In today’s exercise-conscious culture, you’ve most likely heard the names of different protein powders and supplements being thrown around. One of them was probably “whey,” right?

Let’s talk about what it is and why you should avoid it when possible. But first, keep in mind that it’s important not to be that annoying vegan who obsesses over micro-ingredients.

Eating vegan isn’t about purity, and when you give a waiter at a restaurant a hard time by asking 3 million questions about food ingredients, it can give others the incorrect impression that eating vegan is difficult. If people start to think that, it might deter them from going vegan, which is no bueno for animals. Plus, it gives cool vegans like me a bad reputation, so ease up.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s review the basics of whey so you can try to avoid it when possible. 

What Is It?

Whey is the watery part of dairy milk that’s separated from the coagulable part of curd, especially in the process of making cheese. It’s a cloudy, yellowish liquid that actually makes me want to hurl if I think about it too much.

Why Is It a Thing?

Because there’s a ton of it left over after cheese has been made, people have invented uses for it.

So What’s It Used for?

Some people use it as a liquid base when they’re baking (umm, hello, vegan egg?!) or in smoothies. Others use it to boil foods like pastas, potatoes, or rice.

What’s It in?

Whey can sometimes be found in things like breads, crackers, and some other processed snacks and pastries.

Why Have I Heard of Whey as a Protein?

Whey is one of the two proteins that make up cow’s milk—casein is the other, but that’s a topic for another day. There are tons of vegan foods—as well as plant-based supplement powders—that are high in protein, so there’s no need to bulk up on cruelty with whey protein.

What Else Is Wrong With Whey?

Vegans avoid whey because cows used for the dairy industry typically live miserable lives on factory farms, but there are also possible negative side effects of consuming whey, such as stomach pains, cramps, reduced appetite, nausea, headache, and fatigue.

So, basically, don’t jump through hoops to make sure that whey isn’t one of the micro-ingredients in your rolls at dinner, but do your best to help yourself and animals by avoiding it when possible. And if you’re trying to bulk up, choose a vegan protein powder instead.