LUNA is a Clif Bar & Company brand that was started by the company’s female employees for a female consumer base. At its inception in the 90’s, the LUNA bar’s main selling point was that each bar had fewer than 200 calories.
They are still low-calorie today, but they have eased up on this strict cutoff in favor of more meaningful selling points, like the fact that the bars have no trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. In order to reach a wider audience, including consumers with some dietary restrictions, they also started making all their bars gluten free several years ago.
But what about other dietary restrictions — are LUNA bars vegan? Well, some of them are, kind of.
LUNA Bars have two major product lines, LUNA and LUNA Protein. According to LUNA, LUNA bars do not contain any animal-based products. There are still concerns for vegans though, like cross-contamination and ingredients like Palm Oil.
Let’s discuss a little further.
Are LUNA Protein Bars Vegan?
Let’s start with the bad news. LUNA Protein, one of LUNA’s two main product lines, is a line of protein bars with slightly fewer calories and more protein than their standard bars. They contain 12 grams of protein, compared to the 7-8 grams of the standard bars, and are available in chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate salted caramel, or chocolate peanut butter flavor.
Unfortunately, some of this extra protein comes from whey protein, a dairy by-product, which means the protein bar line isn’t vegan.
Are LUNA Bars Vegan?
LUNA Bar, their other product line, offers a lot more variety. They have flavors from blueberry to chocolate cupcake, as well as “mash-up” flavor combinations, like lemon zest and blueberry or peanut butter and fudge. Some LUNA Bars also boast added prebiotic fiber to promote digestive health.
Although they are not certified or advertised as vegan, none of the bars in this standard line are made with any animal products! For some folks, this may make them “vegan enough”, but since there are other things to consider, we’ll talk about those, too.
Some of the current flavors of Luna Bar available are:
- LemonZest Equality Bar
- Chocolate Peppermint Stick Equality Bar
- Nutz Over Chocolate Equality Bar
- Blueberry Bliss
- Mash-Ups: LemonZest + Blueberry
- Wild Cherry Flavor w/2.5g prebiotics
- Tangerine Zest Flavor w/2.5g prebiotics
- Mash-Ups: Peanut Butter + Fudge
- Chocolate Dipped Coconut
- Chocolate Cupcake
- S’mores Flavor
- White Chocolate Macadamia
- LemonZest Minis
- Creamy Dreamy Peanut Butter
- Caramel Walnut Brownie
- Chocolate Chip Cookie
- Sea Salt Caramel
Other Vegan Concerns with Luna Bars
For many vegans, like ethical vegans, whether or not a product is truly vegan involves factors other than just whether the product contains milk or eggs. Here are a few other considerations to keep in mind with Luna Bars:
We are probably all familiar with seeing the allergen statement “May contain ____”. When you see this statement on the nutrition information panel, it means that the product was made in the same facility as products that do contain that allergen, even if it’s not an ingredient of the product itself. It’s no guarantee that there are trace amounts of the allergen, and in fact the chances may be pretty low, but they are not zero.
LUNA Bars alert consumers that they “may contain milk”, so if the possibility of cross-contamination bothers you, it’s probably best to avoid them altogether.
There are some common ingredients that could be problematic for vegans, even if they aren’t animal products. Let’s talk about which of these appear in LUNA Bars.
Although cocoa is a plant-based ingredient, the way it’s made can be an issue for some vegans. Quite often, cocoa is produced using child slave labor, which is hardly cruelty-free. For this reason, many people don’t think cocoa from these unethical sources should be considered vegan.
However, if cocoa is organic, that’s usually a good sign that slave labor wasn’t involved. (The regions that produce organic cocoa have yet to be the site of any child slave labor concerns on cocoa farms.) Some cocoa even makes a point of the fact that slave labor was not used, such as by including “fair trade” on the label, and this is also a pretty reliable indicator.
Having said all that, we are happy to report that every LUNA Bar flavor that includes chocolate (chocolate cupcake, s’mores, etc) is made with cocoa, the cocoa used is always organic! This means that, as far as we know, the cocoa in LUNA Bars shouldn’t be an issue for vegans.
Another potential issue is the frustratingly vague “natural flavors”. As many of us know, pretty much anything that is both natural and used for flavoring can be covered under this umbrella term. That includes dairy, eggs, and even meat.
Some companies tell you when their “natural flavors” are plant-based, especially when they are marketing a product as vegan.
The good news here is that according to LUNA:
All of our products can fit within a plant-based diet and are made with predominantly plant-based ingredients. In fact, most of our foods contain no intentionally added animal-based ingredients.
There are only a few Clif products that contain animal-based ingredients:
– CLIF Whey Protein, LUNA Protein, Zbar Protein and CLIF Recovery Protein Drink Mix contain whey protein from milk.
– CLIF Bar Peanut Butter & Honey w/ Sea Salt contains honey.
Based off this statement, we feel pretty comfortable that the natural flavors in their standard LUNA bar line do not contain animal-based ingredients.
Palm Kernel Oil & Solids
The ethics of palm oil production are fairly controversial, in the mainstream as well as among vegans. Forests in Indonesia and Malaysia (the world’s two largest palm oil exporters) are torn down to make room for plantations to produce palm oil. This destroys the habitat of dozens of species, including elephants and orangutans.
The industry is not well-regulated, and these plantations often use fertilizers that contaminate the soil and groundwater, causing further problems for the wildlife. Sometimes, animals are even killed by plantation workers if they get too close, as they are inevitably going to do when the land that is now a plantation was once their home.
Because so much harm is caused to so many animals in the name of producing palm oil, many say that consuming palm oil isn’t compatible with veganism. Still, it is not an animal product, so it’s up to every individual to decide whether it fits with the version of veganism that they are living.
To make matters more confusing, the palm oil used in all Clif Bar & Company products is Rainforest Alliance Certified. This certification began as a way to combat the environmental devastation caused by palm plantations.
The Rainforest Alliance works with companies to find ethical, sustainable solutions — for example, they require that no deforestation has occurred on a farm since 2005 in order for oil from that farm to be certified. They also require that reforestation is used to offset any damage done by the farm at least through 1999.
However, there’s a bit of an issue with the certification: certified products can be made with only 30% certified ingredients. This means that products, like LUNA Bars, can be certified even if 70% of the palm oil comes from unethical sources. (That won’t necessarily be the case, in fact it’s possible that their palm oil is 100% ethically sourced, but the problem is that we just can’t know.)
If you don’t consider palm oil vegan because of the environmental impact, the Rainforest Alliance Certification could put LUNA Bars in the clear, but it’s really difficult to say for sure.
Although LUNA Protein bars aren’t vegan by any definition, the regular LUNA Bars are a more complicated story. It’s up to you to figure out whether you consider ingredients like palm oil vegan and whether you’re ok with the risk of cross-contamination during the production process.
For what it’s worth, Jen (the ethical vegan between the two of us) and myself (the ‘plant-based eater’) both consume LUNA Bars. Not very often mind you, but we both consider them vegan.
Finally, don’t feel like you need protein supplements. There are plenty of easy ways to get in all the protein you need from the food we eat, even if you’re an athlete.