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How healthy is a vegan Christmas?… and can you really stomach soya turkey made with coconut milk?

The vegan bug bit last year, with thousands of Britons turning to plant-based diets in a bid to save the environment, shed a few pounds and feel generally healthier. And 12 months on, it shows no signs of abating.

According to a random sample of 2,000 Britons, one in four of us is planning a fully vegan Christmas dinner this week.

It’s not just a millennial fad: half of baby boomers will have at least one vegan dish on the Christmas table.

And they’ll be spoilt for choice, with supermarkets pulling out the stops, offering all sorts of weird and wonderful veggie alternatives – including ‘turkey’ joints fashioned out of soya beans and ‘veganettone’ made from shea butter. Vegan substitutes are supposedly lower in calories, fat and sugar than the meaty counter-parts – ideal considering we are told being overweight makes us more vulnerable to severe Covid.

But will pigs in blankets made from coconut milk, powdered peas and a host of additives really lighten your Christmas load? And, more to the point, do they taste good?

We road-tested a range of vegan Christmas treats that the high street has to offer.

Are they as healthy as you might think and worth swapping in, or should you stick to the traditional version? 

M&S PLANT KITCHEN VEGAN FESTIVE WREATH, £10

Cals (per portion)

Fat

Sat fat 

Sugar

Fibre

Protein

Salt 

480

 33g

 4.6g

 10.1g

 18.2g

 14.2g

 2.5g

WHAT’S IN IT?

To make this squashed vegetable ‘sausage’, M&S has mixed roasted mushrooms, pumpkin seeds and chestnuts, added rice and lentils and topped it off with a cranberry and orange sugary glaze. There’s a host of Christmas spices, stabilising chemicals to prolong shelf life and, oddly, three types of added sugar.

VERDICT

A port ion of this veggie wreath as healthy, if not slightly more, as a dinner of turkey, vegetables and potatoes cooked in a tablespoon of oil – low in calories and fat, but high in fibre, and containing a decent amount of protein.

And you get a boost of zinc – essential for the immune system, brain function and healthy skin – from the pumpkin seeds. But there are two and a half teaspoons of sugar – more than two Oreo biscuits’ worth and nearly half a day’s intake of salt, six small bags of crisps’ worth.

TASTE TEST

Texturewise, it’s a bit like a clump of bird food, but it tastes OK. Note of warning to those who suffer from IBS: it’s fully of trigger foods that may result in a sudden toilet break.

SWAP OR NOT? 

SWAP.

MORRISONS VEGAN NO PIGS IN BLANKETS, £2.50

Cals (per 2 sausages)

Fat 

Sat fat 

Sugar 

Fibre 

Protein 

Salt 

79 

3.4g 

1.3g 

1g 

2.3g 

4.8g  

Traces 

WHAT’S IN IT?

Mushrooms provide much of the ‘meat’ of these sausages, along with powdered peas, coconut milk, palm oil and flour. Each ‘pig’ is wrapped in a rubbery sheath made from protein extracted from peas, more oil, flavourings and sugars.

VERDICT

Despite the fact these ‘pigs’ are mostly made from vegetables, they contain the same calories as a pork and bacon equivalent, and roughly two crisp packets’ worth of saturated fat.

This is down to the plant oil and coconut milk – which is far higher in fat than dairy. Although there’s only a quarter of a teaspoon of added sugar, it is unnecessary – the naturally sweet meat equivalent contains none.

TASTE TEST

The ‘pig’ has a rich, meaty flavour and – with a similar texture to sausage – and could even be mistaken for the real thing. But the ‘blanket’ tastes of.. well, nothing, and lacks the crisp sweetness of bacon.

SWAP OR NOT? 

NOT.

SAINSBURY’S VEGAN ROAST GRAVY, £1.75

Cals (per 1/2 pot)

Fat

Sat fat

Sugar

Fibre

Protein

Salt 

61

1.1g

0.2g

5.4g

1.4g

1.2g

0.9g 

WHAT’S IN IT?

This is essentially vegetable stock with added spices, such as turmeric, nutmeg and thyme, flour and oil to thicken, and yeast extract sweetened with sugar, to give a ‘meaty’ flavour.

VERDICT

Gravy is notoriously high in salt, with manufacturers adding tablespoons of the stuff to boost flavour.

The vegan alternative is just as bad: there’s as much salt added here as in a serving of Sainsbury’s Beef & Red Wine Gravy – that’s more than in a packet of Walker’s Ready Salted crisps. 

There’s also more than twice the sugar of the beef version – a teaspoon and a half. You also miss out on roughly one egg’s worth of muscle-boosting protein from meat traces.

TASTE TEST

Thick, gloopy, over-salted vegetable stock. Not unpleasant when poured over potatoes, just don’t expect it to taste anywhere near similar to the real thing.

SWAP OR NOT? 

NOT.

SAINSBURY’S 12 SAGE & ONION VEGAN STUFFING BALLS, £2.50

Cals (per 2 balls)

Fat

Sat fat

Sugar

Fibre

Protein 

56

1.9g 

0.9g

0.5g

1.7g

2.3g 

WHAT’S IN IT?

Mainly mushrooms and onions, padded out with water and flour extracted from powdered peas and rice. Preservatives and a pinch of sweetener extend the shelf life, and emulsifiers bind everything together – instead of eggs and sausage meat.

VERDICT

The strange chemicals and preservatives sound daunting but most are derived from plants and proven to be perfectly safe in studies by the Food Standards Agency. 

And replacing meat with vegetables and emulsifiers saves you a digestive biscuit’s worth of calories and saturated fat compared to the original version. You also get more fibre in two stuffing balls than in a portion of spinach. If there’s one swap worth doing, it’s this one.

TASTE TEST

They have a pleasing Christmasy smell. But they taste sweeter than normal and are mushy in texture, failing to hold their shape properly like meaty stuffing balls.

SWAP OR NOT? 

SWAP.

GO VEGAN ORGANIC PANETTONE, £11.19

Cals (per 60g slice)

Fat 

Sat fat

Sugar

Fibre

Protein

Salt 

WHAT’S IN IT?

A fancy version of the sultanapacked Christmas favourite, but made with trendy fermented sourdough and ‘natural’ sweetener agave. Shea butter – a jellylike substance extracted from sunflowers – is used to replace the butter and eggs.

VERDICT

There’s slightly less sugar here than a slice of regular pannettone and half the fat. But there’s still three teaspoons’ worth of sweet stuff, a third of the daily limit, and roughly the same calorie count. 

Don’t be fooled by the trendy ‘clean eating’ ingredients such as agave, which is said to be ‘healthier’ than sugar. Studies show it is far from it. As for sourdough – some say it benefits the healthy bacteria in the gut, but studies are inconclusive.

TASTE TEST

Could easily be mistaken for the real thing, with an airy, soft texture and fruity taste.

SWAP OR NOT? 

SWAP.

MORRISONS BEST BEEFLESS WELLINGTON, £5

Cals (per portion)

Fat

Sat fat 

Sugar

Fibre

Protein

Salt 

361

19.8g

10.3g

6.3g

4.4g

8.8g

1.2g 

WHAT’S IN IT?

Finely chopped mushroom combined with pureed parships and chestnuts, dried apricots, cranberry sauces, flour and plant fats, making a Wellington-shaped mass, which is then spread with wholegrain mustard, then cased in puff pastry, made with plant oils.

VERDICT

Thanks to heaps of fatty palm oil in the pastry, there’s a third of a man’s daily intake of artery-clogging saturated fat here – the equivalent of three McDonald’s hamburgers – and more than in a meaty version made without added chicken liver pate.

The cranberry sauce – presumably added to boost the flavour of the veg – takes the sugar count up to the equivalent of three digestive biscuits. It’s not filling enough to be worth the fat and sugar, either, with only half the amount of protein the NHS recommends you need per meal. 

One plus: it’s a good boost of fibre – more than in a slice of wholemeal bread, and more than in a portion of regular beef Wellington.

TASTE TEST

Perfectly flaky pastry, but the cranberry, apricot and chestnut is far too sweet. And the cranberry flavour overwhelms the other spices.

SWAP OR NOT?

SWAP.

SAINSBURY’S VEGAN CHOCOLATE AND CARAMEL STAR, £8

Cals (per serving)

Fat

Sat fat 

Sugar

Fibre

Protein 

291

22.5g

12.7g

17.9g

1.6g

1.4g 

WHAT’S IN IT?

Dairy is replaced with a combination of chemical gelling agents – including one extracted from carob trees – and four different plant-based fats, to make this panna cotta-style dessert.

It’s sweetened with artificial ingredients, then coated in dark chocolate made with soya-based emulsifiers, instead of dairy fat.

VERDICT

Chocoholics are better off with a slice of rich chocolate log, which has 40 per cent fewer calories and half the saturated fat. In fact, thanks to the fatty plant-based oils, there’s as much saturated fat in this pud as three Krispy Kreme doughnuts. 

The sweeteners total the same sugar as about half a can of cola. Christmas pudding would be healthier, too – it’s got a third less saturated fat than this vegan alternative, and three times the fibre.

TASTE TEST

This is a delightful, indulgent treat and you wouldn’t know it was dairy-free if it weren’t for the lack of depth of flavour in the ‘panna cotta’. Moreish, though.

SWAP OR NOT? 

NOT.

ASDA EXTRA SPECIAL VEGAN TURKEY-STYLE JOINT WITH CARAMELISED ONION STUFFING, £5

Cals (per portion)

Fat

Sat fat 

Sugar

Fibre

Protein

Salt 

169

10g

1.2g

2g

7.5g

10g

0.9g 

WHAT’S IN IT?

This is a concoction of soya and wheat protein, thickeners, flavourings and herbs such as nutmeg and thyme, with stuffing made from caramelised onions, soya protein and rice flour.

VERDICT

Despite all the talk about how fattening Christmas dinner is, the average stuffed turkey breast is not particularly calorific – and certainly contains fewer calories than this vegan alternative.

According to the NH S’s calorie counts, a portion of regular roast turkey is only roughly 120 calories.

Even when you add in roast potatoes, stuffing and a couple of pigs in blankets, a real turkey dinner is still only about 50 calories over the amount the NH S recommends you consume for lunch.

And if you replace real turkey with the soya-based stuff, you’ll get a third less protein and three times the fat. The wheat protein and rice flour adds three bananas’ worth of fibre, protective against bowel cancer, but you’d get a good dose of the nutrient via a couple of roasties and veg anyway.

TASTE TEST

The ‘turkey’ has a meaty chew and pleasant rosemary seasoning. The stuffing is the highlight though, with a mix of rich spices you’d expect from a traditional stuffing.

SWAP OR NOT? 

NOT.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk