How to Define If Something Is Vegan or Not

Veganism is a type of vegetarianism that involves abstaining from using all forms of animal products and by-products for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

This lifestyle sprung from the ideology that animals are non-essential for human nutrition and other basic needs. It is also motivated by the various health and environmental benefits derived from avoiding animal consumption like reduced cases of deforestation and reduced greenhouse emissions from animal farming. 

What Do Vegans Consume?

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Plant-Based Foods 

Vegans consume products that are entirely derived from plant sources. They avoid using products that contain animal ingredients and products that are processed with animal ingredients. While the customary concept of a balanced diet includes animal food products and by-products, veganism offers several alternatives.  

For instance, protein can be obtained from soy milk, lentils, and most varieties of beans.

Plants like green leafy vegetables and root crops are also good sources of vitamins, carbohydrates, and minerals.

Other essential components of a balanced diet that are commonly found in animal sources can also be gained from vegan-friendly supplements. 

Most people shift to a vegan diet to avoid the unhealthy components associated with animal-derived foods such as saturated fats and carcinogens(1). 

A vegan diet is widely known for facilitating weight loss. A plant-exclusive diet increases dietary fiber intake and improves nutrient absorption. This naturally reduces the tendency to consume more calories.

A vegan diet is also known to reduce the risks of several diseases like heart disease(2) and diabetes(3). A high fiber diet can lead to balanced cholesterol levels and stable blood sugar.

Animal Cruelty-Free Products 

Some vegans employ strict standards for identifying products that are suited for their lifestyle. They also consider the circumstances of production.

Aside from avoiding animal products and by-products, ethical vegans also exclude vegan-friendly products that are linked with animal cruelty or exploitation.  

An example of unethical animal testing is the use of animal skins for testing the hypoallergenic properties of cosmetic products. Although these cosmetics do not contain any animal-derived ingredient, vegans still avoid using these products due to their association with the unethical treatment of animals.  

Some vegans also avoid products that are associated with large scale deforestation. They consider it as a form of animal cruelty due to the destruction of ecosystems.

Ways to Identify Vegan-Friendly Products

Look for a Vegan Label 

The easiest way to identify vegan products is through product labels.

There are organizations like the Vegan Society that provide certifications(2) that a product is vegan-friendly. Companies apply for a license and pay a bespoke fee to acquire the certification.  

Certifications contain the trademark of the certifying vegan organization that is represented on the label of the product's packaging. These labels signify that a product has undergone rigorous testing to ensure that it does not contain animal ingredients and that it was not exposed to such ingredients during the manufacturing process.

Some certifications also require that no animals be tested during the development of the product.

Look for Animal Cruelty-Free Certification 

Animal welfare organizations like People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also provide certifications(3) that no animal was exploited in any stage of the product’s manufacturing process. This means that animals were not improperly used for testing the safety of a product for human consumption. 

Animal cruelty-free certifications only indicate that a product is free from unethical animal testing procedures. They do not guarantee that animal products or by-products are included in the product's ingredients and are, therefore, not absolute indications that a product is vegan-friendly. 

Scan the Ingredients 

Scanning the product's ingredients list is the best way to identify if it is vegan. Some products advertised as plant-based may contain animal ingredients like additives, flavoring, or preservatives.  

Granted, a product's ingredient list can be confusing due to the use of unfamiliar terms. Researching and familiarizing yourself with common animal ingredient terms can help identify non-vegan products.

Vegan Picker discusses a number of these ingredients in our various product categories for "Is it Vegan: Food/Beverages."

Companies also tend to include ingredients that can be obtained from both plants and animals without providing sufficient information on their origin. In this case, it is best to contact the product's manufacturer to ensure that all ingredients are exclusively derived from plant sources.  

Some companies also use precautionary marks that their vegan products may contain traces of non-vegan ingredients. These marks indicate that some unintended ingredients may have been included in the product during the manufacturing process. The primary cause is usually related to the use of equipment or facilities that are also used for the production of non-vegan products. 

Companies use these precautionary marks only for purposes of full disclosure and are not absolute indications that a product is not vegan-friendly. These are particularly intended for ethical vegans who do not consume vegan products processed in the same facilities as non-vegan products.

Scan Allergen Information

allergens example

Allergen information indicates the product's ingredients that can potentially cause an allergic reaction to certain people. These ingredients can be easily spotted in the product's allergen information as companies are legally required to indicate plainly and concisely allergens in the product's packaging.  

Animal products like milk, egg, fish, and shellfish are the most common sources of allergens.

These ingredients are indicated in bold and are usually located under the product's ingredients list. Scanning the products allergen information to identify non-vegan ingredients can be less time consuming than scanning a product’s entire list of ingredients.

Final Thoughts 

A product must be free from animal ingredients and produced without animal cruelty and exploitation in order to be considered vegan.

The packaging usually contains the entire product’s essential information. However, it is still best to research the circumstances involved in manufacturing the products to ensure that they are indeed, vegan.

References:

1. https://www.wcrf.org/

2. https://www.ahajournals.org/

3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

4. https://www.vegansociety.com/

5. https://www.peta.org/

Travis Harlan
Travis has been Vegan since 2016. Like other Vegans, he found himself regularly searching for if X product was Vegan or not. Due to the lackluster answers, Vegan Picker was born.

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About Vegan Picker
Vegan Picker analyzes food and beverages to help identify problematic animal-derived ingredients.