Going Vegan? Watch Out For These Sneaky Ingredients!

Organic-aisle Hy-vee from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 KOMUnews, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

When you first go vegan, it’s easy to get tripped up by a few sneaky animal ingredients in some food and household products.

If this happens to you, don’t sweat it – it happens; if you haven’t had a reason to look for these before, how could you know? And most of these ingredients don’t even sound like they came from an animal. It can be confusing.

So here I am with a handy guide to spotting the main culprits that lurk sneakily in groceries, so you can look out for and avoid them in the future.

It has to be said that these ingredients are mostly in processed foods; so the more whole foods, plant-based we can go the better, in terms of avoiding them as much as possible.

It may seem like a hassle, always reading ingredients; but I promise you, after a few shops you will know exactly which products contain this stuff and which don’t.

It will be second nature before you know it.

Here are the devious little blighters!



You’ve no doubt heard of this one. Gelatin is a gelling agent used in food, photography, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals (I’m absolutely not suggesting you stop taking any meds that contain gelatin  – I’m just imparting info!). It can be derived from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cows, pigs, horses, chickens and fish, so is thus not very vegan!

If you are cooking and the recipe requires gelatin, don’t panic! Simply use agar agar, carrageenan, or check out kosher gelatins, which are often vegan.



Lactose is milk sugar. Though it isn’t added to many foods, it is often added to pharmaceuticals as a stabiliser. It can also be found in body care products and baby formula.

It had recently been added to the ingredients of my favourite hand cream – I am NOT amused!


Skimmed Milk Powder

I include skimmed milk powder because I got caught out with this a couple of times. It is often the last on a long list of ingredients, and so you may see the main bunch of ingredients and assume the product is vegan. It’s honestly always worth checking the end of the list to see if this stuff is included.

I got caught out with chai. Please know that there is skimmed milk powder in most powdered chai! Liquid chai however, is almost always vegan, thank goodness!



Albumin or albumen is a fancy name for dried egg white. It is often used in pastries, baked goods and other processed food items. It can also be used to clarify and stabilise wine.

I’m so allergic to eggs it’s super important I avoid this goop!



Casein is the protein found in milk, and is thus in all dairy products.

Believe it or not, casein can be found in products that you would think were vegan, like soy or rice cheese, so unless you see the ‘vegan’ sign on the packaging of these cheeses, DO check the ingredients.

Also, check for any ingredient that contains the word ‘casein’ like calcium caseinate. As you would guess, this contains casein.



This ‘sugar alcohol’ is used as a humectant, solvent, sweetener and a shelf life extender in foods. It is also found in pharmaceuticals and body care products.

This one can be confusing because it can either derive from animals OR plants.

It seems that the default ‘glycerine’ as a food ingredient is usually from an animal source – if it is of vegetable origin it will normally be specified as such. So unless it is marked ‘vegetable glycerine’, personally, I’d leave it.



This is a resin secreted by a bug.

I remember it being an ingredient in Smarties when I was a kid. Ick! I must have eaten a whole crap-ton of it!

It’s used on fruit, candy and pharmaceutical pills, as a glaze.



In actual fact, carmine is the red dye used to colour lots of things including food, and comes from the dried bodies of cochineal beetles, but you may see either of these words on a product label. Whichever word you see, it means beetle!

It’s used in a ton of things including candy, confectionary, juices, ice-creams and puddings.



I was so grossed out when I learned what tallow was. And it’s in so many things.

Tallow is fat from cows or sheep that has undergone process called rendering. Seriously, you need to read about rendering. It seems it came about as a way to monetise meat industry by-products. The job of ‘renderer’ has been deemed ‘one of the dirtiest jobs’ – I’ll say!

Anyways, tallow (I even find the word a bit sinister!) can be found in shortening, cooking oil, cake mix, biodiesel, aviation fuel (obviously this one is difficut to avoid in modern life) and as ‘sodium tallowate’ in soap.

I don’t know about you but I don’t wanna be washing my bits with animal fat!


Should You Go Vegan Cold Turkey (Um..Cold Turnip? Cold Tortilla?) Or Gradually?

Wild Turkeys from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Robert Engberg, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

It’s a turkey (a wild one!), and it’s in the snow so it has to be cold – d’yageddit? Am I trying too hard?


There’s a lot of debate as to whether it’s best to go vegan gradually, or to jump in head-first.

Hmmmm. I can see it from both sides. I’ve known several people who have cut out a few meats, then all meats, then milk, then other dairy, then eggs, and finally cheese (Ha! It’s often cheese that’s last!).

This definitely works for some. It’s kind of what I did, though my trajectory was really just vegetarian for a short while, then vegan.

The real answer to the above question is – do whatever’s right for you.


The opinions of Dr Neal Barnard (founder of PCRM, author of Reversing Diabetes) , and Dr T Colin Campbell (Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, author of the China Study, Whole, and contributor to the documentaries Forks Over Knives and Plant Pure Nation), which make sense and which I tend to agree with, are as follows –

Giving up animal products can be likened to giving up smoking in the following sense; we know it’s better to go cold turkey than to cut down and try and gradually reduce the amount you smoke…


…If you have even a little bit of nicotine in your system, this is going to want to be ‘fed’ – you are always going to crave more. This is borne out by the fact that if someone attempting to quit smoking cracks and has one cigarette, they often just give up and just relapse back into smoking habitually.

As I’ve written about previously, cheese, and to a lesser extent, other dairy products are addictive due to the opiate -like effects of the casomorphins they contain.

If you have even a small amount of dairy in your system, then just like tobacco you’re always going to crave more at some point.

Yet if you quit all dairy at the same time, your body may at first kick up a bit of a fuss while it detoxes from mucous-forming cow’s milk products (don’t worry if it does, this won’t last long), but then it will adjust to not having it and will become accustomed to the new foods you are consuming.

As your body acclimatises, you’ll realise how much lighter and clear-headed you feel, and maybe other things as well, like better digestion, better skin, your weight will be maintained easier – in fact a whole host of benefits may occur.

Obviously these benefits come quicker if you give up all dairy at once.

Now we all like rewards and pay-offs, and even though the knowledge that you are not contributing to animal cruelty, environmental damage and world hunger may be the prime reason for your lifestyle shift, it doesn’t hurt to have good health benefits as a pleasant side-effect to keep you extra full of positive feelings about your new path.

The other reason it may be better to dive straight in, is because animal products have different tastes, textures, and ‘mouth feel’ to plant foods. It takes approximately 21 days to break a habit and acquire a new (better) one. If you are still eating some animal products, you’ll still be eating a certain amount of fat and certain types of textures. Plant foods tend to have different textures and ‘mouth feel’ to animal products. If you eliminate the animal food textures, you’ll get used to the new ones quicker.

This, by the way, is also the answer to the question – do I need to be 100% plant-based to achieve optimal health i.e. perhaps 95% plant-based is enough (there’s no evidence saying that if you have some tuna once a fortnight you’ll have lesser health than someone who is 100% plant-based), but it’s maybe easier to do it 100% so you don’t keep craving animal products and so your body gets accustomed more rapidly.

Once you are used to the beautiful and varied tastes and textures of plant foods; animal foods will seem heavy, fatty and cloying. If you were to try meat or dairy after a 21 day period of not eating it, chances are very high it would taste disgusting.


– If you can, go 100% plant-based straight away.

– If you can’t go cold turkey, then give up either meat OR dairy.

Then, when you’re ready, give up the other. This is a more effective measure than giving up SOME meat and SOME dairy, as your body will acclimatise quicker to the elimination of a single animal-food group if it’s eliminated at once, rather than gradually.

– If you want to move towards a vegan diet but can’t do either of these things, don’t let this stop you. As I mention at the top of the post, plenty of people have done it little by little in a way THEY feel comfortable with, and succeeded. This could be you, too.


Seriously, How DO You Give Up Cheese?

Cheese stall, Borough Market, London SE1 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Paul Wilkinson, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I’ve touched on this subject before, but it’s such a common stumbling block for newbie vegans, it’s always worth coming back to.

I honestly do get the cheese thing. And in a moment you’ll see I’m not just saying that to sound relatable.

I lived in France in my teens and early twenties and probably ate some of the world’s best cheeses. Can I say that? I think I can. Approximately 65 – 75% of the world doesn’t eat dairy, it’s mostly a European thing (or seems to have its origins in Europe), so I think it’s fair to say France probably has what is generally considered to be the best cheese.

I wasn’t a huge blue cheese fan, but I never met a soft cheese I didn’t like, Camembert and Brie were definite favourites, Emmental on fish soup tasted like heaven (OK, that’s Swiss), gouda and apple was a well-loved snack (OK that’s Dutch), and fromage blanc with sugar was a yummy simple dessert (that’s pretty damn French).

And I ate SO MUCH of it. I always found it hard to stop eating cheese in terms of the amount I ate at one sitting. I will never understand those diets that say you can eat what you ate before, just smaller amounts. How DO you do that? If I ate some of the cheese, I wanted ALL of the cheese. Being an animal product, cheese has ZERO fibre, so it doesn’t fill you up. This is why it’s more difficult to stop eating cheese than it is to stop eating rice, say, or beans.

And you wanna know why cheese is just so damn hard to give up?

Because it’s smack, that’s why.

Well, almost.

Dairy contains casomorphins. These are opiate-like peptides designed to keep the calf interested in suckling its mother’s milk.

All dairy contains a protein called casein. Because cheese is the most concentated form of casein, it contains an abundance of casomorphin and is thus more addictive than other dairy products.

When you know this, it helps with the intellectual motivation to give cheese the old heave-ho; isn’t it weird that natural opiates that were meant for a baby cow are having their wicked way with YOU, an entirely different species?

OK, you get this. But now let’s get practical. How do you actually get cheese out of your life without feeling deprived or having cravings?

Now I’m not sure we can eliminate cravings entirely – casomorphin is a drug after all; but we can reduce them, and distract ourselves from them by eating a ton of delicious, flavourful, texture-rich food.

They say it takes approximately twenty-one days to make or break a habit, so absolute worst case scenario; in three weeks, any cravings you’ve had should be gone.

Now the billion-dollar question:

How do we stay sane for three whole weeks without cheese?

Here are some ideas:

1. While transitioning away from cheese, if you have hellacious cravings, try cheese substitutes.

Don’t worry; there are some great ones now.

Want melted cheese, on toast, on pizza, on pasta or on a baked potato?

In the US, try Daiya or Follow Your Heart.

Daiya comes shredded too – excellent for pizza topping or on toast.

I’ve tried both of these many times and in my opinion, they are the best.

Brits, you can order Daiya here.

In the UK, the rest of Europe, South Africa, Israel and Jordan, try Violife. I’ve had the slices and they were excellent, but they do cheese that melts too (I’ve not tried this, but if the slices were anything to go by, it’s probably great. If you’ve tried it – let me know in the comments!)

There are other vegan cheeses in the UK that have been around for a while (naming no names!) but they are pretty gross, and even grosser melted. I believe Violife is the best vegan cheese to date.

Want a soft cheese?

In the US, try Kite Hill or Treeline Treenut Cheese.


I tried the plain version of Kite Hill and it absolutely blew me away with how much like Camembert it tasted. They’ve basically put the same plant-based cultures that are in dairy soft cheeses – into almond milk. The effect is uncanny. I don’t think you could tell it wasn’t a dairy cheese if you didn’t know.

In the UK, Tyne Chease is about to launch, which is the same thing but with cultured cashew milk instead of almond milk. This promises to be fabulous too.

Spreadable cheese anyone?

Daiya to the rescue AGAIN!


I ‘ve not yet tried this, and there are lots of other options, so find what’s best for you.

Violife do a spreadable cheese too, so I’d try here first in the UK and Europe.

None of these cheeses are too unhealthy either. In the past vegan cheeses have been made with yucky trans-fats, but no more. The soft cheeses, being made from cultured nut-milk and nothing else, are definitely healthy. In any case, NO vegan cheese contains saturated fat, cholesterol, casein (the most relevant food-based carcinogen in existence) and hormones, like animal cheeses do; so health wise they’ll always be a better bet.


2. Replicate that cheesy taste and texture with other foods.

For many years, Nutritional Yeast has been best friend to many vegans, particularly in the US.

Affectionately known as ‘nooch’

Thanks to the internet, it’s now available everywhere.

It’s ace at bestowing a cheesy flavour upon your favourite foods. Use it on pasta dishes, popcorn, in vegan ‘cheese’ sauces, on mashed potato etc. Anywhere you want essence of cheese, really.

Don’t worry if you’re yeast-sensitive, it’s actually de-activated yeast so shouldn’t trigger any issues.

It’s also a good source of vitamin B12!






Tahini sauce can do a good job of tasting like a cheesy dressing. Mix light tahini with water to make a thin sauce; add lemon juice, soy sauce (or salt), and garlic powder. Pour it on salads, over jacket potato, or just dip into it with whole wheat bread or rice crackers etc.

My recipe for it is here. The internet can surely provide others. The more you make it the more you’ll make it to your taste and you’ll find you develop your own version.


3. Explore, explore, explore. Try food from all around the world. Try eating food from cultures that just don’t eat cheese.

Because we have cheese in our culture (or culture in our cheese 🙂 ), some dishes were created AROUND it, so to just take the cheese out of these dishes will often mean you’ll feel like you’re missing something.

If you eat Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, in fact food from most African, Asian and Middle Eastern countries where cheese is just not a part of the daily diet, you’ll find the flavours and textures so rich, full and satiating, you won’t miss cheese at all.


Final note:

If you’re trying your hardest to go fully plant-based but just can’t let cheese go, then DON’T.

Vegan police: WTF?

Me: Shutup

Here’s why I say this:

If cheese is your only weakness, then give up every other animal product apart from cheese – for now. As myself and many other vegan teachers say, don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.

I’m confident that as you progress and learn more about the ethical, environmental and wellness benefits of a plant-based diet, and as you start to feel better health-wise and clearer of mind, your body and intuition will gradually see that you turn away from it.


How to Keep the New Years Resolutions Do-able.

In case you’ve thought about making some resolutions of the new year kind, and in case they are to do with going more plant-based (or if you are already vegan and want to go in a more healthful direction, i.e. eliminating sugar), then here are 5 pointers to aid your resolutin’ :


1. Only you know you. You probably have a pretty good idea by now whether you’re a ‘cold turkey’ or a ‘step by step’ kind of person. Don’t try and be a hero and change your lifestyle overnight if this has not traditionally been your way of doing things. If you make a change in the way that really suits your character, it is way more sustainable.

If you are going from meat-eater to plant-based overnight, this is great, only please be sure you have enough information on nutrition, and all the incredible foods available to you. If you make the change this quickly and end up only eating the same few things over and over, you will get very bored and possibly ill. You can learn ‘on the job’ as it were, but you’ll need some good varied meal ideas for at least the first few days.

If you’re a ‘step by stepper,’ don’t be afraid to go as slow as you feel you need to. Intention and consistency are key, so if you feel that eliminating meat/dairy/sugar for one meal, one day a week is as fast as you’d like to go for now, that’s great, as long as you are consistent with that. Set a future date when you’d like to increase that to two meals, then another for three, and so on. Maybe you could be meat/sugar free every other day, or on weekdays – of course there are endless permutations, just find one to suit.


2. Frame it right, in your mind. Whether you make a big change overnight, or you are making small changes over a longer period, DON’T be thinking of words like ‘eliminating’ and ‘forever.’ You are not so much eliminating as adding an abundance of new tasty food to your life, and crowding the old stuff out with delicious alternatives.

If you are changing your lifestyle in a way you know will be a personal challenge; thinking in terms of ‘forever’ will be intimidating and off-putting. Rather think ‘this is what I am doing today, I’m seeing how it goes, and will reassess tomorrow.’ Yes, I know this is an AA/NA strategy, but if it works – why the heck not apply it? And, as we know, sugar and casein (in cheese) are addictive, so it seems pretty appropriate to me. For those making big changes rapidly, take it hour by hour if you need to.


3. Slip up? Fall off the wagon? A chocolate bar/chicken nugget fall into your mouth? So what? Yes, you heard. So the hell what?

Listen, if you beat yourself up about it, or feel guilty, you are never gonna live up to your standards, and you’ll risk falling into the mind set of ‘weeell, I’m never gonna be able to do it, I’m not good enough, so why bother…?’ You CAN do it, and you may well slip up, but a slip-up does NOT a failure make. The important thing is to just quietly acknowledge and accept what happened and move on. As in the previous point, you can take it hour by hour, and what you did in the last hour is not relevant to what you are going to do in the next hour. Try and find out why you were tempted, and ensure you are not in that situation again, i.e. making sure you have plentiful snacks on you at times when you may be tempted, or not walking the aisle in the supermarket with the tempting thing that’s calling your name.

Confession: In my first year of being vegan, I lived in Paris, and one day I was walking past a deli that had chickens on a rotisserie outside on the wall. This particular day the smell of them was too tempting, and I caved and bought one. I ate too much of it, was grossed out, and was never tempted by meat again. I think that as slip-ups go, that was a pretty hefty one for a vegan!


4. Remind yourself why. At times when you feel despondent, or feel it’s too much effort, or that you don’t have the strength to do it, go back and remind yourself why you made this resolution in the first place. If it’s that you went vegan – well, read up on all the health, environmental and ethical reasons. If you are cutting down or eliminating sugar, take half an hour to read of the multitude of health benefits, and diseases that you are at less risk of contracting.


5. Reward yourself! No matter whether you’re 4, 34, 94, we all need to be rewarded for effort. Give yourself a time period, and a treat to enjoy at the end of it. For example, if you are initially going plant-based from an average diet, have a dark chocolate bar/vegan cupcake/small pack of beetroot crisps every day or every other day. If you are vegan and eliminating sugar, make sure you have a maple syrup or brown rice syrup based treat to enjoy, at certain times along the way.

Have a happy and healthy new year; see you on the other side!


You Can Re-train Your Taste Buds at Any Age. This Guy Says So…

How many times have you heard people bemoan the fact that they’d find it hard to give up this or that animal food (usually cheese!) and replace it with anything else, or that they don’t think they could start a new way of eating after eating meat, dairy and eggs for so long? Maybe you are the one thinking it.

Listen to this doctor.

Its around thirteen minutes long, but totally worth it if you have time – he’s a cutie. Not to mention a smartie. He went vegan at 50. But I’ve heard of people going plant-based at 80 and geatly benefitting from it

It’s never too late to change a habit. You’ve probably done it loads of times with lots of things already in your life and not even realised it.

Remember when you gave up putting sugar in your coffee/tea? Remember how it tasted weird at first, but pretty soon after, you couldn’t imagine drinking it any other way?

And remember how when you were a kid you ate a tonne of jelly (‘jello’ if you’re in the US), or (insert any kids sweet treat here), and now you no longer eat it cuz you’re not 7? Do you crave it? Of course not. Why? Because your taste buds got exposed to more sophisticated desserts. You moved on.

The good news is, it’s the same for everything. You may well have been putting cow’s milk on your cereal for 20/30/40 years, and soy/rice/almond milk may well taste weird when you first use it. But after a couple weeks of a new regime, if you put cow’s milk on your cereal, it will taste gross and you’ll wonder how you ever ate it.

Our senses are so amazingly versatile and impressionable, they’ll habituate to whatever we expose them to. Every food habit is just that, a habit. Any habit can be changed in just a short space of time (usually between 14-21 days).

Meat, dairy and eggs are not heroin, they’re not addictive. However, the casein in cheese, during the process of digestion, does release opiates called casomorphins, which can have an effect on humans. Casomorphins were designed by nature to keep the calf interested in it’s mothers milk. So there is somewhat of an excuse for finding it hard to give up cheese. But when all’s said and done, it’s hardly crack cocaine (and doesn’t it feel weird being affected by something that was meant for babies of another species?)

We can crowd out the cheese in our diets with lots of other tasty foods that would leave no room for it. If, in a transitional stage, you need the taste/texture of cheese, there are an abundance of tofu cream cheeses on the market. Nutritional yeast can replicate a cheesy flavour, or you could try one of the vegan cheeses available in your part of the world. In my opinion, Daiya and Follow your Heart are the best ever, but these are only available in the US and Canada. Violife is the better option in the UK (this is only my opinion – try them all and see which one suits you).

Bottom line – it’s always, ALWAYS, a good time to start a new, healthful, life-affirming, world-changing, planet-loving, animal-friendly habit.

What food habit would you find the hardest to break? Why? I’d love you to share this in the comments.