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I've developed this quick trick after reading a lot of food labels.

If the nutrition label says it contains any cholesterol, it's definitely not vegan.

This is based on the idea that cholesterol is only produced by animals, never by plants. Therefore, a vegan diet is completely free of dietary cholesterol. The presence of cholesterol in food must indicate that it is of animal origin of some kind.

This shortcut has served me pretty well. When I suspect that a packaged food is non-vegan, a quick glance at the nutrition label will confirm that to be true. However, I'm not sure about the veracity of this corollary statement.

If the nutrition label says 0 mg cholesterol, it's vegan. (Is this true?)

Are there any examples of packaged foods that say 0 mg cholesterol but aren't vegan? In this case I'm setting a low bar for what it means to be vegan: just contains no meat, eggs, or dairy. Could a packaged food contain meat, eggs, or dairy products but still say 0 mg cholesterol? How could that happen? Assume the label accurately reflects the cholesterol content.

  • Your first quick trick is flawed; see my answer. – Kiochi May 31 '18 at 20:45
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There are a number of animal products or by-products that do not contain cholesterol, but are still something a vegan wouldn't want to eat. A short list of examples which may be in packaged foods:

  • honey
  • gelatin (e.g. Jello, gummy snacks)

And then there are the "hidden" animal-related ingredients:

These lists are not comprehensive, and simply provided as an illustration of why you can't equate zero cholesterol with zero animal ingredients.

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That's a great question! And no, foods with zero cholesterol are not automatically vegan. If some product uses egg whites, it could contain no cholesterol, but not be vegan.

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This questions states as a "trick" a common misconception: that plants do not produce cholesterol. This is incorrect, c.f. Cholesterol and Plants, E. J. Behrman, and Venkat Gopalan, J. Chem. Educ., 2005, 82 (12), p 1791.

So the converse of the question in fact has a negative answer, namely: foods with nonzero cholesterol may actually be vegan

  • Very interesting, though I haven’t yet seen an example of a nutrition facts label with nonzero cholesterol and all plant-based ingredients. – Nic Jun 2 '18 at 19:53

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