As supermarkets cash in on Veganuary, just how healthy are vegan meals?

For many of us, January marks the annual Veganuary challenge, when we are encouraged to give up eating meat for a month for environmental and health reasons.

While there is evidence that intensive meat and dairy farming contributes to the release of atmosphere-warming gases, research also suggests that cutting down on red meat and eating vitamin- and mineral-packed vegetables and plant-based foods can help reduce our risk of obesity and developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Around three million people tried Veganuary last year, and it’s estimated that more will follow suit in 2022.

The number of Britons switching to a plant-based diet has nearly doubled in a decade.

Supermarket shelves are now stocked with more ready-made vegan fare than ever before. But does being vegan automatically make these dishes healthy? 

Judith Keeling asked Duane Mellor, a dietitian and lead for nutrition at Aston Medical School, Birmingham, and dietitian Clare Thornton-Wood, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, to scrutinise a selection. We then tasted and rated them. 

Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Sausages  

Pack of six, £2.20, most supermarkets.

Per two-sausage serving: Calories, 128; saturated fat, 0.8g; protein, 15.5g; fibre, 5.5g; sugar, 0.6g; salt, 1.2g

What is it? ‘Seasoned vegetarian sausages made with rehydrated textured soya protein.’

Expert verdict: ‘These compare well with regular pork sausages,’ says Clare Thornton-Wood. 

‘They are high in fibre — a serving provides 20 per cent of an adult’s daily requirement — and lower in saturated fat compared with standard sausages; there’s 0.8g per serving compared with around 10g for the pork variety.

‘The protein content is similar to pork sausages but they have 50 per cent fewer calories. On the downside, salt content is high — two would give a quarter of your daily salt intake, similar to regular sausages.

‘Also, the inclusion of ingredients that you wouldn’t normally find in your kitchen, such as red iron oxide (a colouring) and rehydrated textured soya protein, means these count as an ultra-processed food (UPF). UPFs have been linked to rising rates of obesity.’ 


Taste test: Very similar texture and seasoning to a pork sausage, though much lighter and less greasy. 7/10

Linda McCartney's Vegetarian Sausages

Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Sausages

Wasabi Home Bento Veg Gyoza Noodle Bowl 

300g, £3,

Per serving: Calories, 475; saturated fat, 0.9; protein, 12.4; fibre, 7.7g; sugar, 28.1g; salt, 3.68g

What is it? ‘Fried wheat noodles with cabbage, white onion, carrot and green pea, served with fried vegetable gyoza [a type of dumpling], teriyaki sauce sachet and seared red pepper and yellow pepper.’

Expert verdict: ‘As it contains both dumplings and noodles, this bowl is very carbohydrate-heavy,’ says Duane Mellor.

‘It’s also low in protein compared with other noodle bowls that contain either chicken or tofu, and barely provides even one of your five-a-day as the vegetables make up a small proportion of the serving.

‘My main concern, though, is the salt content. There’s over half the recommended daily limit of salt in a serving, which can lead to high blood pressure.

‘And, if you take a close look at the sauces, a lot of the ingredients are types of sugar, including fructose syrup and molasses, meaning a serving contains seven teaspoons of sugar.’ 


Taste test: A bland bowl of brown, sticky stodge. 2/10

Wasabi Home Bento Veg Gyoza Noodle Bowl

Wasabi Home Bento Veg Gyoza Noodle Bowl

Plant Pioneers Battered Fishless Fillets  

Pack of two, £2.50,

Per fillet serving: Calories, 207; saturated fat, 1.9g; protein, 4.8g; fibre, 3.9g; sugar, 2.4g; salt, 0.83g

What is it ‘Jackfruit and king oyster mushrooms in a crispy batter. Source of fibre.’

Expert verdict: ‘Jackfruit is commonly used as a replacement for meat or fish in vegan ready meals because its flaky, pull-apart texture is quite similar,’ says Duane Mellor.

‘The problem is it doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of protein. This fillet has a third the protein of a regular fish finger per serving — about 5g instead of 15g.

‘It also lacks the vitamins and minerals you would get from real fish, such as vitamin B12 and iodine, although you could compensate for this by eating some chickpeas or beans with it.

‘Also, this contains ingredients such as tapioca starch and fully refined soya bean oil, which means it counts as an ultra-processed food in a similar way to a regular fish finger.’ 


Taste test: Fish-like texture and a slightly fishy taste, but not very filling. 6/10

Plant Pioneers Battered Fishless Fillets

Plant Pioneers Battered Fishless Fillets

Foodologie 5-a-Day Plant Pot Chilli Verde  

400g, £2.40,

Per serving: Calories, 158; saturated fat, 0.3g; protein, 7.6g; fibre, 9.8g, sugar, 13g; salt, 1.1g

What is it? A ‘super nutritious plant-based twist on a classic chilli. Five of your five-a-day, fat free, high in fibre and vitamin C.’

Expert verdict: ‘This is a good source of fibre due to all the vegetables it contains, including peppers, carrots and tomatoes, which amount to all your five-a-day in single pot,’ says Duane Mellor.

‘And, at 1g, the salt content is also lower than most ready meals.

‘Though the sugar level appears high, most of it seems to come from vegetables and concentrated vegetable juices — onion juice, for instance, is high in sugar.

‘You might consider bumping up the protein, which is less than 15 per cent of your daily needs, by adding some canned chickpeas or lentils.

‘But, all-round, a good option.’ 


Taste test: A hearty, if slightly sweet, stew with a fiery kick. 7/10

Foodologie 5-a-Day Plant Pot Chilli Verde

Foodologie 5-a-Day Plant Pot Chilli Verde

Tesco Short Cut Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce 

410g, 35p,

Tesco Short Cut Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

Tesco Short Cut Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

Per half-can serving: Calories, 116; saturated fat, 0.2g; protein, 2.2g; fibre, 1.3g; sugar, 9.5g; salt, 0.7g

What is it? ‘Durum wheat pasta carefully cooked in a delicately seasoned sauce.’

Expert verdict: ‘Although this canned meal doesn’t advertise itself as a vegan option, it certainly qualifies,’ says Clare Thornton-Wood.

‘It is low overall in fat, saturated fat and medium for salt. But, at 116 calories per serving, it is too low in calories to make a decent lunch for most people.

‘As there is very little protein or fibre, and it’s based on white refined spaghetti, you’re likely to feel hungry again pretty soon afterwards.

‘Consider adding wholemeal, seeded toast and vegan cheese for a more nutritious meal.’ 


Taste test: The tomato sauce is much too sweet. 3/10 

Wicked Kitchen Red Thai-Inspired Vegetable Curry 

410g, £3.50,

Wicked Kitchen Red Thai-Inspired Vegetable Curry

Wicked Kitchen Red Thai-Inspired Vegetable Curry

Per serving: Calories, 416; saturated fat, 5.2g; protein, 9.8g; fibre, 4.8g; sugar, 17.7g; salt, 1.7g

What is it? ‘Cooked jasmine and black rice, pak choi, chargrilled red pepper, sweet potato, babycorn, sugarsnap peas and soya beans in a red Thai-style curry sauce, served with a coconut milk and lime dressing.’

Expert verdict: ‘There is a good range of vegetables in a rainbow of colours, providing fibre [good for the gut], vitamin A [which boosts the immune system and vision and is important for skin health] and vitamin C [which is an antioxidant and protects cells from damage] in this dish,’ says Clare Thornton-Wood.

‘It is also low in saturated fat and the black rice is higher in protein than white or brown rice and provides some plant-based iron, needed to make haemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen around the body.

‘One portion, however, contains nearly a third of your daily salt limit, as well as some added sugar.’ 


Taste test: Zingy curry with satisfyingly crunchy chunks of veg. Quite filling. 8/10

Heinz Five Beanz

415g, £1.15,

Per half-can serving: Calories, 179; saturated fat, 0.1g; protein, 11.2g; fibre, 8.8g; sugar, 9.6g; salt, 1.2g

Heinz Five Beanz

Heinz Five Beanz

What is it? ‘Mixed beans [haricot, pinto, cannellini, borlotti, red kidney] in tomato sauce. Counts as one of your five-a-day.’

Expert verdict: ‘This is a variant on the standard baked bean — a dish that is naturally vegan anyway,’ says Duane Mellor. ‘Canned beans are a great source of protein and fibre — you’ll get a quarter of your day’s fibre and protein needs, plus one of your five-a-day, in a serving.

‘The variety of beans doesn’t provide any measurable health benefits but does make it more palatable.

‘Note, it contains around a quarter of your daily salt limit and 2 tsp of added sugar (the recommended daily limit is 6 tsp) — so you might want to look for a low-sugar, low-salt option, available from some supermarket own-brands.’ 


Taste test: Similar to regular baked beans, but more interesting. 7/10

Cook Spiced Apple and Blackberry Torte 

500g, £8.50,

Per 83g serving: Calories, 213; saturated fat, 6g; protein, 2.9g; fibre, 0.78g; sugar, 15.1g; salt, 0.1g

What is it? ‘Torte made with polenta, ground almonds and spiced Bramley apple, topped with blackberries.’

Expert verdict: ‘No one expects a cake to be the healthiest dish but as desserts go, this has only 213 calories per portion [compared with 397 calories for a portion of regular Bramley apple and blackberry crumble by the same manufacturer],’ says Clare Thornton-Wood.

‘At three teaspoons of sugar per slice, from added sugar, fruit and fruit juice extracts, it has actually got less sugar than some of the savoury products featured here and, for an occasional treat, it’s not a bad bet.

‘But this is close to being labelled as high in fat (with 15.8g per 100g; 17.5g per 100g is rated high)because of the coconut oil and nuts, and contains less than 1g of fibre.’ 


Taste test: Light and almondy with a cake-like texture. Quite moreish. 9/10

Cook Spiced Apple and Blackberry Torte

Cook Spiced Apple and Blackberry Torte

Ginsters Quorn Vegan Peppered Steak Slice

Ginsters Quorn Vegan Peppered Steak Slice

Ginsters Quorn  Vegan Peppered Steak Slice 

170g, £1.30, most supermarkets.

Per serving: Calories, 406; saturated fat, 10.8g; protein 10g; fibre, 3.9g; sugar, 2.7g; salt, 1.1g

What is it? ‘Marinated Quorn with potato and onion, cooked in a pepper and coconut milk sauce with a hint of mustard, wrapped in light puff pastry.’

Expert verdict: ‘Quorn is made from mycoprotein, a type of fungus, which is a source of fibre and actually con-tains more immune-boosting zinc per 100g than a beefburger,’ says Clare Thornton-Wood.

‘However, mycoprotein has much less vitamin B12 [which is vital for nerve function] and fatigue-fighting iron than beef mince.

‘While this slice is probably slightly healthier than a similar meat product, it still provides nearly 20 per cent of your daily salt intake and more than 50 per cent of your recommended daily saturated fat intake. Overall, not a very healthy option. ’ 


Taste test: Crisp pastry filled with a peppery sludge. 4/10 

M&S Plant Kitchen Vegan 3 Cheese Stonebaked Pizza

416g, £4.20,

Per half-pizza serving: Calories, 518; saturated fat, 12.1; protein, 10.6g; fibre, 5.8; sugar, 9.8g; salt, 1.9g

What is it ‘A stone-baked pizza base topped with tomato sauce and a trio of cheezes [vegan cheeses].’

Expert verdict: ‘This vegan “cheese” pizza is slightly lower in fat and calories than the standard version, but contains exactly the same amount of salt and saturated fat [around 12g per half pizza — more than half a woman’s recommended daily intake and over a third of a man’s], says Duane Mellor.

‘The saturated fat comes from the coconut oil-based vegan cheeses —which count as ultra-processed foods, which are linked with obesity.

‘These pizzas are also much lower in calcium and protein than standard ones.’ 


Taste test: A nice pizza with a slightly artificial ‘cheese’ taste. 7/10

M&S Plant Kitchen Vegan 3 Cheese Stonebaked Pizza

M&S Plant Kitchen Vegan 3 Cheese Stonebaked Pizza

Plantlife Mushroom and  Chestnut Burgers

227g, £2,

Per 113g serving: Calories, 191; saturated fat, 1g; protein, 5.1g; fibre, 7.9g, sugar, 3.7g; salt, 0.87g

What is it? ‘A seasoned mix of mushrooms, potato, chestnuts and onions.’

Expert verdict: ‘These are low in saturated fat and medium-rated for overall fat and salt,’ says Clare Thornton-Wood.

‘And, while meat-based burgers won’t contain any fibre, these are a good source, with one burger providing more than a quarter of your daily intake, good for gut health.

‘They do, however, have only about 25 per cent of the protein you’d find in a beef-based burger — and very little of the iron or zinc needed for a healthy immune system.

‘So, while there are some pluses, you will need to think about topping up on protein in this meal.’ 


Taste test: Delicately flavoured with decent chunks of chestnut. 6/10

Plantlife Mushroom and Chestnut Burgers

Plantlife Mushroom and Chestnut Burgers

Bol Fresh Veg Pot Creamy Japanese Katsu Curry 

345g, £2, sainsburys.

Per serving: Calories, 373; saturated fat, 2.8g; protein, 10.4g; fibre, 10.4g; sugar, 14.1g; salt, 1.17g

What is it? ‘Chargrilled sweet potatoes, brown rice and edamame beans in a creamy katsu sauce with hints of warming ginger. Source of fibre, two of your five-a-day.’

Expert verdict: ‘This is low in fat and a great source of fibre at 10g a pot, mainly from the beans and brown rice — providing a third of your daily needs,’ says Clare Thornton-Wood.

‘Fibre, from the beans and brown rice, can help with constipation and also in lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol.

‘The mix of leafy greens, sweet potato and carrot probably counts as two of your five-a-day, although exact quantities aren’t stated.

‘That said, it’s still a processed meal — with three teaspoons of sugar in the pot, which makes it less healthy than something you’d prepare at home.’ 7/10

Taste test: Creamy and satisfying, if a little bland.

Bol Fresh Veg Pot Creamy Japanese Katsu Curry

Bol Fresh Veg Pot Creamy Japanese Katsu Curry

Plant Pioneers Lasagne

400g, £1.50,

Per serving: Calories, 446; saturated fat, 3.2g; protein, 16g; fibre, 7.9g; sugar, 12.9g; salt, 0.94g

What is it? ‘Layers of rich soya ragu, pasta and silky white sauce.’

Expert verdict: ‘This has two-thirds less saturated fat than you’d get in a regular beef lasagne, which is good as too much saturated fat has been linked with being bad for heart health,’ says Duane Mellor.

‘But it’s surprisingly high in sugar at 12.9g per serving. While some of this will come naturally from the indredients, some is added sugar, eg barley malt extract, which is used to enhance colouring and flavour but is rapidly broken down when digested, to form maltose, a type of sugar.

‘This meal also lacks the iron you would get from red meat, which your body needs to produce red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Soya mince doesn’t typically provide an adequate replacement source — unless it has been fortified, which this hasn’t.

‘The combination of refined ingredients and preparation method makes this an ultra-processed meal.’ 


Taste test: Bland and rather slimy, although the soya mince has a similar texture to real beef. 4/10

Plant Pioneers Lasagne

Plant Pioneers Lasagne

M&S Plant Kitchen Sweet N Sour No Chicken

400g, £3.80,

Per serving: Calories, 616; saturated fat, 1.6g; protein, 16.4g; fibre, 6.4g; sugar, 30.4g; salt, 2.1g

M&S Plant Kitchen Sweet N Sour No Chicken

M&S Plant Kitchen Sweet N Sour No Chicken

What is it? ‘Tender pieces of pea protein coated in crispy batter, eggless fried rice and a sweet and sour sauce.’

Expert verdict: ‘This has moderate amounts of protein and fibre, although you could increase these by adding some fresh veg or edamame beans to your plate,’ says Duane Mellor.

‘But it’s not called sweet and sour for nothing — one serving contains over 30g of sugar, more than seven teaspoons, in fact, which exceeds the recommended daily limit.

‘Although some of this sugar might be natural from the vegetables, a lot will be added sugar in the sauce — this can be deduced because sugar is high up in the ingredients list.

‘Like most vegan alternatives, it also lacks the iron and vitamin B12 you’d get in a meat-based version.’ 


Taste test: Stodgy and tasteless protein balls in a sickly rich sauce. 2/10

Cook Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Curry  

330g, £4.75,

Per serving: Calories, 218; saturated fat, 0.8g; protein, 10.2g; fibre, 10.6g; sugar, 10.9g; salt, 2.67g

What is it? ‘Oven-roasted peppers with cauliflower and spinach in a gently spiced chickpea and lentil sauce.’

Expert verdict: ‘This provides a decent amount of protein — over a sixth of your daily needs in a serving, needed for building muscle,’ says Duane Mellor.

‘It also provides fibre (a third of daily needs) and around two of your five-a-day.

‘But like many prepared meals it’s also high in salt, with nearly half your daily limit in a serving.

‘There’s also 2 tsp of sugar per serving, most of which is added sugar.’ 


Taste test: Delicious, filling and mildly spicy. 9/10

Cook Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Curry

Cook Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Curry

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