Reading Ingredient Labels on Packaged Foods

08.09.2016 |

Episode #5 of the course How to go vegan by Karina Inkster

The bulk of any healthy, nutritious diet consists of whole foods. That means ingredients in their most natural states that are minimally processed (excluding cooking). Roasted carrots, cooked chickpeas, and salad greens are whole foods. Vegetarian “meats,” refined sugar, and instant soups are not.

That said, every vegan will purchase packaged foods at some point, and so they need to know how to read ingredient labels to ensure that the products are plant-based. With the astronomical rise of veganism in recent years, more and more products are being labelled by certifying bodies as vegan. You might find a “Certified Vegan” logo (usually a green, stylized “V”) or a product labelled as “Suitable For Vegans.” This certainly makes things easier!

Before we get into specifics, note that if you see any weird-sounding ingredients you can’t pronounce (plant-based or not), take that as a sign that what you’re purchasing probably isn’t a super healthy option. Either don’t buy it or buy it as a treat to enjoy in moderation. Also take note of the order in which ingredients are listed. They’re listed by weight in descending order. That means the first ingredient is always the most predominant in a food, and the last ingredient is the least.

Animal products are found in sometimes surprising places, and they don’t always have obvious names. Here’s a list of some of the most common animal ingredients found on food packaging that aren’t as obvious as “eggs,” “milk,” “lard,” or “butter.”

• Whey: A dairy derivative. Found in crackers, breads, and other processed foods.
• Casein: A milk protein used to thicken foods. It’s (unfortunately) found in some non-dairy cheeses and soy creamers.
• Gelatin: Made from bones, cartilage, tendons, and skin from animals. Found in marshmallows and many other varieties of candy and desserts.
• Carmine: Red coloring derived from insects. Found in colored foods such as candy, bottled juices, and some frozen desserts.
• Lactose: A milk sugar found in many types of processed foods.
• Albumin: The protein component of egg whites. Often found in pastries and baked goods.

It can feel a bit overwhelming at first to remember to check for ingredients like these. Take your time and don’t try to be perfect—you’ll have them down in no time.

As you can tell, most of these ingredients are found in “treat” foods that are best enjoyed in moderation. If you’re looking for high-quality plant-based sweets, look for the following brands: Cocoa Camino, Zimt Chocolates, Daiya, Surf Sweets, and So Delicious dairy-free frozen desserts. There are, of course, countless others, but these are a great starting point.

In tomorrow’s lesson, we cover the myth that vegans don’t get enough protein. Learn why this isn’t true, find out how much protein you actually need, and discover some of the best plant-based sources of protein.


Recommended book

“Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer


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