March 2018

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One of the biggest challenges, especially for a new vegan like myself, is knowing what foods I can, and can’t buy. Going food shopping has turned into something of a scientific investigation, which normally results in a huge amount of trust being allocated to food manufacturers in their labelling. However trustworthy and correct that labelling may be, it still leaves me feeling somewhat nervous and apprehensive about my ‘vegan’ purchases. It’s these feelings that have nudged me into more self-education about the not so obvious ingredients that are added to foods, and derive from animals. Below is a list, ranging from the obvious to the not so obvious items to avoid on a vegan diet.

Animal foods

  1. Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, etc.
  2. Poultry: Chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
  3. Fish and seafood: All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster and fish sauce.
  4. Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
  5. Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches and fish.
  6. Bee products: Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.

Ingredients or additives derived from animals

  1. Certain additives: Several food additives can be derived from animal products. Examples include E120, E322, E422, E471, E542, E631, E901, E904 and E920.
  2. Cochineal or carmine: Ground cochineal scale insects are used to make carmine, a natural dye used to give a red colour to many food products.
  3. Gelatine: This thickening agent comes from the skin, bones and connective tissues of cows and pigs.
  4. Isinglass: This gelatine-like substance is derived from fish bladders. It’s often used in the making of beer or wine.
  5. Natural flavourings: Some of these ingredients are animal-based. One example is castoreum, a food flavouring that comes from the secretions of beavers’ anal scent glands.
  6. Omega-3 fatty acids: Many products that are enriched with omega-3’s are not vegan, since most omega-3’s come from fish. Omega-3’s derived from algae are vegan alternatives.
  7. Shellac: This is a substance secreted by the female lac insect. It’s sometimes used to make a food glaze for sweets or a wax coating for fresh produce.
  8. Vitamin D3: Most vitamin D3 is derived from fish oil or the lanolin found in sheep’s wool, and is often used to fortify foods like cereals. Vitamin D2 and D3 from lichen are vegan alternatives.
  9. Dairy ingredients: Whey, casein and lactose are all derived from dairy.

Foods that often (but don’t always) contain animal ingredients

  1. Bread products: Some bakery products, such as bagels and breads, contain L-cysteine. This amino acid is used as a softening agent and often comes from poultry feathers.
  2. Beer and wine: Some manufacturers use egg white albumen, gelatine or casein in the beer brewing or winemaking process. Others sometimes use isinglass, a substance collected from fish bladders, to clarify their final product.
  3. Sweets and candy: Many varieties of jelly, marshmallows, gummy bears and chewing gum contain gelatine. Others are coated in shellac or contain a red dye called carmine, which is made from cochineal insects.
  4. French fries: Some varieties are fried in animal fat.
  5. Deep-fried foods: The batter used to make deep-fried foods like onion rings or vegetable tempura sometimes contains eggs.
  6. Pesto: Many varieties of store-bought pesto contain Parmesan cheese.
  7. Pasta: Some types of pasta, especially fresh pasta, contain eggs.
  8. Crisps: Some crisps are flavoured with powdered cheese or contain other dairy ingredients such as casein, whey or animal-derived enzymes.
  9. Refined sugar: Whilst most brands sold in the UK are bone-char free, manufacturers sometimes lighten sugar with bone char (often referred to as natural carbon), which is made from the bones of cattle.
  10. Roasted peanuts: Gelatine is sometimes used when manufacturing roasted peanuts in order to help salt and spices stick to the peanuts better.
  11. Some dark chocolate: Dark chocolate is usually vegan. However, some varieties contain animal-derived products such as whey, milk fat, milk solids, clarified butter or nonfat milk powder.
  12. Some produce: Some fresh fruits and veggies are coated with wax. The wax can be petroleum- or palm-based, but may also be made using beeswax or shellac.
  13. Worcestershire sauce: Many varieties contain anchovies.

I’m sure this list is by no means exhaustive, so please do leave a comment below if there’s anything I should add.


A little history of Vitamin D

If you do some research online, and offline, as I did, you’ll find a lot of slightly different tales depicting the history of Vitamin D. My personal favourite is that found on Wikipedia about the American researchers Elmer McCollum and Marguerite Davis, who in 1914 (a time when the bone deformity, rickets, was rife in north-eastern USA and northern Europe) discovered a substance in cod liver oil which was named, “vitamin A”. Then it seems a British doctor by the name of Edward Mellanby somehow noticed that dogs fed with cod liver oil didn’t develop rickets and concluded that vitamin A, or a closely associated factor, could prevent the disease. In 1922, Elmer McCollum tested modified cod liver oil in which the vitamin A had been destroyed. The modified oil cured the sick dogs, so McCollum concluded that the factor in cod liver oil which cured rickets was distinct from vitamin A. He called this factor vitamin D, because it was the fourth vitamin to be named. There lies the birth of vitamin D.


Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health, as well as in immune, nerve and muscle function. In addition, it may play a role in protecting against cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, and depression.

Vegan Sources

In 1971, vitamin D was reclassified as a “vitamin D hormone,” meaning that it can act as both a vitamin and a hormone. In people that live near the equator and who are constantly exposed to sunlight throughout the year, vitamin D is a hormone that their bodies can build in sufficient amounts for them. Yet people that live far from the equator, where sunlight is limited, or those that have an indoor lifestyle, where there is a significantly lower exposure to sunlight, an alternative becomes necessary. This would  come in the form of fortified foods, or by supplement intake. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 15 mcg for adults under 70. So my advice is to sit outside in the sunshine every day whilst eating your breakfast of grilled mushrooms with cereal, orange juice, coffee with soy milk, and you’ll be just fine. However, if you feel this will fall short on your RDA, then grab some supplements to top up.


As always, I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Tomorrow we’ll look at Omega 3 Fatty Acids (DHA & DPA), their function, and how we can get more of them.


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vegan supplements

There’s two ways to tackle this subject, I can either dip in, offer the facts, and then jump out. Or, I can dive in deep, swim around for ages, and probably never surface again ……….. let’s see how long I can hold my breath for.

My main reason for spending time on this subject is selfish, it’s self-education, but if I can prick the ears of a few of you, then all to the good. It’s a fascinating subject, and one that I believe will be touched upon in nearly every conversation that I have with a meat-eater. It seems to be their opening line, my lack of this, and my lack of that. So it’s best I prepare myself with some solid vegan apologetics.

Although a plant-based diet will deliver most vitamins in abundance, vegans (and many non-vegans) do need to pay special attention to their Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Omega 3 Fatty Acids (DHA & DPA), Iodine, Zinc, Selenium and finally K2 intakes.

What are Vitamins ?

Vitamins are essential to life, but cannot be synthesised by the body in adequate amounts. Therefore, outside sources must be obtained. Although the total amount of vitamins the body needs is tiny – only 0.5 gram per day – the functions they perform are vital. Some, such as vitamin D, have hormone-like functions as regulators of mineral metabolism, or regulators of cell and tissue growth and differentiation (such as some forms of vitamin A). Others can function as antioxidants (e.g., vitamin E and sometimes vitamin C). The largest number of vitamins, the B complex vitamins, function as enzyme cofactors (coenzymes) or the precursors for them; coenzymes help enzymes in their work as catalysts in metabolism. In this role, vitamins may be tightly bound to enzymes as part of prosthetic groups: For example, biotin is part of enzymes involved in making fatty acids. They may also be less tightly bound to enzyme catalysts as coenzymes, detachable molecules that function to carry chemical groups or electrons between molecules. For example, folic acid may carry methyl, formyl, and methylene groups in the cell. Although these roles in assisting enzyme-substrate reactions are vitamins’ best-known function, the other vitamin functions are of equal importance.

Although a plant-based diet will deliver most vitamins in abundance, vegans (and many non-vegans) need to pay special attention to their vitamin B12, and D intake. Let’s take a look at B12.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has the largest molecular structure of any vitamin, with the mineral cobalt at it’s centre. It’s a water-soluble vitamin that has a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system via the synthesis of myelin, and the formation of red blood cells. It is one of eight B vitamins, and is involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body, especially affecting DNA synthesis, fatty acid and amino acid metabolism.


Vitamin B12 deficiency can offer a range of symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, depression, poor memory, breathlessness, headaches, and pale skin, among others, especially in elderly people (over age 60) who produce less stomach acid as they age, thereby increasing their probability of a deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis in more severe cases. 

Recommended intake

The body requires vitamin B12 in tiny amounts; the official Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults is 2.4 mcg per day. However, recent reports are suggesting that this be more akin to between 4 to 7 mcg per day. Ingestion options for the current RDA are :

  • Consume fortified foods 2-3 times per day to get at least 3 micrograms of vitamin B12
  • or take 10 micrograms of B12 as a compliment once per day
  • or take 2000 micrograms of B12 as a compliment once per week

Fortified foods include some common breakfast cereals, soy milks, almond milks, coconut milks, other plant milks, nutritional yeast, vegan mayonnaise, tofu, and various types and brands of vegan deli slices, burgers, and other veggie meats.

In conclusion

There’s so much data out there that suggests average vegan intakes of vitamin B12 to be far below the RDA, with numbers suggesting up to a 25 percent shortfall in intake. Vegans who don’t include a reliable source of vitamin B12 will eventually become deficient. This could take months for some, and years for others, but it will happen, with damage ranging from the dramatic, to the irreversible.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this, I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it. Tomorrow we’ll look at Vitamin D, it’s function, and how we can get more of it.

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