I am one of those weird people who loves to food shop. I can easily spend an hour in the store just picking up a few bits. I love searching for new vegan products and there are a lot of them lately (2019 is definitely the year to be vegan yaaaas!)
But it can seem really daunting shopping as a vegan, especially since most of the time you have to check the ingredients list on every products you pick up just to make sure it’s vegan. And sometimes, it’s not that clear & it can get quite confusing and frustrating.
But don’t panic, because I have created this vegan food label guide to show you how to easily & quickly find out if something is vegan or not. And once you know what to look out for, you will be a pro vegan label reader in no time & you won’t have to spend hours in the supermarket scratching your head trying to figure out what the hell you’re doing.
Look out for labels:
Is it marked as vegan?
Does it have a “suitable for vegans” label? Since the major growth of veganism, a lot of brands are opting to place the vegan mark on their products. It’s clear, easy to spot & means that you don’t have to read the ingredients. A lot of big supermarkets have started using the vegan labelling (thank the vegan lord) which is reaaaally handy, but not all supermarkets have jumped on the vegan train yet.
Is it marked as vegetarian?
Look out for the “suitable for vegetarians” label. A lot of products you’ll come across are vegan, even though they are labelled as vegetarian. If it’s marked as suitable for vegetarians then all you need to do is look out for any ingredients that are in bold.
Companies have to legally make allergens very clear on ingredient lists, which is brilliant for vegans because if a product is made with milk or eggs, it will be clearly labelled in bold and will stand out when skimming through ingredients. So, if it says suitable for vegetarians & nothing is bold on the ingredients list, it’s more than likely vegan!
But it says “may contain milk & eggs”… Does that mean it’s not vegan?
If a product has been made in a factory that also handles products made with milk/eggs then companies legally have to state that on the label (in case someone has an allergic reaction) but this doesn’t mean that the product you’re looking at has any milk or eggs in it – companies are just covering their own backs basically.
I choose not to worry about it because otherwise the food I eat would be very limited, and I don’t believe that eating a mostly plant-based vegan diet should be limiting. Hummus for example, is sometimes labelled as “vegetarian” because if the hummus includes lemons, the lemons used in the ingredients may have been waxed. I choose to let these small things slide, but everyone has their own opinion.
Okay so obviously the easiest way to make sure what you’re buying is vegan is to buy all the good stuff like fruits, veggies, grains, rice, beans, lentils, nuts & seeds & limit the amount of processed & packaged foods that contain unrecognisable ingredients. Buuuuut let’s be honest, we all love our snacks & processed foods every once in a while, and I think it’s healthy to have a balanced diet.
What if I’m not 100% sure?
If you’re really not sure if a product is vegan, then there a few things you can do:
- Google the product or the ingredient you’re unsure of, or buy it & keep the receipt in case you later find out it’s not vegan.
- Alternatively you can always take a photo of the product & post it on a vegan Facebook group. I usually use the “100% UK Vegan Products”, everyone’s really helpful & you get a response instantly. If you’re not from the UK, search for vegan groups in your country. I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to join a community of like minded people. I am always finding a new product or learning something new from these groups and my vegan journey wouldn’t be half as fun without them!
- You can also use the “is it vegan” app to scan the product you’re unsure about. It gives you a response immediately, but some items aren’t on the app yet, so I try and stick to reading the ingredients.
- Another way to find out is to Tweet the company directly as i think that’s the best way to get in contact with a big company for fast responses.
Hidden animal ingredients to look out for:
Albumen – the white of an egg.
Aspic – similar to gelatine, made from meat & fish.
Casein – found in milk.
Cod liver oil – derived from the liver of cod fish.
Collagen – from the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals.
Eggs – chicken period.
Elastin – more connective tissue from animals.
Gelatine – made from boiling skin, cartilage & bones from animals.
Honey – food for bees, made by bees.
Isinglass – fish bladder.
Keratin – made from animal hair, hoofs, feathers, claws & horns.
Lactose – a sugar made from milk.
Lard/tallow – fat from animals, mainly cows & pigs.
Milk – for calves, made by mumma cows.
Pepsin – the stomachs of pigs.
Propolis – honey bees produce this through the mixture of saliva & beeswax.
Royal Jelly – honey bee secretion.
Shellac – obtained from the female lac bug.
Vitamin D3 – from fish-liver oil or sheep’s wool.
Whey – the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.
It’s also good to look out for E numbers. I’ve listed them all below, but to be honest, nobody has the time to memorise E numbers, so you can use this list for future reference!
There are so many different labels nowadays like “free from”, “dairy-free” & “meat-free”, which doesn’t necessarily mean its vegan. Be careful with these products because they can be misleading!
I like to double check the ingredients, even if I’m already pretty sure it’s vegan. There have been multiple times I’ve bought something thinking it’s vegan, to later find out it’s not, and it really bugs me that I’ve spent money on it. Plus, companies can change the ingredients of their products without notice!
Heinz have recently released a statement that their sugar free beans are not vegan (eh?), yet they didn’t say what the hidden animal ingredient is that makes them not suitable for vegans. It’s quite worrying to think that they can put anything into our food & we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
And that just about covers it! Did you found this guide helpful? Leave a comment below & let me know! And if you’re looking for more tips on living as a vegan then head over to “how to survive your first week as a vegan”.