Ingredients to Watch Out for as a New Vegan

The grocery store can be a scary place for a new vegan. Sometimes it’s not always obvious whether a product contains animal products or not. If it’s just bread, it should be safe, right? Sadly this is not always the case and animal-derived products can show up on the ingredients list under names you wouldn’t expect.

Next time you’re at the store, watch out for these sneaky ingredients. Where they appear may surprise you.

Casein or caseinate – casein is derived from milk, and may even appear in soy cheese which you’d assume is a vegan-friendly product.

Lactose – lactose is also derived from milk.

Whey – whey is the liquid left over after cheese curds are formed, and is therefore a dairy product.

L-cysteine or L. Cysteine – this ingredient is made of feathers or hair, sometimes even human hair! It is often found in bread or bakery items.

Isinglass – most alcohol does not display an ingredients list, so it’s important to use a website like Barnivore to check to see if the alcohol you’re purchasing is vegan. Some companies also list their ingredients on their website. Isinglass is made from fish bladders!

Shellac or Confectioner’s glaze – or really most other glazes and waxes – other than caranuba which is derived from a plant – are made from insect secretions. Weird!

Gelatin – derived from animal collagen, this ingredient is often found in candy. Look for candy that contains vegan-friendly alternatives like agar agar instead.

Sugar – sugar can sometimes be whitened with bone char, which would obviously mean it isn’t vegan. Organic sugar does not use bone char, and alternatives like cane sugar or coconut sugar are safe as well. Some companies will label their product or post on their website if their product is not whitened with bone char. Mary from Mary’s Test Kitchen wrote a great, thorough blog post about vegan-friendly sugar.

Carmine, cochineal, carmic acid, or red #4 – many foods that contain red food dye are made with insects. If you see any of these words on the label, usually towards the end of the ingredients list, it’s not vegan-friendly.

Additives that start with E – ingredients like E904 or E471 come from animal sources. The Vegan Society has a full list of E numbers to avoid if you’re vegan.

Mono and diglycerides – These are preservatives in food that may come from animal products, but equally could be plant-based. It may specify on the package if the item is vegan or vegetarian friendly.

Omega-3s – most sources of commercially-available Omega-3s come from fish.

Royal jelly – this is a bee byproduct.

Vitamin D3 – often found in fortified products, these sources of D3 are usually derived from fish.

As someone who is trying to reduce our impact on the planet and its animals, it’s up to us to purchase products that don’t contain these ingredients. Maybe one day producers will stop using them if the demand is high enough.

It can be very hard to remember all of these items to avoid, especially when it comes to things like E-number additives and products fortified with vitamins that may come from an animal source. Do the best you can when you can! The easiest way to avoid reading all of the labels in the grocery store is to stick to whole foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, and grains.

Save this post to Pinterest to help out a new vegan!


  1. Hol

    Great list! I needed the reminder on a few of these, and then there were some I wasn’t familiar with. Why do food companies have to make it so confusing and complicated to find out what’s really in their food?

    1. Post

      It’s awful! I think there are a lot of things we still don’t realize are made with animal products. Hopefully as demand increases for vegan-friendly items, it will put pressure on companies – food, cosmetics, etc. – to remove all of these ingredients or clearly label the products that don’t contain any!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *