How to Check Food Labels for Non-Vegan Ingredients

How to Check Food Labels for Non-Vegan Ingredients

When I first made the decision to move to a plant-based diet (and it is still totally a work in progress) I thought I’d find it easy enough.

Okay, I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.

But, because I was used to food restrictions (being vegetarian & gluten-free already), I kinda thought I’d find it not-too-difficult, at least.

I’m used to being awkward at restaurants, bringing emergency snacks wherever I go, and poring over labels and ingredients lists.

But crikey, there are a whole bunch more ingredients to worry about when you’re avoiding all animal products.

ingredients labelling for vegan products
A recent, 100% plant-based recipe: tofu scramble

There is no legal definition of vegan food (though some vegan ingredients – specifically milk and eggs, as well as fish, shellfish and molluscs – are considered part of the 14 major allergens and must, therefore, be clearly labelled).

The FSA (food standards agency) does, however, give guidance on the use of the term ‘vegan’ in food labelling:

The term ‘vegan’ should not be applied to foods that are, or are made from or with the aid of animals or animal products (including products from living animals)

Manufacturers, retailers and caterers should be able to demonstrate that foods presented as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ have not been contaminated with non-vegetarian or non-vegan foods during storage, preparation, cooking or display

Food Standards Agency/ The National Archives

If you’re struggling with some of the same things I was am, in terms of checking for non-vegan ingredients on labels, this list could be a great start.

This is nowhere near an exhaustive list though. Some great resources for what to look out for on vegan labels are the Animal Derived Ingredients list from PETA, and the app Is It Vegan? which lets you scan a barcode to discover whether or not a product is listed as suitable for vegans.

Another way to make sure the products you buy are actually vegan, of course, is to look out for recognised vegan trademarks, like that of The Vegan Society, Vegan Action or The Vegetarian Society (Vegan Approved).

Vegan Foods

The obvious non-vegan food & ingredients to avoid

  • Meat (including red meat, white meat and poultry)
  • Fish (fish is meat. This also includes shellfish & molluscs)
  • Dairy (milk and its byproducts: cheese, yoghurt, butter, ice cream, etc.)
  • Eggs (both chicken & other bird eggs, and caviar (fish eggs))
  • Honey (and other products from bees)

Non-Vegan Ingredients to look out for on labels (if you’re eating vegan)

  • Albumen (usually made from egg white, can also be made from milk, muscles & blood))
  • Amino acid (aka L-Cysteine; made from hair and feathers)
  • Aspic (made from clarified meat, fish or vegetable stock with gelatine)
  • Beeswax (produced by bees)
  • Bone char (made from animal bones)
  • Carmine (red food colouring made from beetles)
  • Casein (milk proteins)
  • Castoreum (a flavouring made from the scent glands of beavers)
  • Cochineal (another name for Carmine: red food colouring made from beetles)
  • Collagen (made from the skin, bones & connective tissue of animals)
  • (some) Disodium Inosinate (a flavouring, usually made from meat and fish but a can be made from tapioca starch)
  • (some) E-numbers (some of these additives can be made using animal products, including:
    • E120 (cochineal)
    • E322 (lecithin)
    • E422 (glycerol)
    • E471(mono & diglycerides)
    • E542 (edible bone phosphate)
    • E631 (disodium inosinate)
    • E901 (beeswax)
    • E904 (shellac)
    • E920 (amino acids or l-cysteine
  • Edible bone phosphate (made from cow & pig bones)
  • Elastin (made from the neck ligaments & aorta of cows)
  • Gelatin (made from animal skins & bones)
  • (some) Glycerol or Glycerol (often plant-based, but can be made from animal fat)
  • Isinglass (made from fish bladders
  • Keratin (proteins made from horns, hooves, heathers, hair, etc.)
  • L-Cysteine (aka amino acid; made from hair and feathers)
  • Lactic acid (often made from plants, but can be made from blood, muscle tissue or milk)
  • Lactose (milk sugars)
  • Lanolin (made from sheep wool)
  • Lard (animal fat)
  • (some) Lecithin (while usually made from soya, can be made from eggs)
  • (some) Mono & diglycerides (can be made from animal fat)
  • (some) Omega-3 (usually made from fish; vegan alternatives can be made from algae)
  • Pepsin (made from pig stomachs)
  • Propolis (produced by bees)
  • Rennet (made from the stomach of calves, lambs & goats)
  • Royal Jelly (made from the throat gland of bees)
  • Shellac (made from female insects)
  • (some) Stearic acid (usually made from animal fat; vegan alternatives can be made from vegetable fats or cocoa/shea butter)
  • Tallow (animal fat)
  • (some) Vitamin D3 (Usually derived from fish oil or lanolin, vegan alternatives can be made from lichen)
  • Whey (a byproduct of cheesemaking)

This list was compiled both from my own knowledge and also with the help of some other resources which you might find helpful, including Vegan.com, Vegan Food & LivingThe Vegan Society, The Spruce Eats, I Love Vegan, Veganuary.com, KidsHealth and PETA.

If you want to stay 100% vegan & plant-based, remember to check the ingredients list, but don’t get obsessed.

It can be easy to lose sight of the goal (reducing the amount of animal products being consumed) if you get caught up in absolute purity. Your health has to come first, including your mental health, so go easy on yourself.

‘Slipping up’ isn’t a personal failing, its just part of life, and if you’re doing your best to reduce the amount of animal product consumed, then you’re doing a pretty damn good job already.

How to Read Food Labels for Non-Vegan Ingredients

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