Deciding to "go vegan" for the first time can be daunting — especially as you get into the nitty-gitty of what vegans can and can't eat. Still, restricting all animal products is a solid and beneficial choice for many, often made for ethical or health reasons, as long as you really understand what's going into your food. All it takes is a look at those food labels.
As you may have gathered, veganism means abstaining from more than just meat products. It means not consuming any food (or using products) that were produced in any way that may have exploited animals. That means there could be hidden non-vegan ingredients lurking in your pantry.
White sugar gets its color from a refining process that often involves the use of bone char, meaning even though it's not directly an animal product, it's not vegan. But don't opt for brown sugar, powdered sugar or even raw sugar. All of them are made from refined white sugar. Some sugar manufacturers are certified vegan, so check the company's website or PETA to find out. Or just opt instead for maple syrup or agave nectar as a sweetener.
These sweet treats are typically made with gelatin, which is made from collagen that comes from animal byproducts. You should avoid any product made with gelatin. That said, a quick internet search will reveal vegan versions of these and many other gelatin-containing foods. If you're making something from scratch, try substituting an equal amount of agar-agar.
While we're on the subject of sweets, be careful of candies in general. That shiny coating comes from a resin excreted by a bug (the lac bug). Of course, "lac bug juice" would gross out even non-vegans, so they usually just call it "confectioner's glaze."
How 'bout them fake red apple candies? There's nothing wrong with the red things Mother Nature makes, but most red candies and a lot of red foods in general get their color from red pigments from a female cochineal insect. On the label, it will say "cochineal," "carminic acid" or "carmine."
That can't be true, right? Actually, it can. We can't explain the decision of some manufacturers to add casein (milk protein) to a product most likely to be purchased by vegans, but it happens. Check the label before you buy.
Worcestershire sauce, in addition to many others, contains anchovy. The same is true of many salad dressings, like Caesar. And it goes without saying that cream-based dressings should be avoided unless they're specifically vegan. These are just the obvious ones, though. There are so many flavors out there, you should always check the label and know what every single ingredient is.
Unless you crack the nuts yourself, skip the packaged, shelled peanuts. Some brands may use gelatin as an additive.
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