relatively higher sugar content in these dishes was mainly due to the use of relatively large amount of sugar when preparing sweet and sour sauce, as well as the sugar naturally present in pineapple.
Vegetarian dish types No. of sample Sodium content (mg/100g)
Mean Minimum Maximum
Sweet and sour vegetarian pork with pineapple (菠蘿素咕嚕肉)

10

10 7.9 12
Vegetarian wheat gluten (Lo-Mei) platter (齋鹵味拼盤)

10

7.1 4.4 10
Veggie burger (素漢堡包)

10

3.4 1.1 6.1
Braised eggplant (素魚香茄子)

10

1.8 0.36 2.9
Vegetarian fish fillet in sweet corn sauce (粟米素魚塊)

9

1.8 0.97 3.7
Buddha's delight (羅漢齋)

10

1.3 0.66 2.0
Pasta with truffle and mushroom (松露野菌意粉)

10

1.2 0.42 2.3
Braised tofu (紅燒豆腐)

10

0.83 0.46 1.3
Vegetarian taro fish (芋頭魚)

10

0.81 0.25 1.9
Vegetarian Fukien style fried rice (素福建炒飯)

10

0.70 0.32 2.1

Overall

99

2.9 0.25 12

Fat and energy contents

  1. The mean (range) of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and energy contents per 100g of the 10 types of vegetarian dishes are summarised in the table below. Among 99 vegetarian dish samples, one sample (“Vegetarian taro fish (芋頭魚)”) was classified as “high” in total fat content (> 20 g/100 g). Among the 10 types of vegetarian dishes, “Vegetarian taro fish (芋頭魚)”and“Vegetarian fish fillet in sweet corn sauce (粟米素魚塊)” contain the highest total fat contents and both types of dishes are deep fried.
Vegetarian dish types No. of sample Mean (Range)
Total fat (g) Saturated fat (g) Trans fat (g) Energy (kcal)
Vegetarian taro fish (芋頭魚)

10

17 (11-23) 2.2 (1.2-5.7) 0.19 (0.082-0.50) 270 (210-330)
Vegetarian fish fillet in sweet corn sauce (粟米素魚塊)

9

13 (7.6-20) 1.9 (0.75-3.2) 0.11 (0.060-0.17) 180 (130-240)
Veggie burger (素漢堡包)

10

12 (9.3-16) 4.9 (3.4-6.0) 0.072 (0.026-0.14) 220 (200-250)
Braised eggplant (素魚香茄子)

10

10 (5.6-13) 1.2 (0.42-2.1) 0.12 (0.051-0.17) 120 (67-140)
Sweet and sour vegetarian pork with pineapple (菠蘿素咕嚕肉)

10

9.0 (5.9-14) 1.6 (0.73-2.2) 0.11 (0.037-0.21) 180 (130-230)
Vegetarian wheat gluten (Lo-Mei) platter (齋鹵味拼盤)

10

8.5 (5.9-12) 1.1 (0.62-1.9) 0.098 (0.066-0.14) 200 (160-230)
Braised tofu (紅燒豆腐)

10

6.5 (4.6-9.8) 0.89 (0.67-1.5) 0.036 (0.018-0.067) 94 (74-130)
Pasta with truffle and mushroom (松露野菌意粉)

10

4.8 (1.9-9.8) 1.4 (0.23-5.8) 0.038 (0-0.25) 130 (80-180)
Buddha's delight (羅漢齋)

10

3.3 (0.74-7.3) 0.49 (0.13-1.0) 0.022 (0-0.063) 60 (34-110)
Vegetarian Fukien style fried rice (素福建炒飯)

10

3.2 (2.4-4.1) 0.51 (0.39-0.69) 0.025 (0.012-0.043) 130 (100-140)

Overall

99

8.7 (0.74-23) 1.6 (0.13-6.0) 0.081 (0-0.50) 160 (34-330)
  1. To find out the sodium, sugar and total fat contents of sweet and sour sauce, CFS sampled sweet and sour sauce at the same time when collecting samples of “Vegetarian taro fish”. Results show that the sodium and sugar contents of sweet and sour sauce are relatively high. Assuming that all sweet and sour sauce provided by the food premises are added, the sodium, sugar and total fat contents of “Vegetarian taro fish” are increased by 37%, 560% and 4.5%, respectively.

Comparison of nutrient contents in Veggie burger and Beef burger

  1. The study compared the sodium, sugar, fat and energy contents in “Veggie burger (素漢堡包)” with those in Beef burger. The mean sodium content in “Veggie burger (素漢堡包)” is higher than that in Beef burger. On the other hand, the mean total fat and energy contents in “Veggie burger (素漢堡包)” are lower than those in Beef burger. The nutrient content in vegetarian dishes is based on the raw ingredients, seasonings, amount of oil used, and etc.

Contribution to WHO's recommended daily intake upper limits

  1. The study also simulated scenarios of consumers eating out in a vegetarian restaurant, and assessed the nutrient intake of a consumer under the simulated scenarios. The results showed that, even with different combinations of vegetarian dishes, the sodium intake for the whole meal would exceed one-third of WHO's recommendation on daily intake upper limit for sodium. This reflects that the Public should beware of the raw ingredients, cooking methods and nutrient contents of vegetarian dishes, and maintain a balanced and varied diet so as to prevent excessive sodium intake. The Trade should reduce the sodium content in vegetarian dishes through recipe reformulation in order to facilitate consumers to reduce their sodium intake when eating out.

Advice to Consumers

  • Make reference to the results of this study and CFS' Nutrition Information Inquiry System (NIIS) to choose vegetarian dishes that meet individual dietary needs.
  • Other than the sodium content in vegetarian dishes, also pay attention to other nutrient contents such as protein, sugar, fat and energy to maintain a balanced diet with variety.
  • Ask for “less salt” or “less salty” option of the food when ordering.
  • Taste the food before dipping in sauce. Dip lightly in sauce, if needed.
  • Vegetarian dishes that are deep fried have higher total fat contents. Reduce the intake of these vegetarian dishes.
  • Beware of the portion size of vegetarian dishes and control the amount consumed. When the portion size is too large, consumers should consider ordering fewer dishes, or store the leftover in a container and keep it under refrigeration as soon as possible, instead of finishing all foods in one sitting.

Advice to the Trade

  • Reduce the sodium, sugar and fat contents of vegetarian dishes through modification of preparation methods and use of ingredients by making reference to the CFS' “Trade Guidelines for Reducing Sodium in Foods” and “Trade Guidelines for Reducing Sugar and Fats in Foods”. For example, use herbs (such as pepper, star anise, cinnamon powder and etc.) to replace salt and other high salt or high fat seasonings.
  • Serve sauce in separate containers customers to add according to their tastes.
  • Offer vegetarian dishes in smaller portion sizes for consumers to choose based on their needs.
  • Pay attention to the sodium and fat contents of the raw ingredients. Choose raw ingredients (such as vegetarian meatball, vegetarian duck, vegetarian ham and etc.) with lower sodium and fat contents.
  • Choose healthier vegetable oils (such as corn oil, canola oil, olive oil and peanut oil).  Avoid vegetable oils that are high in saturated fat (such as coconut oil, palm oil and vegetable oil in solid state).

More Information

  1. The related article is published in the CHOICE MAGAZINE (Issue 532) released on 17 February 2021 (Chinese only).

February 2021
Risk Assessment Section
Centre for Food Safety
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department