Vegan Wonder

Unmasking the Hidden Ingredients: A Comprehensive Guide to Non-Vegan Supplements

For the ethically conscious, plant-powered individuals among us, living a vegan lifestyle is more than just a diet—it’s a commitment to reducing animal suffering and minimizing the environmental impact of our choices. But when it comes to taking supplements, even the most conscientious among us may be unknowingly consuming non-vegan ingredients.

The Surprisingly Non-Vegan Supplement Aisle

The supplement industry is big business, projected to reach $272 billion by 2024. While many supplements are plant-based or have vegan options, there are still plenty that contain non-vegan ingredients.

Why are non-vegan ingredients used in the first place? For some manufacturers, it’s simply a cost-saving measure. Others believe that these ingredients offer superior performance benefits, despite a lack of scientific evidence to support those claims.

For vegan consumers, these non-vegan ingredients can be a major barrier to finding products that align with their values. But by being informed about which ingredients to watch out for, you can navigate the supplement aisle with confidence.

Commonly Used Non-Vegan Ingredients

Here are some of the most common non-vegan ingredients found in supplements:

  • Gelatin: Derived from the collagen in animal bones, skin, and connective tissue, gelatin is commonly used in supplement capsules and tablets.
  • Lanolin: A waxy substance extracted from sheep’s wool, it’s used to soften the coating of capsules and tablets.
  • Carmine: Also known as cochineal extract, this red pigment is derived from boiling the bodies of cochineal insects, often used in vitamin and mineral supplements to mask the unappetizing colors of other ingredients.
  • Whey and casein: Proteins derived from milk, commonly used in protein powders.
  • Shellfish-derived ingredients: Certain vitamins and minerals, such as biotin and chondroitin sulfate, can be sourced from shellfish.

To avoid these and other non-vegan ingredients, it’s important to read the labels of any supplements you plan to take.

Reading Supplement Labels

Deciphering the ingredients list of a supplement can sometimes feel like solving a riddle. To help you out, here are some tips:

  1. Look for the word “gelatin” or “beef gelatin” in the ingredients list, which indicates that the capsule or tablet is not vegan.
  2. If the ingredients list includes a generic term like “capsule” or “coating,” check the supplement facts panel for more information. If it says “gelatin” or lists the source of the capsule, that’s the information you’re looking for.
  3. Be aware that some companies may use the word “vegetarian” to mean “not made from animals that were slaughtered for meat,” even if the gelatin used comes from non-kosher animals like pigs or cows. To be sure the capsule is vegan, look for the term “vegan” or “plant-based.”
  4. Some supplements may list alternative sources of gelatin, such as “bovine hide” or “porcine,” which indicate animal origin.
  5. If the supplement contains vitamins or minerals, make sure they haven’t been sourced from animal products. For example, vitamin D can be derived from lanolin or fish oil, and vitamin A from fish liver oil or animal-derived sources.
  6. Be on the lookout for additives like “natural flavors,” which can be derived from animals.

Unfortunately, some companies may go to great lengths to hide non-vegan ingredients. If you can’t find the information you need on the label, it’s time to take your search elsewhere.

Finding Vegan-Friendly Supplements

The good news is that there are plenty of vegan-friendly supplement options available. Many companies specialize in plant-based supplements, using synthetic and fermentation-derived ingredients whenever possible.

Some proteins, such as pea protein and rice protein, can be used to make vegan protein powders. Omega-3s can be sourced from algae, rather than fish. And most vitamins and minerals can be obtained from plant-based sources.

The key is to do your research and find a company you trust. Look for third-party certifications, such as the Vegan Society’s trademark, which indicates that the product has been independently verified as vegan.

It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with a company’s ethics and transparency. Do they publicly state their commitment to veganism? Is their website informative? Do they respond to inquiries in a timely and friendly manner?

If you’re unsure whether a supplement is vegan, reach out to the manufacturer directly. Most companies are happy to help clarify any questions you may have.

Specific Supplement Categories

Protein Supplements

There are many plant-based sources of protein that can be used in protein powders, including:

  • Pea protein
  • Rice protein
  • Soy protein
  • Hemp protein
  • Moringa protein
  • Sacha inchi protein

Be sure to read the label carefully, as some brands may add non-vegan ingredients like artificial flavors or sweeteners.

Omega-3 Supplements

Omega-3s are essential fats that the body can’t produce on its own, so we have to get them from our diet. They’re important for heart health and brain development, among other things.

Most omega-3 supplements are derived from fish oil, but there are sustainable vegan options available. Look for supplements that contain algae oil, which is where most fish get their omega-3s in the first place.

Multivitamins and Minerals

Many vitamins and minerals can be sourced from plant-based materials, but some can be trickier. For example, vitamin D is often derived from lanolin or fish oil, but there are plant-based sources available, such as algae oil and mushrooms that have been grown in ultraviolet light.

When shopping for a vegan multivitamin, make sure to read the ingredients list carefully and look for plant-based sources of any vitamins or minerals that might be derived from animals.

Making Informed Supplement Choices

Now that you know how to spot non-vegan ingredients in supplements, it’s time to put that knowledge to use. Whenever you’re considering taking a supplement, take the following steps:

  1. Check the supplement facts panel and the ingredients list for any non-vegan ingredients, such as gelatin or lanolin.
  2. Look for a vegan certification logo, such as the Vegan Society’s trademark.
  3. If you can’t find a vegan-certified supplement that meets your needs, reach out to the manufacturer to ask if the product is vegan.

If you’re unsure whether a supplement is vegan or have specific health needs, talk to your healthcare professional. They can help you navigate the world of supplements and ensure that any products you take are aligned with your values and safe for you to use.