10 Non-Vegan Food Ingredients to Avoid

Going vegan has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s not an impossible feat. Unfortunately, some seemingly innocuous ingredients are derived from animals. It is essential to do your research.

Vegan foods are usually labeled these days, but reading labels is a must if you are just getting started. Here are ten hidden animal ingredients to avoid:



It is not always easy to tell if something is vegan when “natural flavors” are listed in the ingredients. The term “natural flavors” can describe ingredients that are derived from plants and animals. Many of the additives used for flavoring food are animal-derived.

The FDA’s definition of “natural flavors” is:

“The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”

Look for products specifically labeled vegan first. But when in doubt, you may want to call the manufacturer to clarify what type of natural flavors their product contains.



Whey is a byproduct of the cheese-making process. The liquid portion remains after milk has been curdled and separated. This liquid byproduct that is used as a filler is called whey. It is also a popular dietary supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders to obtain additional protein. Instead of whey, look for products with plant-based protein such as pea protein or soy protein.



Casein is a milk protein found in mammalian milk. It is commonly used in cheeses, ice cream, and bakery goods but can also be found in coffee creamers, instant cream soups, whipped toppings, pasta, cereals, and even granola.

If you are looking for a casein alternative try pea, brown rice,  or soy protein powders instead.



Carmine is a dye used to create a red color for food products. They make this red dye by crushing sun-dried cochineal insects. It takes about 70,000 insects to make one pound of carmine. You will find this dye in candies, cake mixes, juices, and yogurts. Carmine may also be listed on ingredients labels under any of these names:

  • Cochineal
  • Cochineal extract
  • Carminic acid
  • Natural Red 4
  • Crimson lake
  • Carmine lake



Many people are surprised to learn that gelatin is not vegan. After all, it neither looks nor tastes like anything you would expect from meat. The disturbing truth is gelatin is considered a meat byproduct made from leftovers. Factories make gelatin by boiling down a combination of skin, connective tissues, and bone from animals, usually cows and pigs.

Marshmallows, gummy candies, even medicine capsules are all made with gelatin so be sure to read all labels before purchasing your favorite treat or medication.



Isinglass is a type of gelatin obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is used as a refining and clarifying agent in some jellies, beers, and wines.

Isinglass may not be listed in the ingredients because it is considered part of the refining process rather than essential. The only way to know for sure is to contact the manufacturer.



Tallow is rendered animal fat, generally from a cow or sheep. It is most commonly used to produce shortening. It is used for baking and frying.

It is easy to replace tallow with vegetable shortening, vegetable oil, or olive oil.



Lard is fat rendered from the abdomen of a pig. Similar to tallow, lard can be used for baking and frying. Some cuisines use lard in a variety of savory dishes and fillings, it even shows up in pastries.

Coconut oil, vegetable oil, or olive oil are great substitutes for animal-based lard. Even mashed avocados or bananas can replace lard.



Lecithin is a fat found in both plant and animal products, so you have to read labels carefully. Look for the term “soy lecithin” to avoid animal products. Lecithin’s emulsifying properties make it very useful for combining ingredients that would otherwise not mix well together. It can also increase the shelf life of foods.

You’ll find lecithin in items like salad dressings, frozen desserts, and baked goods. Good alternatives for lecithin are ground flaxseed, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, or even guar gum. Olive oil, grapeseed oil, and canola oil are good replacement options.



Honey is a non-vegan product that is heavily debated between vegans & non-vegans alike but it is considered non-vegan due to the processes employed to gather it.

Honeybees are vital to pollinate most of the fruits and vegetables that we all consume but sadly there aren’t enough bees to take on this workload naturally.

In response to this problem farmers turned to migratory beekeeping. Migratory beekeeping involves farmers placing hives into the fields where bees live and pollinate crops during a time period when the plants are most fertile.

This involves cruelty to the bees. This is an excerpt from to Scientific American:

Forcing bees to gather pollen and nectar from vast swaths of a single crop deprives them of the far more diverse and nourishing diet provided by wild habitats. The migration also continually boomerangs honeybees between times of plenty and borderline starvation. Once a particular bloom is over, the bees have nothing to eat, because there is only that one pollen-depleted crop as far as the eye can see. When on the road, bees cannot forage or defecate. And the sugar syrup and pollen patties beekeepers offer as compensation are not nearly as nutritious as pollen and nectar from wild plants.”

Beyond the cruelty of migratory beekeeping, in honey farms Queen bees often have their wings ripped off so they can’t escape their hive and many bees are also harmed or killed both during and after the honey is harvested.

There are loads of honey alternatives to try so that no bees are harmed such as apple honey, agave, or maple syrup.

Animal-derived ingredients can be sneaky. The names are not always straightforward. Doing research is vital if you want to avoid animal ingredients. The good news is the more you do it, the easier it gets. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, look up terms you are unfamiliar with, or even give the manufacturer a call or send them an email. Before you know it, you’ll be an expert vegan.



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