Cheerios are a classic breakfast option made from pulverized oats in the shape of a solid torus, which is essentially a three-dimensional circle, somewhat akin to a ring. For many years, Cheerios have led the list of best-selling cereals in the United States, according to Statista.
After doing some research on the topic, here is what I found out:
While Cheerios don’t contain flagrant animal ingredients like milk or gelatin, they are fortified with vitamin D3, an ingredient that is typically not vegan, particularly when added to foods. Therefore, Cheerios, regardless of the variety, is not suitable for vegans.
In this article, I’ll explain why vitamin D3 isn’t vegan, and why some ingredients within Cheerios are considered controversial. Finally, I’m going to provide you with some vegan alternatives to Cheerios.
Why Isn’t Vitamin D3 Vegan?
Vitamin D3 is a type of vitamin produced by our bodies when exposed to the sun’s UV lights, but you can also find it in non-vegan foods, namely oily fish, liver, egg yolk, and butter.
The vitamin D3 added to cereals like Cheerios comes from lanolin, a wax secreted from the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals, predominantly sheep.
Lanolin is extracted through wool-shearing, a process in which wool is cut off with electric clippers and sent off to be washed to separate the lanolin from the wash water. It is converted into a gold-colored waxy substance that is bottled and sent to a refinery to be purified.
Once that is done, the lanolin is sent to a lab where it’s placed inside a special kiln to be exposed to UV light to replicate the effects of sunlight on skin. This results in the creation of vitamin D3, which can then be used to fortify products like cereals and supplements.
Besides vitamin D3, Cheerios also contains sugar, an ingredient that is controversial, not for its source, but because of how it’s filtered by some suppliers.
Why The Sugar In Cheerios May Not Be Vegan
The reason the sugar in Cheerios may not be vegan is because it may be filtered using bone char, a property obtained by charring the bones of cattle, particularly leftovers from the meat industry.
Sugar can be extracted from two sources: sugar canes and beets.
While these two taste the same and have a similar texture, they’re filtered differently. The sugar extracted from beets is always vegan, but the same can’t be said about sugar derived from sugar cane.
When filtering cane sugar, the sugar cane is crushed and the juice is separated from the pulp. Then, sometimes, the juice is filtered, refined, and bleached using bone char, removing its inorganic impurities, while also providing it with a white, pristine color.
According to PETA, the cattle bones come from countries like Afghanistan, Argentina, India, and Pakistan. They’re bought by traders in Scotland, Egypt, and Brazil who then resell them to sugar suppliers in the United States.
Fortunately, not all sugar suppliers use bone char, and there are now many using alternatives such as activated carbon or ion-exchange resins, though that might not be the case with Cheerios.
Vegan Alternatives to Cheerios
In this section we’ve tried to find vegan alternatives that would closely resemble Cheerios, not only in terms of taste, but also in appearance. These are the options we’ve found.
Cascadian Farm Organic Fruitful-O’s
The Fruitful-O’s are whole grain and fruit-flavored cereals backed with organic corn and oat, as well as a few other ingredients.
Compared to Cheerios, they’re a healthier breakfast option. They contain organic cane sugar (which means it hasn’t been filtered), and it’s free from vitamin D3 and artificial ingredients.
Cheetah Chomps are also whole grain and fruit-flavored cereals made from organic ingredients.
They’re free from refined cane sugar, vitamin D3, and artificial colors, thus being a great vegan alternative to Cheerios.
Are Honey Nut Cheerios Vegan?
With Honey Nut Cheerios you don’t have to check the ingredient label to determine whether they’re vegan, since there’s an animal-derived ingredient attached to the name.
Honey, which is the main source of flavor, is an ingredient derived from the exploitation of bees.
Some vegans believe that honey can be vegan if bought from beekeepers following ethical practices, but most vegans think the contrary.
Honey Nut Cheerios also contain vitamin D3, which is not a vegan ingredient.
Is Sheep Shearing Cruel?
Sheep shearing is a method used to extract the wool from sheep, and there disagreements on whether that method is cruel.
Some sources (i.e. The Guardian) claim that sheep-shearing isn’t cruel because if the wool is not removed, the accumulation of wool may cause the sheep to overheat in the summer, which would decrease their mobility and increase the risk of flystrike.
On the other hand, organizations like PETA suggest that sheep shearing is cruel, and provide an example of what takes place in Australia.
Merinos (a type of sheep) are bred to have wrinkly skin, which allows for more wool per animal.
Having too much wool – however – causes the sheep to overheat. As a result, the wrinkles accumulate urine and moisture, which attracts flies that lay eggs in the folds of the skin.
The hatchlings born from those eggs eat the sheep alive, so Australian ranchers use a method called “mulesing”, which consists essentially of carving out huge strips of flesh off the backs, legs, and tails of sheep.
Sheep, however, are not the only wool-bearing animals, so exploitation also occurs with other animals – alpacas being one of them.
I’m not claiming this takes place in every barn, and I believe some ranchers are more ethical than others, however, sheep-shearing is something that is (or can be) cruel.
Does Vegan Vitamin D3 Exist?
There is only a single known source of plant-based vitamin D3 with similar concentrations to lanolin.
It’s called lichen, and it grows on rocks and trees in places like Scandinavia, North America, and parts of Asia. It’s a mixture of fungus and algae capable of surviving in areas with extreme climate conditions like tundras.
Lichen is gathered and washed at the same place where it’s extracted, and is sent to a lab to follow a process that is similar to the one used to produce vitamin D3 from lanolin.
Vitamin D3 made from lichen is hardly found in foods, but you can easily find it in vegan vitamin D3 supplements.
Summary: Are Cheerios Vegan?
Unfortunately, Cheerios are not vegan.
They contain vitamin D3, which is an ingredient derived from lanolin, a grease obtained from the wool of wool-bearing animals like sheep or alpacas.
Some sources claim that removing the wool from wool-bearing animals is not cruel, but animal rights organizations like PETA beg to disagree.
However, even if the wool-bearing animals are treated ethically, it doesn’t change the fact that they are exploited for the sake of human consumption. Therefore, lanolin is not vegan.