Be Aware: These 8+ Common Supplement Ingredients are NOT Vegan or Vegetarian

Blanche Baxter |

by | Read time: 3 minutes

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, there’s a good chance it’s because you care; about animals, your health and the environment. You read ingredients, and you stay clear of animal products and by-products.

However, no matter how long you’ve been vegan, you’d be surprised that you can still find stuff you didn’t know lurking in your supplements and food products.

Vegan Woman Examining Supplement Bottle Ingredients Label |

Most vegans are pretty well versed in reading food ingredients and after a while start to recognize the non-vegan ones to stay away from. But with vitamins, it can be harder.

Here are some non-vegan items that may be hiding in your supplements.

(Some of these hidden ingredients are strictly animal derived while others have both animal and plant origins, so it is essential to check the ingredient list to see if it states sources.)

1. Digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes are important for proper health and digestion of foods, but there are animal products hidden in their ingredients.

Stay clear of:

Pepsin – a digestive enzyme that comes from the lining of a pig’s stomach.

Lipase – animal-based sources come from calves, lambs and baby goats. Lipase can also be plant-based, so be sure to check ingredient sources.

Instead, look for:

Vegan digestive enzymes supplements with enzymes bromelain from pineapple, papain from papaya and betaine HCI from beets.

2,3 & 4: Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3 and lanolin

Omega-3’s come in 3 forms, ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA is a plant source. But typically EPA and DHA come from fish. But, vegan sources of EPA and DHA are available from algae as well. 

Most vitamin D3 forms come from fish oil or lanolin (the oil found in sheep’s wool). Vegan alternatives are vitamin D2, which is plant-based, and vegan sourced D3 that comes from lichen plant species that lives in algae.

5. B12

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria that live in the soil and is then eaten by animals. Most available sources of B12 found in foods and supplements come from animal sources. To avoid these, make sure to buy exclusively vegan products and brands to get your B12. These are directly sourced from bacteria cultures.

6. Bee pollen

Bee pollen is an energy supplement that comes from pollen mixed with bees digestive enzymes. Bees need it to survive as a food source for the baby bees. It keeps the hive going.

7. Joint pain

Some of the biggest names in healing, joint pain relief and arthritis treatment, unfortunately, aren’t typically vegan.

Chondroitin – found in the fluid around cartilage mainly from cows or sharks.

Glucosamine – mostly animal sourced from the shells of shellfish. Vegan glucosamine from corn fermentation is also available, so check your labels and use only vegan sources.

Collagen – comes from animal bones, skin and connective tissues so stay clear of collagen products. Vegan collagen building supplements are available that help your body build its own collagen. 

Hyaluronic acid – animal sources come from the eyeballs of cows and horses, as well as the comb of chickens. It also comes from plant sources and yeast fermentation.

8. Fillers

A number of these ingredients seem like harmless fillers or additives, included in your vitamins for a variety of uses, but beware, many are animal based. Others come in both vegan and animal forms, so be sure to read your labels carefully.

Carmine (Cochineal) – ground up beetles used to give products red coloring.

Gelatin – made from the animal skin, bones and hooves. Used as the coating in most capsules and as a thickener in gels. If you are using vitamins in capsule form, make sure they are vegetable capsules instead.

Glycerin – either from animal fat or vegetable oil, glycerin is often added to products as a preservative and sweetener. Check the ingredient sources to make sure that it is plant based.

Caprylic Acid – typically animal sourced from milk. It’s used as a filler or coating. Vegetable sources of caprylic acid from coconut and palm oil are also available.

These are a few of the most common hidden animal ingredients, but unfortunately, there are many more. Just remember to read your labels and when in doubt, make Google your best friend. Ask questions.

Being vegan is about doing the best you can, getting more information as you go, looking for information, and making changes to continue to fit your ethics as you learn.

Take it in stride. Do your research. And, live in health and wellness.