Natural Foods Merchandiser

Corral the Animals Hidden on Your Supps Shelves

Need a reason to look more closely into which supplements contain animal-sourced ingredients? Try 70 million Americans who identify themselves as ?vegetarian? or ?vegetarian aware.?

Retail sales of vegetarian food products jumped to $1.6 billion in 2003 from $647 million in 1998. In the supplements aisle, retailers can expect increased sales if they pay attention to detail and do their ingredients homework.

There are several key ingredients to look out for—and a few veg-friendly supps to stock.

Gelatin. This is one of the main offenders to the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. According to Vegetarian Journal?s Guide to Food Ingredients, gelatin is an ?animal protein used especially for its thickening and gelling properties.?, a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Web site, says that gelatin is hog- or cow-derived and is ?obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments and/or bones with water.?

Vitamin D. Yes, your vitamin D may be animal-derived. According to, ?Vitamin D can come from fish liver oil, milk or egg yolk. Vitamin D-2 can come from animal fats or plant sterols. Vitamin D-3 is always from an animal source.? Vegetarian Journal?s Guide notes that ?most vitamin D in vitamin pills is in the form of D-3.?

Lactose, casein and whey. For lacto-ovo (eating milk products and eggs) or lacto-vegetarians, these milk-derived products won?t be a problem. Vegans (those who use no animal products) will be concerned.

Vitamin B-12. Especially for those following a vegan diet, vitamin B-12 is an important nutrient found almost exclusively in animal products. Stocking a vegan version derived from synthetic or fungal sources is a must.

Essential fatty acids. EFAs come mostly from oily cold-water fish. Seed oils, such as flax, contain EFAs, as do microalgae-derived versions.

An increasing number of companies are taking notice of the vegetarian and vegetarian-aware movement. According to Jeff Whipple, spokesman for Leonia, N.J.-based Solgar Vitamin and Herb, the company now offers more than ?300 products that carry the ?Suitable for Vegetarian? label.?

Gelatin-free supplement versions are also increasingly available. Capsugel, a division of New York-based Pfizer Inc., now has two different versions of gelatin-free capsules. Its Vcaps are made from ?a commonly used cellulosic raw material derived from plants.? And its new NPcaps are made from pullulan, which is produced from corn fermentation.

According to Whipple, the trend toward vegetarian-friendly supplements will continue. ?Many factors are working together to improve the availability of vegetarian raw materials in the natural products industry,? he says. He notes that advances in research and development identification procedures and modern information technology are ?helping our scientists and procurement specialists search for, identify and communicate the availability of raw materials that are suitable for vegetarians.?

Problem Ingredients

According to Vegetarian Journal?s Guide to Food Ingredients, vegetarians may be wary of the following ingredients:

  • ?May be nonveg:? amino acids, enzymes, fatty acids such as palmitic and stearic acid, folic acid, magnesium stearate, protease such as trypsin, vitamin A.
  • ?Typically nonveg:? calcium stearate.
  • ?Nonveg:? carmine, keratin (a source of L-tyrosine), pancreatin, pepsin.

According to, the following may be animal derived: many of the B vitamins, lecithin, lipase, progesterone and glycerin.

Two powerhouses of the supps aisle are typically nonveg. Glucosamine is primarily derived from shellfish, and chondroitin from cow cartilage, although a corn source is available for glucosamine, and algae for chondroitin.

And in the ?how far to go? category, Vegetarian Journal?s Guide says that cystine or L-cystine, and cysteine or L-cysteine are derived from animal or human hair. And, anything ?synthetically? derived (such as many sources of niacin) probably comes from a petrochemical source, meaning from oil.

For more ingredient information, visit The Vegetarian Resource Group at or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals at


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 7/p. 40

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