Lucky Charms have been around for over seventy-five years and are an American classic. To this day, they’re still one of General Mills’ best-selling breakfast cereals, as kids (and adults) love the colorful, fun-shaped marshmallows mixed with whole grain oat cereal.
Sadly, most marshmallows aren’t vegan-friendly. This begs the question, “Are Lucky Charms vegan?”
Unfortunately, Lucky Charms cereal is NOT vegan. One of the main ingredients in the marshmallows is gelatin, which comes from pork and beef bones.
Additionally, Lucky Charms contain refined white sugar (filtered through animal bone char) and added vitamin D3, which is almost always derived from sheep’s wool.
In today’s post, I’m going to answer all of the vegan-related questions that you’ve ever had about Lucky Charms. Then, I’ll give you an ingredient-by-ingredient breakdown of everything used in Lucky Charms so you can decide for yourself whether or not this cereal is for you.
Do Lucky Charms Use Pork Gelatin?
The last thing that most people expect to eat for breakfast is a bunch of processed pork fat. Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t eat sausage for breakfast!” However, pork comes in many forms and it’s not always detectable.
Take gelatin, for instance. This tasteless pork (sometimes beef) by-product is obtained by extracting raw gelatin from the bones, skins, and tendons of boiled-down animal bones.
Gelatin is a natural fatty compound found in bones and mammalian flesh, which makes it a very non-vegan ingredient.
Since gelatin is tasteless, it’s almost impossible to recognize unless you take a close look at the ingredients list. For example, almost all varieties of Pop-Tarts use gelatin in their frosting.
Gelatin is one of the main ingredients used to make the marshmallows in Lucky Charms. Unfortunately, this makes it the main reason why Lucky Charms aren’t vegan.
Additionally, this also means that certain religions that abstain from pork consumption shouldn’t be eating Lucky Charms.
Are Marshmallows Vegan?
At this point, you’re probably wondering if all marshmallows are on the no-no list, or if it’s just the marshmallows in Lucky Charms that you have to worry about…
If you’re a marshmallow-lover, then I have some bad news for you. Most brands of marshmallows are NOT vegan.
This is because gelatin is almost always one of the main ingredients used in all varieties of marshmallows. I’ve searched high and low, and have only found a few brands of marshmallows that are vegan-friendly.
If you want to learn more about why marshmallows aren’t vegan and see some of my favorite vegan marshmallow brands, be sure to read my latest post here!
Can A Vegetarian Eat Lucky Charms?
Vegans and vegetarians are often confused, as both diets are centered around a plant-based diet. However, there are a few key differences between the two diets and lifestyles.
The biggest difference is that vegetarians consume animal products, such as:
Vegans, on the other hand, don’t consume any product that involves the exploitation of animals.
However, there’s one thing that vegetarians and vegans both agree on:
The consumption of meat is wrong.
Since Lucky Charms contain gelatin, a direct meat derivative, the cereal shouldn’t be consumed by vegetarians or vegans.
Are Lucky Charms Gluten-Free?
Gluten is a small protein that’s found in various grains. Wheat contains the highest concentration of gluten, compared to other grains.
Unfortunately, gluten can cause an allergic reaction in certain people who are allergic to the protein or have an inflammatory disease like celiac disease.
Thankfully, Lucky Charms aren’t made with wheat. They’re made with gluten-free oats, which makes the cereal 100% gluten-free!
This may be great news for those with celiac; but don’t get too excited, because it’s still not vegan.
What Are Lucky Charms Made Of? Ingredients Listed
When it comes to any food I review, I don’t expect my readers to take my word for it. This doesn’t really help you grow at all; it just answers a simple question.
Instead, I want to show you WHY a certain food is or isn’t vegan. To do this, I like to provide you with a full list of ingredients and explain why each ingredient is or isn’t vegan-friendly.
The more you learn about which ingredients to look out for, the easier it will be for you to answer these questions for yourself in the future, simply by reading the ingredients list.
So, to start with, here’s the official list of the ingredients, straight from the Lucky Charms website:
Now, let’s take a few minutes to break those down!
1) Whole Grain Oats
The main “cereal” (not the marshmallows) is made from whole grain oats. This is the same ingredient used to make Cheerios, another General Mills classic.
Whole grain oats are not only gluten-free but they’re also quite healthy! For one, they’re a great source of fiber, an important component of healthy digestion. It’s always a good idea to start your morning off with a bit of fiber, as it helps stimulate your metabolism.
Unfortunately, though, this still doesn’t make the Lucky Charms vegan. If you’re looking for a healthy, vegan-friendly way to consume oats, I suggest eating some raw oatmeal that’s lightly sweetened with vegan agave syrup!
The whole grain oat cereal is lightly sweetened with sugar; specifically, refined white sugar.
Although sugar is generally considered to be a vegan, plant-based sweetener, it’s become a problematic food additive for many vegans.
The reason sugar is such a “gray area” ingredient is that white sugar is filtered and refined using a special type of charcoal that’s made from animal bones. For over a century, animal bone char has been used to filter sugar, turning organic cane sugar into concentrated white crystals.
The main reason why white sugar is so prevalent in baking and processed food is that it’s more concentrated. This makes for a sweeter product with less of the malty sugar flavor that you’d expect from raw cane sugar.
This is why many vegans today don’t believe in consuming white sugar. Instead, ethical vegans (like myself) try to consume products sweetened with agave, fruit-based sweeteners or use raw unrefined cane sugar.
3) Corn Starch
Next up, we have corn starch. This is a very common additive that can be found in cereal, candy, cookies, and a number of processed carbohydrate products. Corn starch is vegan and plant-based. It’s mostly used as a thickener that adds volume and crunch to cereal, chips, etc.
It also acts as a moisture barrier and helps the cereal remain dry for long periods of time. In large amounts (i.e., deep-fried food) it can be unhealthy. In small amounts, though, it’s usually not a problem!
Dextrose is somewhat similar to corn starch in the fact that it’s plant-based starch that’s extracted from corn (and sometimes potatoes). However, dextrose is much more processed and contains a higher concentration of sugar.
It’s mostly used as an artificial sweetener and also serves as a light preservative. It’s not healthy to consume, but it is vegan-friendly.
Salt is always vegan and is either lab-synthesized or comes from oceanic salt deposits. It’s added to most cereal, bread, and chips to balance out the flavors of grain and oats, giving it a warmer flavor.
Gelatin is the main ingredient used to make marshmallows in Lucky Charms. It helps the puffed marshmallows keep their shape while still remaining soft and malleable.
Unfortunately, as I described above, gelatin is non-vegan since it’s directly extracted from pig and cow bones. Although vegan alternatives do exist, gelatin is still the cheapest emulsifier, which is why it’s used in most mainstream products.
7) Trisodium Phosphate
Trisodium phosphate is a mineral compound that serves as a preservative. It’s not derived from animals, though, so it’s generally considered vegan-safe.
8) Artificial Food Coloring
Although the Lucky Charms oat cereal isn’t colored, the marshmallows are all artificially colored with food dye. This cereal uses red 40, blue 1, and yellow 5 and 6 to create the bright, fun-looking marshmallows in the cereal.
Although these food colorings are often scrutinized for their potential threat to health, they’re lab-created and artificial, which makes them vegan-friendly.
9) Natural & Artificial Flavors
In addition to sugar, Lucky Charms cereal and marshmallows also contain natural and artificial flavors. For example, most marshmallows are artificially flavored with vanilla to give them a more “natural” taste. The cereal also likely contains some natural malt flavors as well.
Artificial flavors are always vegan since they’re lab-synthesized. However, natural flavors can sometimes be non-vegan, if they’re derived from animal sources like dairy and meat.
It’s unlikely that Lucky Charms uses animal-derived natural flavors, though. It’s just something to be aware of when you’re looking at other food products.
10) Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a healthy vitamin that’s known for benefiting your skin and hair. In Lucky Charms, though, it’s used as a natural preservative that helps preserve the color of the cereal and the marshmallows.
Vitamin E is always vegan, though, so you don’t have to worry about it!
11) Added Vitamins & Minerals
Like most breakfast cereals, Lucky Charms include added vitamins and minerals. This is why General Mills is allowed to market the cereal as a “healthy breakfast” even though the cereal is mostly just empty carbs and sugar.
These vitamins and minerals are healthy and most of them come from plant-based sources. However, one vitamin, in particular, is problematic:
Vitamin D3 almost always comes from animals and is typically extracted from sheep’s wool. For this reason, most vegans choose to supplement with vitamin D2 instead, which comes from plants.
The Verdict – Are Lucky Charms Vegan-Friendly?
Unfortunately, Lucky Charms are NOT vegan-friendly. The marshmallows contain gelatin, a pork-derived fatty compound, and the oat cereal includes added vitamin D3, which is also animal-derived.
That being said, there are still plenty of great-tasting vegan cereals on the market to choose from. If you’re craving the delicious crunch of toasted cereal to pair with your almond milk, check out my list of the best vegan cereal brands next!