Vegan Health

Vegans: How To Read Food Labels Like A Pro

Trying to determine if a food is vegan or not can be challenging. This article will make it east for you to read food labels like a pro.

I still remember the first time I was in the grocery store looking at this product I wanted to buy and I saw “E542” on the food label. I was really mad. I mean, it’s bad enough giving animal products other names to conceal they are derived from animals. But at least you usually use words. Now you are just using codes? What the heck is “E542” anyways?

how to read a nutrition label vegan

Well I’m glad to tell you right now that “E542” is Bone Phosphate. Why don’t they just put bone phosphate on the label you may ask? Because then it would be too easy to know if the product was vegan or not. And ‘Bone Phosphate’ doesn’t sound like something you would like to eat or give to your children (or be anywhere near, for that matter).

So I did a little diffing, and these are the main ingredients that you find in labels.

1. Gelatin

This one sounds harmless enough right? You will often see it in desserts and marshmallows. Just reading this innocent looking word isn’t enough to let you know that it’s actually made from beef and cow parts. And it’s not just from those parts that is bad. It’s how they get it from those parts.

Gelatin is a protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones with water. It is usually obtained from cows or pigs. Gelatin is used in shampoos, face masks, and other cosmetics.

You will see this one everywhere and in almost everything. That’s why it’s first on our list! Learn it. Know it.

2. Carmine

Carmine is also called cochineal, cochineal extract, crimson lake or carmine lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120. It is routinely added to food products such as yogurt, candy and certain brands of juice, the most notable ones being those of the ruby-red variety

If the product you are looking to buy is a pretty red color then it’s likely it contains stuff from dead beetles. You will find this in things like ice cream, beverages like grape juice and other dark colored foods. It’s made from the cochineal beetles and their red color is used to make your food look yummy.

It may make the color look better but it takes a lot of foods that would be vegan otherwise and makes them not vegan.

I’m always surprised how many vegans don’t know about the ingredient on the next page. It’s in nearly everything people buy to eat. Find out what it is, and why it isn’t vegan on the next page below.

3. Sugar

Sugar is vegan. But then they refine it. In the refining process they use bone char for filters, which is cattle bone which works with unrefined sugar to create a ‘pure’ white sugar. This type of sugar now totals more than 50% of sugar we consume. I summarize below but you can read a fuller explanation here: VRG

A bone char filter acts like a crude filter and is most often used first in cane sugar refining. To sugar scientists, it is a ‘fixed bed adsorption’ filter, meaning that particles unlike itself stick to it. It is also the most efficient filter for removing colorants; the most frequently found colorants are amino acids, carboxylic acids, phenols, and ash.

The bone char is not as good at removing impurities such as inorganic ions, so after being put through bone char, sugar may be passed through activated char- coal or an ion exchange system as well. The sugar also goes through several different filters to remove larger particles. Nevertheless, bone char filters are the most efficient and most economical whitening filters, thereby maintaining their position as the industry’s cane sugar filter of choice.

So yes, it takes the bones of dead animals to refine the sugar in the food they are selling. Instead of refined sugar you want to get products make with organic sugar, 100 per cent beet sugar, unrefined cane sugar or 100% raw sugar.

4. Albumen

This is a protein found in egg whites. It’s also in animal blood and milk. Companies will use this ingredient as a thickener to add texture to processed foods. Of course labeling it as protein from animal blood makes too much sense. So they call it Albumen.

5. Animal Rennet

This well disguised ingredient is an enzyme that is taken from a young animal’s stomach. It can come from various animals but the most widely used is a calf. (probably right after they rip it away from it’s mother so they can steal it’s milk.) It is used in dairy products such as milk or cheese. This is also why things like whey are not vegan. You can find things with “non-animal rennet” and it will be labeled that way clearly.

6. Animal Phosphate

Bone phosphate is derived from the steaming of animal bones.It can be used as an anti-caking agent that prevents certain food particles from sticking together, or it can be an emulsifier. This preserves a blend of substances that usually cannot mix. Animal phosphate can be present as a filler in tablets!


7. E Codes

Have you seen these “E” codes and wondered what they were? Many times they cleverly hide animal ingredients. Below are some of the more common ones to look out for. You can find them in a wide variety of products in the grocery store.

E120 – Cochineal coloring (red food coloring)
E441 or E485 – Gelatine.
E542 – Bone phosphate.
E635 – Disodium 5′ ribonucleotides
E1105 – Lysozyme (comes from eggs).

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