Since it’s a very popular source of protein and widely used in cheese and protein powders, it can be hard to avoid. Sometimes, foods that are labeled as non-dairy may also contain casein.
Sometimes, casein is sneakily added to vegan products, which may make you wonder, “Is casein vegan?” The answer is no. And if you find it in your seemingly vegan products, avoid it.
Casein protein powders are also not vegan and should be substituted with plant-based ones.
That said, you may want to know what exactly casein is and how to avoid it for a vegan lifestyle. Read on to understand everything you need to know about casein and its substitutes.
What Is Casein? Is Casein Vegan?
Casein is the protein found in animal milk. Cow’s milk has around 80-85% of casein and forms the basis of most of the cheese made today. The stretchy and melting quality of cheese comes from casein.
When cheese is made, it gets separated into two parts. One is a water-based leftover that doesn’t include a lot of fat or protein. That is what we know as whey. It can and is conveniently used to make bread and is used for a plethora of other purposes. The curdled and fatty part of the milk separates from the water. That is what is then made into cheese, and it contains casein.
Sure, many plant-based kinds of cheese are available and vegan-friendly as well. But one should always be aware and check if cheese or other products contain casein. As casein is mostly derived from animals, plant-based casein has yet to become conventional. If any of your so-called vegan food items have casein, they’re unfortunately not vegan.
The industry is notorious for sometimes listing casein as a non-dairy product, so it becomes crucial to do your own thorough inspection.
Where Is Casein Used?
Seemingly harmless products that can include casein are soy or almond cheese, coffee creamer, rice cheese, and some whipped toppings. This is because non-dairy cheese often lacks stretchiness and doesn’t melt as well as dairy cheese. Casein helps with that and increases its melting ability and stretchiness.
Besides food items, you will be surprised to know that casein is used to produce many other materials. The paint on your wall? It could have casein in it. The shirt you’re wearing could also have some casein mixed into it.
Stuff like adhesives and glue, plastic, fabrics, cosmetics, and even concrete sometimes has casein.
Is Casein Healthy?
As casein is a rich source of protein and is often used as a nutritional protein supplement, it’s mostly thought of as healthy. There are, however, concerns that surround the products that include casein and casein itself.
Many studies, including The China Study, whose author, Dr. Campbell, stated that their work had concluded that casein is a carcinogen. Carcinogens are cancer-causing agents, and casein was termed the “most relevant cancer promoter ever discovered.”
This should tell you that while widely used, casein might not be a healthy source of protein. Plant-based sources like pea protein, which is increasingly popular, might be a better choice. Still, casein doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and nutritional supplements based on casein are still very conventional. Fortunately, there are better nutrition supplement options for vegans in the form of pea protein, rice protein, soy protein, and more.
Casein was also found to be addictive. Yes, you heard that right, the casein in milk contains casomorphin, an opioid. Is it any wonder why giving up on cheese can be so hard?
People with a casein allergy should also avoid it and any product containing casein. Casein allergy differs from lactose intolerance, and the reactions are also harsher. The allergic reactions can cause increased swelling, inflammation, rashes, itchiness, and other allergic reactions.
Vegan Alternatives to Casein
While casein can sneak into your non-dairy products, it’s easy to avoid it. There are few vegan alternatives for casein but for the products containing casein.
Casein is mostly found in cheese and cheese products. Always check that your plant-based cheese products are also free from any casein. Often, casein can be used in plant-based cheeses to give them that stretchy and oozy texture.
Fortunately, there are plenty of vegan cheese options that you can conveniently find to replace any casein-based cheeses. Here are a few of them:
- Daiya Cheese
- Teese Vegan Cheese Alternative
- Parma! Vegan Parmesan
- Tofutti Soy Cheese Slices
- Follow Your Heart Gourmet Vegan Cheese Shreds
- Wayfare We Can’t Say It’s Cheese Spreads
Cheese and casein are also widely popular as nutritional supplement protein powder. The amino acid helps promote muscle and body growth and is often used by fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders. If you’re looking for such a protein without the added mess of casein, then you’re in luck.
Pea protein has proven to be as good as, if not better, than casein protein for nutritional supplements. Unlike casein, pea protein, or any other plant-based protein, the added perk will not include any cancer-causing agents.
Plant-Based Source of Protein
Plenty of options are available if you’re looking for an alternative to casein for a rich protein source. Legumes, beans, and pulses contain high amounts of protein. You won’t need any dairy products to fulfill your daily protein requirement.
You will also have a variety to choose from for protein powders used as nutritional supplements.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that usually, people require a minimum of 0.8g of protein. This is for every kg of body weight. The total amount of protein needed will depend upon your weight and other factors like diet changes, pregnancy, and bodybuilding or weightlifting.
Several plant-based protein powders have similar amino acid profiles to casein protein powders. So if you’re looking for that, here are some vegan nutritional supplement powders.
- Pea Protein Powder
- Hemp Protein Powder
- Soy Protein Powder
Pea protein powder is best if you are looking for protein sources that are dairy and lactose-free. This is very suitable for both vegans and lactose-intolerant people. It’s one of the most popular alternatives to non-vegan protein powders.
Hemp protein powder is a smart pre-gym supplement as it is highly digestible and contains the needed amino acid profile. Derived from hemp seed, it’s a highly protein-rich source and completely vegan. One thing to note is that hemp seed protein powder can be a little fat, so decide according to your needs.
Soy protein powder is another excellent alternative to casein. The soy powders contain fibers, isoflavones, and amino acids that encourage good muscle growth. It’s also easily digested and suitable for lactose and gluten-intolerant people.
Vegans avoid casein because of the source it’s derived from; other health concerns come up with the topic of casein as well.
In any case, there are always plant-based and vegan substitutes readily available. They’re also healthier and free from toxic substances.