Ever found yourself in the meat aisle, holding up two packages of sausages, wondering which one is the healthier choice? Or maybe you’ve been at a weekend BBQ, savouring a delicious snag but feeling a pang of guilt about whether it’s bad for you.
If you’re wondering whether sausages are healthy or not, you’re in the right place. Let me caveat this article by saying I LOVE a good sausage. My kids love them, my hubby loves them, and boy, does my dog love them!
Unfortunately, these seemingly innocent party favourites harbour some nasty little secrets!
They may be budget-friendly, but sausages aren’t the healthiest meat to eat. Sausages can be up to 35% fat and 50% fillers in Australia, and usually contain preservatives and additives.
In this blog post, I’ll do a deep dive into the world of sausages. As a nutritionist, I’ve got some tips to help you choose healthier options if you want to keep sausage on the family menu.
Knowledge is power, so read on before choosing snags for your next meal.
Are Sausages Healthy or Unhealthy?
When it comes to nutritious foods, sausages are low on the list. They tend to be very high in fat and salt. Depending on where you buy them, sausages can be packed with poor-quality meat, fillers and preservatives.
If you’re aiming to lose weight, the high fat content in sausages means they’re best avoided. Sausages can contain up to 35% fat in Australia, which is often just listed under ‘meat’ on the label.
The combination of red meat, saturated fat and preservatives also make sausages a highly inflammatory food.
Fresh sausages aren’t technically ‘processed meat’ in Australia, as nitrate levels are limited by law. However, they still tend to contain preservatives and other artificial additives, which are best avoided. You would be much better off eating unprocessed lean meat over sausages.
Frankfurts, saveloys and other deli sausages are definitely processed meats, though. Recent research from the World Health Organisation shows that eating 50g of processed meat per day raises your colorectal cancer risk by 18%. That’s pretty scary!
Overall, try to limit your intake of sausages – once a fortnight maximum is a good guideline. If you do eat them regularly, make sure you choose leaner varieties with minimal additives.
Read on to learn more about the ingredients in sausages and which are best for you.
What is in Sausages?
Sausages are made from meat, fat, fillers and seasoning, in a case which is often made from intestines. In Australia, 50% of a sausage must be made of meat, half of which should be fat-free – so sausages can be up to 25-35% fat and 50% fillers.
Sausages from reputable butchers can be healthier, but be aware that unpackaged sausages (the ones you see in the display trays) aren’t required to have a nutrition label. Butchers are required by law to give the ingredients if asked (and it’s worth asking).
Let’s take a closer look at each of these sausage ingredients:
Meat in Sausages
Sausages are made from a variety of meats, including beef, pork, chicken and lamb. Unless the type of meat is identified, you may be eating ‘mystery meat.’
In Australia, when you see the word ‘meat’ in the ingredients list, it refers to any part of buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit, or sheep. Mmmmm, who doesn’t love a bit of camel for lunch?
Half the meat in sausages must be fat-free meat flesh, but this can include “the skeletal muscle of any slaughtered animal, which can include any attached animal rind, fat and connective nerve, blood, blood vessels and, in the case of poultry, the skin”.
Offal is allowed – including brain, heart, kidney, liver and tongue – although it must be declared in the ingredients list when used.
Fat in Sausages
Fat is common in sausages to bind the ingredients together and add flavour. The fat content in sausages ranges from 10% to 35%, and it’s mainly saturated fat – the type that’s bad for our health.
Often, fat is just included in the ingredients list under ‘meat’, so it’s hard to tell how fatty your sausages are. Be sure to check the nutrition label for how many grams of fat are included, or ask about the fat content before purchasing sausages from a butcher.
Fillers in Sausages
Fillers and binders are usually made up of rice, flour, maize, hydrolysed vegetable protein, potato or breadcrumbs. More fillers mean sausages will be lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates.
Fillers such as breadcrumbs started to be used after WWII when there were meat shortages. Cheap and mass-produced sausages often have a higher percentage of fillers, so they’re cheaper to make.
Sausage casings or skins are made of natural intestines or collagen, processed from pig or beef hide.
If you’ve ever wondered, plant-based sausage casings are usually made from cellulose derived from wood pulp.
Additives in Sausages
Sausages can contain a range of additives, including preservatives, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers and colours. These may be listed on the nutrition label but can be sometimes difficult to identify.
In Australia, preservatives like sulphur dioxide and potassium sulphites are permitted in sausages. This is limited to 500mg/kg maximum, but this can still cause a reaction in people sensitive to sulphites.
Flavourings can be natural, like garlic, onions, herbs and spices. However, sausages can also contain artificial flavours and flavour enhancers like MSG. Food colourings can be added to make sausages look more appealing – often red for beef or brown for pork.
Salt is often added to sausages as a preservative and flavour enhancer, but it can also be naturally present in meat.
What is the Healthiest Sausage to Choose?
The trick is to look for sausages that contain lean meat and fewer additives. Extra-lean chicken or kangaroo sausages tend to be the healthiest sausage option. Leaner sausages are also often lower in calories and salt.
Follow these guidelines to choose healthier sausages:
- Less than 5g saturated fat per 100g
- Less than 450mg sodium per 100g
- At least 70% meat
- Ingredients list the type of meat (for example, beef or chicken)
- As few ingredients as possible
A fresh good quality sausage means you will see a mixture of lean meat and fat marbled. The skin should be plump and dry (avoid slimy sausages), and you should be barely able to see the skin. A natural casing will not be as shiny as a processed one.
It’s also worth trying to find sausages made from organic meat, as these usually contain fewer additives and more natural flavours.
Let’s take a look at different kinds of sausages:
Healthiest Sausages (Ranked Best to Worst)
Keen to find out which sausages I’d recommend as a nutritionist? I’ve ranked the most common types of sausages below.
They should still be consumed in moderation, but knowledge is power – and now you know which snags to snag for your next BBQ!
I’ve included some nutrition data below from the Australian Food Composition Database. Note that these are for standard sausages, so lean or extra-lean sausages will be lower in fat. Make sure you check the ingredients list and nutrition label before buying!
Here is my ranking for the healthiest sausages to eat:
1. Kangaroo Sausage
Per 62.5g sausage:
- Energy: 265 kJ
- Protein: 10.65 g
- Fat: 1.15 g (0.45g saturated)
- Carbs: 2.55 g
- Sodium: 381 mg
Kangaroo is a very lean meat – in fact, it’s top of my list of the healthiest meats! Kangaroo sausages are typically much lower in fat and calories than other types of sausage. Kangaroo is also a great source of protein and iron. You can buy kangaroo sausages in supermarkets, so they’re not tricky to track down.
2. Chicken Sausage
Per 77g sausage:
- Energy: 644 kJ
- Protein: 14 g
- Fat: 9.2 g (2.83 g saturated)
- Carbs: 3.8 g
- Sodium: 567 mg
Chicken sausages are usually lower in fat and calories than other kinds of sausages. The nutrition facts above are for standard chicken sausages, but extra-lean chicken sausages are the best choice. At the supermarket, you’ll see the top ingredient listed as just ‘chicken’, but remember, half of this can be fat! Ask your butcher if you can’t find lean chicken sausages at the supermarket.
3. Beef Sausage
Per 77g sausage:
- Energy: 700 kJ
- Protein: 13.2 g
- Fat: 11.5 g (5.38 g saturated)
- Carbs: 2.9 g
- Sodium: 612 mg
Beef sausages tend to contain more fat than chicken or pork sausages. When choosing beef sausages, you should look for those with a higher proportion of lean beef and less fat. If it suits your budget, ask your butcher for grass-fed beef sausages, as this option is healthier than grain-fed beef.
4. Lamb Sausage
Per 77g sausage:
- Energy: 726 kJ
- Protein: 12 g
- Fat: 12.4 g (5.72 g saturated)
- Carbs: 3.8 g
- Sodium: 808 mg
Lamb sausages are usually higher in fat than chicken or beef sausages. They also contain more salt than any other sausage on this list! You’ll probably have to visit your butcher if you’re looking for lower-fat lamb sausages. They also tend to have more additives, so look for natural flavourings like herbs and spices where possible.
5. Pork Sausage
Per 77g sausage:
- Energy: 825 kJ
- Protein: 12.7 g
- Fat: 14.9 g (6.06 g saturated)
- Carbs: 3.5 g
- Sodium: 588 mg
Pork sausages tend to be highest in fat, so tread with caution! It’s also hard to find lean pork sausages, but you might have some luck at your local butcher. If you want a healthier pork sausage, ask your butcher what cuts of pork are used to make them – pork loin or tenderloin are leaner cuts.
6. Vegetarian & Vegan Sausages
Per 77g sausage:
- Energy: 644 kJ
- Protein: 13.7 g
- Fat: 7.6 g (0.9 g saturated fat)
- Carbs: 6 g
- Sodium: 487 mg
Vegetarian sausages are becoming a popular alternative to meat-based sausages. Compared to the others on the list, they’re much lower in saturated fat, but the total fat content is similar to a lean sausage.
The downside of vegetarian sausages is they’re much more processed. Meat substitutes are often made of fillers, additives and artificial flavours to mimic the taste of meat. Many are made from tofu – and soy is a known endocrine disruptor.
If you’re looking for a vegan sausage, always check the ingredients list. Look for the highest percentage of vegetables, legumes and nuts, avoiding additives and preservatives.
7. Frankfurts (Hot Dogs)
Per 57g sausage:
- Energy: 591 kJ
- Protein: 8.2 g
- Fat: 11.3 g (4.28 g saturated)
- Carbs: 1.9 g
- Sodium: 439 mg
Is it any surprise that processed hot dogs aren’t the healthiest pick? For one, they’re usually high in fat and sodium. They’re also often made with poor-quality meat and contain preservatives and artificial colours.
As a processed meat, deli frankfurts or cocktail sausages also increase your risk of bowel cancer. Yikes! You’re much better off choosing a fresh sausage than a frankfurter.
Sausage FAQs Answered by a Nutritionist
Here are some of the most common questions I’m asked about sausages:
What is the healthiest way to cook sausages?
The healthiest way to cook sausages is to grill or bake them rather than fry them. This helps to avoid adding oil and increasing the fat content. Poke a few holes in your sausages to let some fat run out. I like to use an angled grill to let the fat drain off.
How often should I eat sausages?
Eating sausages once per fortnight or less is the best choice for a balanced diet. Even with lean sausages, moderation is key – stick to a small portion (about 80 to 120g). You should also limit your total red meat consumption to 3-4 times per week.
Are low-fat sausages healthier?
Lean sausages are lower in fat and calories than regular sausages, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthier. They can contain added sugar, salt or emulsifiers to compensate for the lower fat content. Always check the label or ask your butcher about the ingredients used.
Can I freeze sausages?
Yes, you can freeze uncooked sausages for up to two months. For freshness, wrap sausages tightly and place them in an airtight container to freeze. When you’re ready to cook them, simply thaw them overnight in the fridge and cook as usual. It isn’t safe to refreeze thawed or cooked sausages.
Sausages are a crowd-pleaser. Since they’re full of fat and salt, it’s no wonder they’re so delicious!
As the cost of living impacts food budgets, I often see sausages recommended as a way to save money on meat. While they can replace meat in many recipes, they’re not the healthiest swap, either. There are plenty of cheap healthy cuts of meat to choose from, so I’d recommend those as your first option.
Sausages can still be a tasty and filling family meal, and they’re helpful when trying to feed fussy kids meat. They still contain a decent amount of their daily recommended protein and iron intake, so it’s better than no meat at all.
The healthiest option is to buy sausages from your local butcher, as they are usually made with less additives, preservatives and fillers. However, you should ask about the fat content, as it can vary significantly. The leaner, the better! You can also make your own homemade sausages or rissoles instead of buying them.
If you must buy supermarket sausages, read the ingredients list carefully. Look for natural, fresh ingredients, low fat content (both total and saturated), and minimal artificial flavours and preservatives.