Going Vegan Means Learning About Hidden Ingredients Too

Woman choosing vegan products in a grocery store

You've decided to go vegan, eliminating all animal products from your diet. It may sound simple enough, but if you're planning vegan meals for the entire family, that also means paying attention to prepackaged food ingredients and menu items at restaurants. Here's how to keep things as simple as possible.

What Vegan Means

Being vegan means eating only items that are not part of or created by animals and other living creatures. Along with eliminating the obvious meats and fish from your diet, veganism also means eliminating milk, cheese, eggs and even honey.

Vegan or Vegetarian

A vegan is a vegetarian, but a vegetarian isn't necessarily a vegan. The difference? Veganism is a stricter form of vegetarianism. Some vegetarians eat eggs, dairy products and honey, for instance, while vegans do not. In other words, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry, but they may consume products indirectly derived from animals, such as milk.

Going Vegan

Going completely vegan may seem difficult if you've never attempted vegetarianism before, but it doesn't have to be. Work at your own pace. Think about a few foods or meals you love, and then determine how to have those meals in vegan form. For instance, if scrambled eggs are your favorite breakfast dish, make a vegan version with crumbled firm tofu instead. Enjoy a vegan "veggie" burger patty instead of a beef hamburger patty, or opt for a stir-fried vegetable dish instead of a chicken and rice dish from your favorite Chinese takeout place.

Preparing vegan meals at home doesn't have to be difficult, either. Many vegan versions of dairy and meat products are available even in standard grocery stores, while chains such as Whole Foods carry quite a few "substitute" vegan products.

Many recipes that call for milk or eggs can be adjusted into vegan versions too. Use a nut-based milk instead of dairy milk, or substitute flax seed or bananas for eggs. Many vegan and vegetarian sites offer information on alternatives for totally tasty recipes; in many cases, you won't even miss the nonvegan ingredients.

Hidden Ingredients

One of the trickiest parts about sticking to a vegan diet is keeping a lookout for hidden ingredients. Gelatin, for instance, is made from animal collagen. It may be included as an ingredient in several foods, such as marshmallows. Whey and casein are two common food ingredients derived from dairy.

Some store-bought and even restaurant "vegetable" soups aren't necessarily vegan or even vegetarian--some contain beef broth! Likewise, mashed potatoes are often made with milk and even chicken stock for added flavor. Read the label or ask the waiter or chef if you're unsure.