Cheerios are a funny cereal. The box boldly claims that it will lower your cholesterol—meanwhile, it’s still a processed food containing sugar and other curious ingredients. But today, we’re looking specifically at whether Cheerios are vegan.
Cheerios are not strictly vegan. They contain vitamin D sourced from sheep’s wool, plus sugar likely filtered with bone char. Flavors like Honey Nut Cheerios also contain honey, which is not typically considered vegan. However, some vegans are okay with these minor ingredients and eat Cheerios anyway.
Below, I’ve made a table of every Cheerios flavor and the controversial “non-vegan” ingredients they each contain. After that, we’ll take a look at each of these “minor” ingredients and why they are each debated in the vegan community.
Which Cheerios Flavors Are Vegan?
You may only be familiar with Original Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Multi Grain Cheerios. But there are actually over 20 different flavors. Some are rare—but usually you can find a few in big grocery stores.
I went through the ingredients lists for all the current Cheerios cereal flavors, and I took note of any ingredients commonly of concern to vegans. Here’s what I found:
|Cheerios Flavor||Ingredients of Concern|
|Toasted Coconut Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Blueberry Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Maple Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Cheerios Oat Crunch, Cinnamon||Honey, Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Peach Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Original Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Honey Nut Cheerios||Honey, Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Multi Grain Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Apple Cinnamon Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Chocolate Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Fruity Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Frosted Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Banana Nut Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Cheerios Oat Crunch, Oats ‘N Honey||Honey, Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Chocolate Strawberry Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Cinnamon Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch||Honey, Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Multi Grain Cheerios with Real Strawberries||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Pumpkin Spice Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
|Very Berry Cheerios||Vitamin D3, Sugar|
As you can see, the most consistent ingredients of concern are vitamin D3 and sugar. And so, for a vegan like me, who doesn’t boycott those ingredients, there’s just four cereals that contain honey.
Which Cheerios Contain Honey?
Here is the list of the four Cheerios flavors that currently contain honey:
- Honey Nut Cheerios
- Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch
- Cheerios Oat Crunch, Cinnamon
- Cheerios Oat Crunch, Oats ‘N Honey
Again, this is the list of Cheerios flavors that I personally avoid as a vegan.
“Non-Vegan” Ingredients in Cheerios
I put “non-vegan” in quotation marks here for a reason. It’s because there is quite a bit of debate amongst vegans about this ingredients.
Sometimes, I even refer to these ingredients as “gray area” ingredients for vegans.
Relaxed vegans might say that all Cheerios are vegan enough for them. On the other side, the most strict vegans might say that no Cheerios are vegan.
My personal view is in between: I’d say that all but four flavors of Cheerios are “vegan enough” for me. But enough beating around the bush—let’s discuss these controversial ingredients.
Honey is made by bees. Bees are insects. Insects are animals. So honey is an animal product, of course. And vegans don’t eat animal products, right?
Well, not usually. But there’s some debate about honey. Why?
First off, it’s not clear how much bees experience consciousness, pain, or suffering. Vegans debate about whether it’s scientifically likely that bees are capable of “suffering” in an ethically relevant sense.
But that’s not the only issue. There’s also a more pragmatic one: Does boycotting honey make veganism less accessible as a movement?
There’s a famous article written by Dr. Michael Greger, author of my favorite vegan nutrition book, on this issue. He argues that vegans’ avoidance of honey hurts the movement—and makes vegans look crazy.
This article was written way back in 2005 in Satya. But it’s just as relevant to the honey debate today. Here’s an excerpt:
“It’s happened to me over and over. Someone will ask me why I’m vegan—it could be a new friend, co-worker, distant family, or a complete stranger. I know I then have but a tiny window of opportunity to indelibly convey their first impression of veganism. I’m either going to open that window for that person, breezing in fresh ideas and sunlight, or slam it shut as the blinds fall. So I talk to them of mercy. Of the cats and dogs with whom they’ve shared their lives. Of birds with a half piece of paper’s worth of space in which to live and die. Of animals sometimes literally suffering to death. I used to eat meat too, I tell them. Lots of meat. And I never knew either.
Slowly but surely the horror dawns on them. You start to see them struggling internally. How can they pet their dog with one hand and stab a piece of pig with the other? They love animals, but they eat animals. Then, just when their conscience seems to be winning out, they learn that we don’t eat honey. And you can see the conflict drain away with an almost visible sigh. They finally think they understand what this whole “vegan” thing is all about. You’re not vegan because you’re trying to be kind or compassionate—you’re just crazy! They smile. They point. You almost had me going for a second, they chuckle. Whew, that was a close one. They almost had to seriously think about the issues. They may have just been considering boycotting eggs, arguably the most concentrated form of animal cruelty, and then the thought hits them that you’re standing up for insect rights. Maybe they imagine us putting out little thimble-sized bowls of food for the cockroaches every night.” (source)
So, should we avoid Honey Nut Cheerios because of bee exploitation? Or just go ahead and eat it? It’s up to you.
Personally, I still avoid honey as a vegan. It feels like theft from the bees who worked so hard to make it. Let them keep their sweet, sweet nectar, I say. But you may disagree!
Vitamin D3 can be sourced from animals or plants. But when it’s fortified in products like cereal, the assumption is that it’s coming from lanolin—an ingredient that comes from sheep’s wool. So it’s not typically vegan.
That said, some vegans (including myself) would argue that it’s really not a big deal. The vitamin D is present in such small amounts. Does it even make a difference?
If you want to avoid fortified vitamin D3 as a vegan, I understand. But I’d encourage you to actually call or email the company and let them know why you’re avoiding the product. Because they probably won’t notice otherwise.
For a longer discussion of this issue, see my post “Is the Vitamin D in Cereal Vegan? And Does It Matter?”
Bone char from cattle is often used to filter processed sugar (to make it whiter). So some vegans avoid refined sugar where this is likely. But the challenge with avoiding “bone char sugar” is that it’s not labeled as such on the package.
Sugar that is made from beets or coconuts is not likely to be filtered with bone char. Also, organic sugar is not filtered with bone char. But conventionally grown cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, and brown sugar are likely to be filtered with this animal ingredient. (source)
So, should you avoid the sugar in Cheerios? Personally, I wouldn’t worry about it—but it’s up to you.
So… Are Cheerios Vegan?
It depends how you define “vegan.” Sorry to be difficult like that, but Cheerios are a perfect example of how the lines can be a bit blurred in veganism.
To be clear:
- Some vegans would avoid all Cheerios because of the vitamin D and sugar.
- Other vegans are fine with eating any Cheerios flavor because they consider vitamin D, sugar, and honey to be minor ingredients not worth worrying about.
- For me, I just avoid the Cheerios flavors with honey.
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