Calm Down And Eat Up – These Ingredients Are *NOT* As Scary As They Sound

November 29th, 2010 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health

By now we all know that whole, unprocessed foods should form the foundation of our diet. But even us ever-so-savvy epicureans sometimes find ourselves purchasing packaged goods. We don’t always have the foresight to bake our own bread, or the time to make our own soup stock. I’ll admit it, I occasionally consume canned beans, or even *gasp horror* store-bought soup. And I just adore this local sandwich bread. So okay, there’s a time and a place for pre-made items. But do you always know what you’re getting?

Most veg*ns are already expert label-readers, but we’re often tuned in to the additives we should avoid (like casein, whey, L-cysteine, carmine, etc). But what about the other side – those chemicals with names so nefarious-sounding . . . that are actually quite harmless! What follows is a list of ingredients that you DON’T need to avoid:

Agar – an algae extract, used as a thickener, a veg*n alternative to gelatin
Alpha-carotene – plant based vitamin A
Alpha-tocopherol – a form of vitamin E
Annatto – a plant derived all natural coloring (some people may be sensitive)
Ascorbate – a form of vitamin C
Ascorbic Acid – vitamin C is one form
Beta-carotene – the plant derived precursor to vitamin A
Beta-cryptoxanthin – a carotenoid, another precursor to vitamin A
Biotin – part of the B-complex, this is vitamin B7
Carageenan – seaweed extract, a veg*n alternative to gelatin
Cholecalciferol – vitamin D3 (not vegan)
Choline Bitartrate – an essential nutrient, part of the B-complex
Citric Acid – natural flavoring and preservative
Cyanocobalamin – part of the B-complex, this is a form of vitamin B12
Ergocalciferol – vitamin D2, the vegan form
Folacin – part of the B-complex, this is one name for vitamin B9
Folate – part of the B-complex, naturally occurring vitamin B9
Folic Acid – part of the B-complex, another form of vitamin B9
Lecithin – a naturally derived additive, though there is some debate as to its safety because it is processed (may or may not be vegan)
Methylcobalamin – part of the B-complex, this is another form of vitamin B12
Niacin – part of the B-complex, this is vitamin B3
Niacinamide – part of the B-complex, the converted form of vitamin B3
Nicotinic Acid – part of the B-complex, another name for vitamin B3
Pantothenic Acid – part of the B-complex, this is vitamin B5
Phylloquinone – vitamin K1, from plant sources
Potassium Iodide – supplemental iodine
Pteroylglutamic Acid – part of the B-complex, the chemical name for B9
Pyridoxal – part of the B-complex, a natural form of vitamin B6
Pyridoxamine – part of the B-complex, a natural form of vitamin B6
Pyridoxine – part of the B-complex, a natural form of vitamin B6
Pyridoxine Hydrochloride – part of the B-complex, another form of vitamin B6
Retinol/Retinyl Palmitate – synthetic pre-form of vitamin A
Retinyl acetate – a naturally occurring form of vitamin A
Riboflavin – part of the B-complex, this is vitamin B2
Sodium Ascorbate – a form of vitamin C
Sodium Bicarbonate – baking soda!
Thiamine – part of the B-complex, this is vitamin B1
Thiamine Mononitrate – part of the B-complex, this is also vitamin B1
Tocopherol – the general group name that includes vitamin E
Tocopherol Acetate – a form of vitamin E
Tocotrienol – a form of vitamin E
Turmeric – a plant derived natural colorant and spice
Zinc Citrate – supplemental zinc
Zinc Oxide – inorganic zinc

Why not print out this little list and slip it into your purse? It’ll come in handy to calm your nerves as you’re scanning packages on your next grocery excursion. And remember – the fewer ingredients the better! For more on interpreting a nutrition label, check out my three part series here: 1 2 3

Got anything to add to the list? Leave it in the comments!

  • Christa

    Thanks once again for doing such a great job Sayward!

    Again, my schooling was in nutrition and food science and I’m all for questioning the safety and source of anything you choose to put in, or use on your body…. but there is also a matter of people needing to be scientifically literate. People get really scared of “big” words they can’t pronounce and don’t know what are, but the truth of it is most of them aren’t scary at all. Thanks for helping sort some of that out for everyone else out there.

    I think a basic familiarity with science is lacking for most Americans and more than anything I find it really sad. Science is fun people!

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this list!! It will be very helpful:)

  • Nahui

    My new favorite word: “Pteroylglutamic” how is it even pronounced? I’m actually familiar with most of those substances because I grew up in a family of pharmacists and doctors, but I never thought about their “vegan-ness”. Thanks for clarifying that!

  • erosan

    @Nahui: cool! I was feeling odd that I knew what some of these were. It’s good to know I’m not the only one!

  • Annie

    Not a food additive, but just felt I should mention that Tapioca flour/starch or Arrowroot (not the same thing, but interchangeable) is an awesome vegan thickener or gelatin replacer.

  • Barbara

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m printing this off and taking it shopping w/me. :)

  • Rebecca

    great info!

  • Vicki-Lou

    I just have to tell you how much I love your site (even sent a link to my “green living” sister-in-law). We are starting (slowly) to go RAW, quasi-vegetarian here as my hubby has been very sensitive to colorings and preservatives as of late. Much thanks for the list of what IS allowed for when I go to the store tomorrow.

  • Alyssa

    Okay! I don’t know if you have written on this subject before, but:
    How do you balance eating whole, fresh, amazing foods while being vegan? I’m so torn between eating the processed crap/soy products like earth balance and almond milk or just getting eggs and raw milk and butter from local farms that I’m friends with! What do you think nutrient wise and more with keeping with eating from the land?
    And do you eat your chickens’ eggs?

    I never know what to think about any of this and go back and forth between eating all vegan and then eating all fresh local mostly veggies and some animal products from farms I know and can hang out with my animal friends providing!


  • Chance

    I’m so totally into making everything I eat myself by scratch. The product that I simply cannot resist buying packaged? Veganaise. Oh, how I love you, Veganaise.

  • Sayward

    Thanks everyone, so glad you found this valuable. Like Christa said, it’s important to keep ourselves educated! I was happy to learn all of these and thought it important to share. =)

    @ Alyssa – I understand what you’re saying, but I think that the common conception of “vegan vs local” is a misconception! I eat almost exclusively local by shopping my farmers market and my co op. The rest of the stuff (coconut oil, Earthbalance, alt milks when I’m not making my own with local nuts, etc) are a fraction of my diet and honestly, I don’t sweat it.

    I do not believe that ‘eating local’ is as simply superiors as the local-vore movement presents it. There is a great interview on this here, if you’re interested. The author wrote Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. Worth checking out as an alternate perspective to the dominant narrative.

    The truth is that animal agriculture is very resource intensive, even on a small scale (more or less so depending on where you live). And this doesn’t even include the ethical argument. For me, dairy would never ever be an option. I believed that dairy was wrong when I went vegan, but once I became a mother it was absolutely solidified in my mind. As I’m sure you know, cows must become pregnant (almost always forcibly impregnated) in order to produce milk. The milk is for their calf, and by taking it we are taking from the baby and interfering with that mother’s natural relationship with her calf. Obviously in a CAFO the calf is taken from the mother all together. Maybe on a small farm the calf can stay for a while, but we’re still taking it’s milk and supplementing with something inferior. And if the calf is a male, what then? On small farms they can’t afford to just house and feed 50% of the babies born, for the duration of their lives (20 years), with no return. Of course not – they are sold for slaughter. Which is exactly what happens to the dairy cows once the intensive cycle of constant pregnancy and lactation leaves them sick and dried up at an early age. Then they, too, are sold to slaughter. There are VERY few ‘small farms’ that could afford to let all their bulls and spent cows just live out there natural life. It just doesn’t happen. That’s what you get when you keep animals in a commerce situation – money always drives decisions – and that’s why I don’t believe that a non-exploitative situation can exist when animals are used for human’s purposes.

    As for chickens eggs, the line does blur a bit more, but the same principle as above will apply. What happens to the males that are born? What happens to the ‘spent’ layers? Do the chickens enjoy eating their own eggs? If they do, then they’re really not ours to take! When I realized this about my own chickens (that they love eating their own eggs) that really changed the way I viewed the idea of taking what I had previously regarded as ‘discarded and unwanted’.

    Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts. Sorry to go on and on! But hopefully there’s something helpful in there, haha. =)

  • Alyssa

    Thank you so much Sayward! I am glad you went on and on! I will definitely check out that book. My whole problem isn’t so much vegan vs local, but vs processed! So sometimes I get it in my head that maybe butter from cows treated nicely is better than soy product. But of course, you’re totally right about dairy!
    I don’t drink milk anyway, but I am in nursing right now and all of a sudden it just a few months ago how disgusting it is that the enzyme needed is “lactase” and it is to break down another animal’s sugars that they lactate out. That’s probably so obvious, but I never had thought about it in those terms.
    My boyfriend’s mom is just totally on a kick about it… she called me her “food soulmate”… except I don’t eat meat! She keeps getting me these books like “Nourishing Traditions” and “Real Food” to convince me that I need animal products in my diet! But really I think you can get them anywhere! I am just freaked out about any processed food now but you’re so right make all your own and just earthbalance isn’t going to do any harm. Maybe for the people being vegan that eat all of the fake soy products almost exclusively… but I would never do that anyway!

    Thank you again so much for the information. That was exactly what I needed to hear right now!

  • Sayward

    @ Alyssa – Ah yes. Well when it comes to health and processed foods I do understand the quandary. For me, my moral imperative to not use animals overrides the issue, but likeI said I understand that perspective. So for me, I just try to use less processed alternatives. I make my own nut milks when I can, but when I can’t I buy the unsweetened boxed stuff and I don’t let it bother me – they’re fortified and I appreciate the occasional extras! =)

    I’ve pretty much omitted Earthbalance by using coconut oil, which is much less processed and very good for you. It took me a spell to get used to it but now I LOVE it, to cook/saute with, on cornbread or toast like butter, in baking, pretty much everywhere. I really adore it! The only time I use Earthbalance is in my cupcake frosting, and that’s a very rare treat.

    Nina Planck and Sally Fallon have some nice ideas, like soaking grains, cutting out all processed foods, eating ferments . . . basically eating REAL food. But I have done a lot – like, a LOT – of research into the WAPF and their ilk, and the truth is that they are agenda-driven, lobbyist-supported, and their ‘science’ just doesn’t stand up. I get very frustrated because they are marketing geniuses and the story they spin is sure a seductive one. Obviously, since it sucked me in enough so that I’ve dedicated a ridiculous amount of time to learning and fact-checking their theories.

    Basically, abstaining from animals can be really tough – it’s not the easy road even though it’s the right one. But if you can make people believe that they should eat animals, and are, in fact, *righteous* for doing so, well then that’s a pretty easy sell – you’ve told them just exactly what they want to hear. It’s sad to me that so many well-meaning people buy into that happy meat bull$@!*. Very frustrating. But I digress.

    Again, you’ve got me ranting! =D Obviously these are issues that I’m very passionate about . . .

  • NotSoCarageenan

    Carageenan is an ultra-refined, non-nutritive additive we now know is definitely not safe and should not be on this list. As you know, vegan does not automatically equal healthy. There are numerous studies linking it to colitis and GI upset, among other concerns. Be well.