Can you tell what's vegan and what isn't?

Composite image of vegan and non-vegan products c/o

There's a fun quiz that just went up on Buzzfeed (thanks to the tipster who sent me the link!) testing your knowledge of which mainstream processed foods are vegan and which are not.

As a self-appointed vegan-foods expert, I might have been expected to score 100%. Yeah, well, I didn't. (I'll share my misses -- Spoiler Alerts! -- in the comments, if you'll share yours.) I wish I could say it's because I'm so health-conscious that I never eat these kinds of foods, relying solely on whole grains and homemade smoothies. But no, there were a couple I know are vegan specifically because I'm thankful they are!

We vegans love products that clearly put the word right on the front label (or even clearly on the back!) but I think a lot of the ones that are in this collection would be afraid of scaring off mainstream eaters by admitting such a thing. So we do what we always do, which is turn the thing over and read the Nutrition Facts and the Ingredients.

The first stop is the former, because if the product admits to containing any cholesterol, boom, it's not vegan. Unfortunately, even if it says "0%" cholesterol it may still have some animal products, since on this label zero means "less than 2 percent." So we go through the ingredients one by one.

I know, waah, waah, "first-world problems" and all that - no one is forcing us to live vegan, after all. But it turns out we're not the only ones who may be frustrated by the state of labeling in the US -- the FDA just announced an overhaul of the Nutrition Facts label.

This is welcome: As the FDA points out, knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the past 20 years. The last update was to include trans fats, which now look as harmful as the saturated fats typically found in animal products. Yet even the push to "ban" trans fats everywhere isn't a real "ban" - since that would mean banning meat and dairy, which naturally also contain small amounts of trans fats.

In short, any progress toward accuracy in our labeling is welcome, but it's constrained by outmoded thinking (and a built-in conflict of interest) at the USDA, which sets our nation's dietary guidelines. Those, in turn, are evolving sloooowly, but could improve next year, as this post from Dr. Michael Greger, who testified before the 2015 dietary guidelines committee, demonstrates.

Greger, who's known for making nutrition info understandable and accessible - his speaking events often incorporate quizzes like Buzzfeed's above - has a site aptly called Nutrition Facts that collects the latest peer-reviewed science and packages it in fun, bite-size videos, all indexed and searchable by ingredients. If you want to see where nutrition policy is likely headed in years to come, watch a few of Dr. Greger's videos.

While you're watching, snack away - but keep an eye on those potato chips.

Continue Reading