Tablets and capsules are two of the most common delivery systems for nutritional supplements and medications. These two systems are both effective in dispensing a precisely controlled dose. However, they can pose a problem for vegetarians and vegans who are trying to avoid products with animal-based ingredients. Before jumping into vegan concerns in capsule vs tablet delivery systems, let’s take a look at what the two options are:
What’s the Difference Between Tablets and Capsules?
Tablets are small, hard pills. The active ingredient, in the form of a powder or granules, is mixed with additives and binders. The mix is compressed into a rounded shape to be easier to swallow. Sometimes it is coated to disguise the taste, make swallowing easier, and delay when the pill is broken down.
Capsules contain a blend of powders and granules, just like with tablets. The active ingredients are then packed into an empty capsule made of a gummy coating. Capsules tend to have a more oblong shape for ease of swallowing.
Which Ingredients Are Not Suitable for Vegans?
When looking at capsule vs tablet options, both categories of pills may contain ingredients of concern.
The most commonly encountered pill ingredient that is not vegan-friendly is gelatin. Gelatin is derived from the collagen of animals’ bones and connective tissues. It is inexpensive and widely available, making it many pill manufacturers’ first choice. Gelatin is used to produce capsules. It also sometimes shows up in tablets as a binder ingredient.
The coating and binders in tablets may also contain non-vegan ingredients. Three relatively common possibilities include:
- Carmine – a red dye derived from cochineal insects
- Shellac – a natural resin extracted from Laccifer lacca, a scale insect
- Caprylic acid – derived from milk
Finally, the medication itself may contain animal-derived compounds. Many multivitamins fall under this list. Some potentially problematic ingredients are:
- Magnesium stearate – often derived from pork
- Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – obtained from animal sources including sheep’s wool
- Omega 3 supplements – often produced from fish oil
What Vegan-Friendly Alternatives Are There?
Vegans who wish to avoid gelatin-based pills may need alternatives like:
- Tapioca and starch capsules
- HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose) capsules
For binders, look for plant-based ingredients such as:
- Rice flour
- Orange peel pectin
Some coatings suitable for vegans include:
- Pregelatinized starch
- Natural red dyes derived from beetroot and other plants
- Plant based resins and gums like guar gum
For multivitamin alternatives, you can look for:
- Vegetable magnesium stearate
- Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)
- Flaxseed oil based vitamin D3
- Algal based Omega 3 supplements
One final concern for some vegans is whether the pills were developed with animal testing. The packaging may specify this. Otherwise, you may need to contact the manufacturer.