For a product to qualify as vegan, it must not contain animal products or byproducts and it must not be tested or tried on animals. Non vegan ingredients are things that are not part of the vegan lifestyle, meaning they are derived from animal sources such as meat, milk, and eggs, or they have come into contact with animal products in some way, such as during the processing of animal products.
In the food industry, sometimes companies will try to slip in non vegan ingredients without directly listing them on the ingredients list. Such ingredients can be hard to spot, especially since most are used as fillers and additives and go by names not likely to suggest animals.
Cosmetics are another culprit that often contains non vegan ingredients. So learning about these ingredients and what names they go by will be helpful to ensure that you are purchasing only vegan-friendly foods among other products.
Sneaky Non Vegan Ingredients in Food Products
Whey is the liquid portion of milk obtained during cheese making after milk has been curdled and strained.
It’s a common ingredient in protein shakes, nutritional supplements, cakes, bread, crackers, margarine, and cheese-flavored processed foods.
It’s also used in many foods as a flavor enhancer, gelling agent, thickener, and emulsifier and to improve the texture in different foods, including yogurt.
Whey is also a common ingredient in pre-packed foods, waffles, caramel, chocolate candies, pancakes, and puddings.
2. Vitamin D3
Many vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D; however, it’s good to understand that not all types of vitamin D are vegan.
Vitamin D3 is derived from lanolin found in sheep’s wool or fish liver oils.
It’s commonly used to fortify ingredients in foods and soft drinks, including orange juice.
Vitamin D3 is also common in supplements.
Although there is a vegan version of vitamin D3, always ensure it’s clearly indicated on the package. Alternatively, vegans can consume vitamin D2; however, studies show that D2 doesn’t raise your vitamin D level as much as vitamin D3.
Casein is a major protein in dairy, often present in cheese. The stretchy and melting characteristics of cheese are due to the presence of casein. There is a variety of vegan cheese in the market today, but be careful as some may contain sneaky vegan ingredients like casein. Seemingly harmless products like almond cheese, soy cheese, and rice cheese are common culprits. Plant based cheese should not be as stretchy as dairy-based, so if your vegan cheese is too stretchy and highly melting, casein was likely included as an ingredient.
Casein is also the main ingredient in most protein powders and is often used as a binder for powdered protein shakes, so if looking for a vegan protein powder, pea, hemp, and soy protein powders may be great alternatives. Be careful with soy, though.
Casein is also often added to processed products, including margarine, puddings, cakes, donuts, ice cream, coffee creamer, whipped toppings, and cream-based soups, including those listed as dairy-free. Hence ensure you’re carefully going through the ingredients list before making a purchase.
Additionally, casein is not only a non vegan ingredient, but it’s a potentially carcinogenic compound. Various studies, including a China study, found that casein can promote the development of multiple cancers, including prostate cancer. It can also increase the risk for cardiovascular conditions.
Moreover, casein is addictive due to the presence of casomorphin, an opioid peptide that acts like morphine in the brain. No wonder giving up on cheese is quite tricky, even for those willing to eliminate dairy from their diet. This also means that if your presumed vegan cheese contains casein, you may find it challenging to go without it.
3. Lactic acid
Lactic acid is a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation, created when bacteria break down carbohydrates for energy. It can be both vegan and non-vegan.
Artificially produced lactic acid is commonly used as a curing agent, a flavoring agent, and a preservative in packaged foods. It’s a common ingredient in processed foods like bread, cheese, beer, pickles, yogurt, candy, sauerkraut, olives, fruit preserves, and frozen desserts.
Lactic acid can be non vegan because it’s sometimes made from lactose, a sugar found in dairy. However, by the time lactic acid is completely formed, it usually has no trace of lactose. So technically, the lactic acid won’t have any animal products in it, but the fact that it was made from an animal product makes it a non vegan ingredient.
On the other hand, a vegan lactic acid can be produced from beet sugar or cornstarch.
Unfortunately, it’s always hard to tell whether the lactic acid in a given product is vegan or not, so read the ingredients carefully and always choose products with a vegan seal or logo. Get your own Vegan Lactic Acid.
Beeswax is a common ingredient found in almost everything.
It’s also the sneakiest and can go unnoticed. It’s responsible for the coating on apples to make them appear fresh for longer.
It’s also used as a coating in sweets, candies, and cheese production to seal out air, preventing mold formation and spoilage. Substitute with Carnauba Wax.
Isinglass is a type of gelatin obtained from dried swim bladders of fish; therefore, it’s not suitable for vegans.
It’s commonly used in the brewing industry as a fining and clarifying agent for wine and some types of beer.
Clarifiers and fining agents are additives that accelerate the removal of compounds used in beer production, such as yeast. This is will help them to adjust their flavor or improve clarity.
The clarification process can occur naturally if the beer is left undisturbed however isinglass quickens the process.
It’s not easy to tell whether your wine or beer has been filtered through isinglass, but if the product has a vegan logo or seal, then it’s probably isinglass-free.
Gelatin is an animal protein obtained by boiling animal parts (usually cows or pigs), including tendons, skin, bones, and ligaments.
Sold under the brand name Jell-O, gelatin is often used as a thickener and a gelling agent in products like jelly candies, marshmallows, fruit snacks, yogurt, cakes, frosted cereals, and gelatin containing deserts.
It’s also used to coat capsules and vitamins.
There are vegan gelatin alternatives like carrageenan from seaweed. However, studies have shown that carrageenan can cause health problems like inflammation and gastrointestinal damage.
Agar Agar is another vegan gelatin obtained by cooking and pressing algae.
Castorium is a weird animal ingredient secreted from mature beavers. Its purpose is to create a scent that allows the beavers to identify each other and mark their territory. Castorium has a scent similar to vanilla and raspberry, making it a common food additive and a flavoring ingredient.
Substitute with Pure Vanilla Flavoring
8. L. Cysteine
L. Cysteine is an amino acid obtained from cow horns, chicken, and duck feathers, but the common type used in food comes from human hair.
It’s used to prolong the shelf-life of products such as baked goods and commercial bread.
It’s also a common dough conditioner in foods like bread and donuts.
9. Confectioner’s Glaze
Commonly listed as shellac, pure food glaze, natural glaze, or resinous glaze.
It’s a hardened resin secreted by the female lac insect after consuming tree sap.
When harvested, the confectioner’s glaze can be applied on candies for preservation purposes and a smooth and shiny finish on products. Substitute with these Vegan Hard Candies.
It can also be used to prepare wax for the coating of fresh produce.
10. Carmine (carminic acid or carmine cochineal)
Carmine is a bright red coloring obtained from crushing cochineal beetles. It’s a common coloring ingredient in cosmetics and food products such as colored pasta, bottled juice, frozen pops, and some candies.
It’s also commonly added to ice cream, yogurt, cupcakes, doughnuts, and fruit pies. Try these Natural Food Colorings.
Lecithin is a substance naturally found in animal tissues, egg yolks, and soybeans.
It’s used as an emulsifier, a lubricant, and a preservative in processed foods and can be found in different products, including chocolates, sweets, sauces, marinades, margarine, baked goods, vegetable oil spray, breakfast cereal, and candy. Sunflower Lecithin is a great substitute.
12. Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential nutrients belonging to a polyunsaturated group of fatty acids. They are important for various functions, including fighting inflammation, improving heart health, promoting brain health, and boosting the immune system, among other benefits.
Omega 3 can be obtained through animal-based foods such as fish and other seafood and plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil. They can also be obtained as a supplement. Unfortunately, most omega 3 supplements contain the type found in animals.
Omega 3 fatty acids are often classified into 3: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA and EPA are found in fish and other animal foods, while ALA is found in plants like chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and plant oils such as olive, flaxseed, and avocado oils.
So the word omega 3 alone on the packaging is not enough to tell you whether that product is vegan or a non vegan ingredient—look further to see if the omega 3 sub-category has been listed and avoid anything with DHA and EPA. Also, omega 3s obtained from algae are vegan so don’t be afraid to take those.
Lard simply means pure animal fat (usually pork) that has been separated from the meat. Most lard is made through the rendering process where the fatty parts of the pig such as butt, belly, and shoulder are cooked slowly until all the fat has melted. The fat is then separated from the meat.
Once cooled, lard solidifies into a semi-solid white fat product, often without the lingering pork taste depending on the processing method.
Lard is often used for cooking in various recipes, including baked, sautéed, and grilled foods.
It’s commonly used in most store-bought pie crusts due to the flakiness it provides to the crust, plus its ability to hold the ingredients together.
Also, refined beans, especially in most Mexican restaurants, are often cooked in lard or bacon drippings. So don’t assume that they are just beans; ask if they are vegan-friendly, and if not, order something else. Many pre-made canned options also contain lard, so look for vegan labels and read the ingredients list to rule out any non vegan ingredients.
Other foods often prepared with lard include cakes, brownies, cupcakes, french fries, some cornbread brands, salad dressings, and tortilla wraps.
14. White sugar
Sugar comes from the sugarcane plant, and that makes it vegan. Right? Not necessarily. During processing, some companies, including those in the US, use bone char during the filtration process. Also known as natural carbon, bone char is a porous granular material produced by charring ground animal bones. It’s used as a decolourizing filter which renders sugar its white color. Modern technology has greatly replaced the use of bone char; however, it’s still used in some refineries.
Unfortunately, processed plant foods containing sugar do not state how the sugar used was manufactured, making it difficult to tell whether the sugar was vegan or not, unless. The best thing you can do is avoid foods containing added sugar altogether. Besides, sugar is highly inflammatory and has been associated with chronic conditions including high blood pressure, weight gain, fatty liver, diabetes, and cancer. Sugar has also been shown to increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Lactose is a type of sugar in milk. It’s among the most common non vegan ingredients found in presumed vegan products. The body produces an enzyme called lactase that helps break down the sugar for easy absorption. However, some people have lactose intolerance, a condition that makes it difficult for the body to digest and absorb lactose. These may cause digestive symptoms like gas, diarrhea, bloating, cramps, and nausea.
Regardless of whether one is intolerant to lactose or not, any dairy products and byproducts can be harmful to those who consume them.
Lactose by name is easy to spot on the ingredients list; however, it can be difficult to tell when added to processed foods like
- Baked goods like bread
- Sauces and salad dressings
- Cereal bars and breakfast cereals
- Instant soups, noodle mixes, potatoes, and rice
- Some candies
- Cheese flavored snacks
- Certain coffee creamers
- Mixes for cookies, pancakes, and biscuits
- Premade peas and lima beans
- Sugar beets
Sneaky Non Vegan Ingredients in Cosmetics
Lanolin is an oily and waxy substance naturally produced from the sebaceous gland of the sheep’s skin. It’s similar to the sebum produced from your skin’s sebaceous glands, except that lanolin doesn’t contain triglycerides.
Lanolin helps provide a protective barrier for sheep’s wool and skin against harsh climate and environment. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as sheep are shaved to obtain wool for the production of lanolin. As a byproduct of the wool industry, lanolin has given rise to the shredding and shaving of sheep to provide more wool for lanolin production. This has also given rise to the mass rearing of sheep, which goes against vegan ethics.
Lanolin is often used in skincare products and body butters. It’s also a common ingredient. It has a moisturizing and hydrating effect on the skin, which helps reduce water loss. For this reason, it’s a common ingredient in lotions and other moisturizers used to manage dry, itchy, scaly, and rough skin. It’s also a common ingredient in various infant care products like diaper rash cream and baby oil.
It’s also common in most over-the-counter products, including medicated shampoos, eye creams, lip balm, hemorrhoid creams, shaving creams, makeup, makeup removers, and products to soothe cracked nipples in breastfeeding mothers.
Keratin is a family of fibrous structural proteins. It’s one of the three structural proteins (together with collagen and elastin) that make up hair, nails, skin, feathers, scales, claws, and hooves.
It’s often referred to as the protein of life, as its composition is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails. In addition to strengthening these body parts, keratin plays a role in keeping everything nice and neat by holding cells together. Because it binds well with water and itself, keratin makes for excellent waterproofing materials for clothing, especially for gloves and other high-wear items. And despite its hardness, keratin is flexible enough to allow some degree of elasticity, which means it can be used in many ways throughout a host of industries ranging from cosmetics to construction.
Unfortunately, there are no sources of plant keratin, and all keratin used in cosmetic products are animal-based. So avoid any cosmetics with keratin as an ingredient. You can, however, enhance keratin production within the body by consuming foods like mango, garlic, kale, onion, sweet potatoes, sunflower, and carrots.
Glycerin is another name for glycerol. It’s an alcohol that occurs naturally in animal and vegetable fats. It can be derived from plants such as soy, palm, or coconut oil. It can also be produced synthetically. Glycerol has long been used in soap making and as a substitute for traditional sweeteners like sugar and honey. In addition to being used as an ingredient in food products, glycerol is commonly used to make personal care products such as toothpaste and cosmetics.
It’s not easy to tell whether the glycerin in a product is synthetic, from plants, or animals. However, most brands will indicate vegetable glycerin if it’s plant based, so always go through the ingredients list.
19. Animal hair
Animal hair is a common non-vegan ingredient in cosmetic brushes, even in those indicated cruelty-free. It’s often obtained from sable, fox, mink, goat, and squirrel. It’s also commonly used in eyelashes, especially the ones obtained from mink.
Brushes and eyelashes are also available in synthetic forms. So always go for the latter.
Collagen is one of your body’s primary connective tissues and makes up about 25% of your total protein. It helps maintain your skin, bones, tendons, cartilage, and teeth. As you age, collagen production slows down, so you need to replace it through diet or other means. Another common supplementation form is through topical products. For such products, the collagen used is often obtained from animal tissue, bone, skin, or ligaments.
The plant-based alternative includes almond oil and soy protein, but these are rarely used in collagen-containing cosmetics.
Guanine is a non vegan cosmetic ingredient and color additive obtained from scaling off dead fish. It’s often found in eyeshadow, blushes, sparkly nail polish, highlighters, lipsticks, and shampoos.
The FDA has also listed it as safe in coloring externally applied medications.
Differentiating non vegan ingredients from vegan ones can be quite a challenge if you have no idea of what you should be looking for.
Although there are usual and obvious animal products that should be avoided on a vegan diet, the ingredients listed in this article can sometimes be listed as ingredients in plant-based foods that are supposedly suitable for vegans. So make sure you go through the ingredients list carefully. Also, look for vegan trademarks like a vegan seal or logo as that signifies an authentic vegan product.
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- 8 Best Natural Probiotics For Vegan
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