A Vegan Guide To Reading Food Labels
Transitioning into veganism has so many components to master.
Sometimes you just want a step-by-step guide to tell you exactly what to do, what not to do, and how to do it.
I want to make going vegan as easy as possible for you.
Because, that’s what I would’ve wanted when I went vegan.
If you are brand new to veganism and have no idea how to even start transitioning, I got yo’ back!
Take a peek at this article How to Transition into Veganism in 3 Steps.
And, if you want more help with navigating the vegan food world, check out this blog post Vegan Takeout Tips: How To Get The Fast Food You Want with Less Frustration (and Salads).
For grocery shopping as a new vegan, read on…
While the produce section is relatively straightforward (regular fruit & veg vs organic fruit & veg), the rest of the store may be a daunting endeavor when you need to find vegan-friendly items.
Label reading starts off annoying at first, I totally admit that.
But, If you’re committed to veganism (high five!), find comfort in knowing it gets SO much easier.
You’ll find products you like, making your go-to vegan options almost muscle memory.
You’ll know exactly what to look for on new ones, making yourself a nutritional-facts-guru.
And, you’ll know exactly what symbols, numbers, and words are vegan-friendly to become a vegan grocery shopping connoisseur.
LET’S DO THIS!
For starters, let’s talk GMOs in packaged food.
Did you know that more than 80% of food on our grocery store shelves have been genetically modified — aka they have an element in them that is a GMO (genetically modified organism)?
Tell me that’s not crazy!
While that doesn’t necessarily have to do with veganism explicitly, it does makes you think about what else could be in our food.
Fortunately, the food industry has started labelling packaged foods with symbols to indicate what’s genetically modified and what’s GMO-free.
Quick note, if something is labeled non-GMO or GMO-free (look for the butterfly — see the logo below), it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s organic or pesticide free.
If something is organic, it means no pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides have been used in the production process.
It also means no GMOs have been used in the process of production.
And, it means that the farmers or producers of the product have been verified as USDA Organic, giving them the ability to label their products as such.
Many types of cancers have been traced back to these toxic chemicals in non-organic foods, so when you can afford to buy organic…
This includes fresh produce and packaged foods.
In the US, you’ll likely see this logo on organic food. To clarify, this logo can be applied to anything that’s 95% or more organic.
So, yes, it may not be 100% organic.
But, 95% organic is better than nothing.
Look for things labelled 100% organic for the safest products.
MADE WITH ORGANIC INGREDIENTS
If something says “Made with organic ingredients,” by US standards, it means that it’s 70-94% organic.
In this case, the USDA Organic logo cannot be used.
The organic ingredients are usually indicated on the label so you know exactly which parts of the product are organic and which aren’t.
One more thing to know regarding packaged food is when it says “All Natural,” “Natural,” or “100% Natural.”
Any of these terms do not mean organic.
It also does not necessarily mean that GMO seeds weren’t used in or to grow the product.
It simply means that the FDA has dubbed a product to have no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
People often buy “all natural” labelled products because they believe they’re healthier, but this is, in fact, a marketing ploy.
Look for Vegan Labelling
The quickest way to tell if something is vegan to look for an official vegan certification logo on the product.
If something is explicitly labelled with one of the trusted logos below, you don’t need to read the ingredients list to see if it is or isn’t vegan.
There are things that are “accidentally vegan,” meaning their ingredients all happen to be vegan, but they’re not marketed as such.
Be careful noticing the difference between vegan and vegetarian logos.
Vegetarian products can still contain milk, eggs, or other by-products of animals.
Different countries may have different vegan logos as you can see below.
Reading the Ingredients
If something is not explicitly labelled vegan, you’ll need to look further to understand what’s in your hands.
For some reason, many vegan products on the market aren’t actually labelled vegan.
With the knowledge you’re learning here, you should be able to tell the difference between something that is vegan and something that’s not.
Let’s dig deeper.
Many products have taken the approach of using “Free From” labelling.
Free from dairy.
Free from eggs.
Free from gluten.
The whole gamut.
The more transparent a label is the better.
But, just because something says it is “free from dairy” or “free from egg,” does not mean it is vegan.
In case you aren’t 100% sure a product is vegan, take note the “Free From” label, and then pursue the ingredients list.
ALLERGENS & MAY CONTAIN
The “Allergens” and “May Contain” section of a nutrition label is where you want to go to see what the product you’re holding includes.
It is a legal requirement for product manufacturers to be explicit with what allergens may be involved in manufacturing.
This is because anything from “traces” to tangible ingredients in the product could be life threatening to someone with a specific allergy.
You’ll often see wording such as:
Produced in the same facility as products containing nuts, milk, eggs…
Produced on the same machines as products containing nuts, milk, eggs…
May contain traces of nuts, milk, eggs…
Contains milk, egg, nuts…
If the label explicitly says in the allergens section that it contains milk, egg, shellfish or any other animal product, then it is not vegan.
The ingredients list is where the tricks happen.
Many companies have gotten really good at disguising animal products in chemical-sounding jargon to throw you off the scent.
If something is explicitly labelled vegan with a trusted vegan logo, then you have nothing to worry about in the ingredients section.
If a product does not don that trusted logo, then here’s when your detective skills are needed.
Here’s a list of some animal products often in disguise on ingredients lists:
Lard or tallow
Keep this post hand when you shop so as you become more used to reading labels, you have it as a handy reference.
Want to dig even deeper?
Some companies have gone as far as to hide animal products in ingredients called e-numbers.
As a vegan, when you skim a label, you’ll get used to:
Seeing/not seeing the ingredients previously mentioned
Noting any animal product contents
Moving on to buying or not buying
How often do people stand in the shop and actually google what a numbered ingredient means?
Probably not many.
Some e-numbers are in fact animal products or derivatives of animal products in disguised form.
If you want a full, comprehensive list of these animal-product e-numbers, get my free guide by clicking the download button below.