Some things are obviously vegan friendly, like fruit, vegetables and pulses. Just like some things are clearly not vegan, like meat, fish and eggs.
Unless you’re eating a completely natural, whole foods diet, you can’t be sure what exactly has gone into your food, or how it’s made, without doing a bit of research.
The modern diet, whether vegan or not, often includes some processed and manufactured foods. The first thing that might come to mind when thinking about processed foods are fizzy drinks, sweets, sausages etc. But not all processed foods are unhealthy! Without processing techniques we wouldn’t have oats, fortified cereals, yoghurt, pickles…
Something I had to learn quickly when first becoming vegan, was to check labels and identify items that weren’t vegan friendly because of how they are made. I’ve definitely been caught out before, buying items I just assumed were vegan.
Luckily for you, I’ve put together this list to help any budding vegans with this minefield (note: it doesn’t include items that are obviously not vegan like foods that list meat, fish, eggs, milk or any other animal product on the ingredients list). There may be some items listed that surprise you – I know I learnt a lot just putting it together!
You might think, how can sweets not be vegan? It’s just sugar right? Wrong.
You may or may not know, but a lot of sweets – especially the gummy kind – contain gelatine, a product made from animal bones (usually pig or cow). This was a big shock to my husband Oli, who is a big fan of fizzy cola bottles and marshmallows. To his joy, there are now lots of vegan sweet shops that sell vegan friendly versions of old favourites. I always go for chocolate, but if I do feel like sweets I prefer old english style sweets/hard candies – which are more likely to be accidentally vegan. If sweets do contain gelatine it will be stated on the ingredients list, just remember to check!
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient we need to be healthy. Our bodies create it from sunlight, but for those of us who don’t live in year-round sunshine, it’s sometimes recommended to take a vitamin D supplement. However, vitamin D supplements, or vitamin D3 to be exact, are often made from lanolin, which comes from sheep wool. This type of vitamin D can also be used to fortify products (I’m looking at you orange juice). To get your vegan supplement fix, there’s vitamin D2, which is made from yeast, or there are vegan friendly vitamin D3 supplements made from the lichen plant.
3. White sugar
This is mainly in the US, but white sugar can be processed with animal bones (or bone char) to make it whiter. Realisation: nothing is safe.
It can be tough to find out if alcohol is vegan friendly or not, as legally (in the UK at least) ingredients lists aren’t mandatory.
I thought it was a thing of the past, but some wines and beers are still filtered using isinglass – aka fish bladders. This is to make them seem brighter or clearer. Red wine can also sometimes contain milk protein or egg to remove bitter flavours. Cider isn’t always safe either, some contain gelatin or cochineal (made from beetle shells) for clarification.
Nowadays, as the demand for vegan products has increased, some alcohol manufacturers are using alternative vegan-friendly filtration methods and will add a vegan label – so you don’t have to miss out on a bit of plonk.
Barnivore.com is a fantastic resource to discover vegan alcohol. As a general rule, any beer from Germany and Belgium will be vegan, as brewing in these countries is governed by brewing purity laws that state they can only contain water, hops, malted barley and wheat.
Some vegan certified alcoholic drinks:
- Stella artois
- Jack Daniels
- Captain Morgan Rum
5. Soft drinks and fruit juices
There are soft drinks and fruit juices that are not vegan friendly. For me, I think this was the most surprising item on this list!
Some soft drinks and juices are clarified with gelatine, some contain vitamin D, and some use fruit coated in shellac (not the nail varnish brand, but a type of wax to preserve fruit) that’s made from the resin of the female lac bug. Pink lemonade and grapefruit juices specifically are sometimes coloured with carmine (shells of cochineal bugs). I’ve done some research, and I’ve made a list of some non-vegan soft drinks to look out for*:
- Innocent juices and smoothies (can contain shellac)
- Lilt (contains fish gelatine)
- Lilt zero (contains fish gelatine)
- Kia-Ora orange squash (contains fish gelatine)
- Schweppes orange squash (contains fish gelatine)
- Five alive apple five fruit blend (contains fish gelatine)
- Johnsons Juice co. orange juice
- Purdey’s Rejuvenate (contains beeswax)
- Diet pepsi (only suitable for vegetarians)
Okay, so I know this isn’t a food, but I thought it was worth adding this as a bonus to the list! I think I can safely say that cigarettes are unhealthy. On top of just generally being bad for you, it might surprise you that some cigarettes aren’t vegan. They can contain something called castoreum, which is a secretion from glands close to a beaver’s rectum. I’ll say it again – a beaver’s rectum. I don’t know why, and I don’t want to know how, but it’s a fact.
My advice – if you are in doubt if an item is vegan or not, check for a vegan label. If it doesn’t have one (and there are no animal products on the ingredients list), it may have been manufactured using animal products.
I’ve spoken about setting boundaries previously, and it’s relevant here too. For some people, it is enough for an item to not contain any animal products, and for others, they won’t consume anything that has been in contact with animal products.
This article is designed to make you aware of some products that use animal products you might not be aware of – not to tell you what to do. Ultimately it’s your decision what to do with the information. Remember, be kind, do what’s right for you, and it’s all zen!
*true at the time of writing. If you notice a mistake, or if anything has changed – please get in touch and we shall correct it!