Secret Non-Vegan Ingredients

learning about vegan and gluten-free ingredients in food
How to look out for hidden animal products when you’re a vegan

by Terri Wilson

Trying to understand ingredient labels can be tough when you are looking to be both gluten-free and vegan. The gluten issue is simpler since there is just a short list of things you need to avoid, but there can be a lot of animal-based ingredients in your food that you aren’t even aware of. I mean, lots.

The simplest approach is to eliminate all processed food completely. A natural and whole-food diet gets rid of ingredients lists altogether, or just stick to foods that have the authentic Vegan label on them. As nice as this sounds, it’s not that practical for most busy (and budget-conscious) folks. So get to know some hidden animal ingredients and keep on the lookout next time you shop.


Because the word looks like “wheat”, people often think this is some sort of grain. Nope. Whey is a dairy by-product that comes from the cheese-making process and you can find it in a lot of foods. Baked goods have it the most but whey is in a lot of other foods too.

Stearic Acid

This comes from different kinds of animal fats, and it is used in a variety of foods as a thickener. Again, baked goods can be a big culprit but you should watch for it in candies, and artificial vanilla flavoring.


This is another unfamiliar ingredient that doesn’t immediately set off vegan red flags. It is used in many different products as an emulsifier to help the other ingredients mix together more smoothly and evenly. Margarine, chocolate, candy, cereals and baked goods (again) have it the most often. There are soy-based sources for lecithin which can be more acceptable. Just read the ingredients carefully as the list should specify if it’s a soy lecithin. If it doesn’t say otherwise, it comes from animals fats or egg yolks.

Lactose or Lactic Acid

Both of these are milk ingredients that are used as a culturing ¬†or fermenting acid in many foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, candy, and olives, cheese and yogurt. Of course cheese and yogurt are already made with animal products so it won’t matter too much in those cases because you’re already not eating them. But other foods do have them so be on the look-out. It’s not just dairy.


This one is another milk-based ingredient that is used as a protein binder even in non-dairy foods and it’s found in many breads, cereals, soups, salad dressings and margarine. It is not the same as lactose so anything that claims to be lactose-free can still have casein in it.

Vitamins A, B12 and D3

Any foods that are fortified with these extra vitamins are probably carrying animal products, unless they specify that their vitamins are from plant sources. Many of these typically come from fish oils though some plants are good sources too. The ingredients should specify if they are vegetable-souced.


Albumin comes exclusively from egg whites and can be found in a huge range of different processed foods as a thickener and protein additive. You may also notice this one in some skin care products too.


True gelatin comes from boiling tendons and bones of various animals, and it is it many foods for thickening. In particular, you’ll find it in a lot of gummy candies and of course, Jello.