Monday, March 21, 2011

Peet's Coffee, Nutritional Data, and Cholesterol in Vegetables

Did you know that cholesterol comes from animals?  And only from animals?  Of course you did, because you're a savvy vegan.  For some reason, the average person has a hard time believing this fundamental nutritional fact. Is the average person's skepticism valid?  A little.

Plants do contain tiny amounts of cholesterol.  According to this source, 1,247 pounds of vegetable fat contain about 1 ounce of cholesterol.  For those of you who prefer modern weights and measures, that works out to about 50mg of cholesterol for every kg of plant fat.  By comparison, one kilogram of animal fat contains about 950mg of cholesterol.  In other words, plants contain negligible amounts of cholesterol, and the cholesterol value in the Nutritional Information chart for any vegan food will always be 0 (zero).   (Please play around with the USDA's database to check my math and discover your own facts!)

Imagine my surprise when I found non-zero cholesterol values for some vegan items listed in Peet's Coffee's Artisan Baked Goods Nutritional Information publication. In this document, the Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie and Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookie list 2mg and 3mg of cholesterol, respectively.  That meant that one of the following cases must be true:
  1. The cookies contained 40g to 60g of vegetable fat, respectively
  2. The cookies weren't actually vegan
  3. The data was incorrect
Case #1 is impossible, because the Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie lists only 8g of total fat, and the Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookie lists 13g of total fat.  Case #2 is unlikely; the corporate nutrition advisors at Peet's Coffee would have to gravely misunderstand the definition of "vegan."  Case #3 is likely; the document contains a lot of numbers and data entry is prone to human error.

And the winner is... Case #3: The data was incorrect.  Here's my correspondence with Peet's:
Sent: Friday, March 18, 2011 4:44 PM
Feedback Concerning: Grocery


Hi.  I just downloaded your baked_goods.pdf from and found some errors.

Your Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie and Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookie list
cholesterol values greater than zero.  Either those measurements are
incorrect, or those products aren't vegan.  Could you clarify this

Thank you

Date: March 21, 2011 10:53:51 AM PDT
Hi Stephen,

Thank you for your email!

We have verified with the owner of the bakery that supplies our Vegan cookies that there is no cholesterol in these cookies. It was an error in our information but it will be corrected as soon as possible.
This was just recently brought to our attention so the online information is in the process of being updated. I apologize for any confusion this may have created and hope this information is helpful!

Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Please do not hesitate to give us a call if you have any questions, anyone here is more than happy to assist you, even if you simply have questions about coffee or tea. We are open five days a week: Monday through Friday 6am to 6pm PST.


erica smith
Customer Service Representative

PO Box 12509
Berkeley, CA 94712



  1. Well done. I didn't know that. But now I wonder if that's why you've been craving more sunlight. Cholesterol is the key precursor to Vitamin D in humans, so low-cholesterol diets are typically Vitamin D-deficient. Maybe you already knew that, being a savvy vegan and all.


  2. Hey, Gaelen. I attribute my hunger for sunlight primarily to my living in a basement.

    I create plenty of cholesterol on my own, thanks to my mammalian parents. I'd like to read your source for the correlation between cholesterol consumption and Vitamin D production, however. This esoteric factoid falls outside of my ken.

  3. OK, you got me. I was just commenting from my own general knowledge, but I went to PubMed to try and find some specific studies.

    Most recent studies take cholesterol as a precursor to Vitamin D as a given rather than looking at it as an open question (see, i.e.,, so I had to go back to a 1927 study to find the basics of that part: I note that this study emphasizes the importance of ergosterol over "regular" cholesterol in Vitamin D production, the former of which is found in brewers' yeast and mushrooms, so that undermines my point.

    Later studies emphasize the importance of 7-dehydrocholesterol in addition to ergosterol as a Vitamin D precursor. 7-dehydrocholesterol is a cholesterol derivative but I got derailed before I could figure out if this is obtained only through diet or if it is manufactured by the human body. A couple of examples that discuss the role of 7-dehydrocholesterol are and

    I got derailed because the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition website went down for maintenance. So don't try to access those articles right away. But the best part of the first one is that its introduction anticipates it being of interest to "Vitamin D aficionados." I just liked the idea that Vitamin D aficionados exist.

    So the bottom line is that I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist and I was really just making assertions based on general knowledge and I will concede that you are right, because I don't like to disagree. Move to an apartment with more sunlight.

  4. That's good to know, I would always have argued that cholesterol could never be found in plants, until blue in the face! Interesting to note that it translates as 'solid' & 'bile'...[wiki]