Sneaky Non-Vegan Foods

This post is part of my July Vegan series as Featured Health Editor for FoodBuzz’ new sub-division, HealthBuzz.

If you’re following a vegan diet, the obvious foods to avoid include ones that come from an animal: milk, meat, poultry, cheese, eggs, fish, yogurt, etc. Sounds self-explanatory, right? But what about those foods that don’t scream “vegan!” at first sight? If you’re going to go completely meat-free, it’s important to be aware of some of these foods that have animal by-products lurking in the ingredient list.

Wine and beer – Some wines and beers are made using a product called isinglass, which comes from fish, or bone char. Although there is no animal ingredient in the final beverage, you might not want your glass of vino even touching those animal products. Buyer beware: Not all wines and beers that do use animal products even list it on the label.

Soy cheese – Soy cheese sounds like it’d be completely dairy free, when in fact many varieties contain casein, which is a milk protein that helps the cheese melt. It’s hard to find a great, gooey, melty cheese that is also vegan, but I’ve scoured the grocery store shelves and my current favorite is Daiya Vegan Cheese.

“Vegetarian” dishes – Don’t go into a restaurant to order a vegetable noodle dish, or bean based soup thinking you’re completely in the clear of any animal ingredients. Oftentimes restaurants will use beef or chicken broth as a base to many foods, even those listed as vegetarian! Ask before you order to be sure.

Sweets made with gelatin – I love chewy fruity snacks more than I love chocolate, but I was not pleased to find many (like Starburst, and gum with a hard shell) contain gelatin. Marshmallows and Jell-o contain gelatin, too. I can’t say I’ve ever tried these brands, but if you want some s’mores for this summer’s campfires, try Sweet & Sara or Dandies vegan marshmallows, which get great reviews.

Gel-cap medications – Did you know that anything “gel-cap” contains gelatin? Yikes! Look for non-gel-cap versions of the medication you’re prescribed and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Have you found any animal product-containing foods you once thought were vegan?


  1. Posted July 22, 2010 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I just read about that vegan cheese on a listserve…. NEDPG maybe? Thanks for the good info! Bone char sounds disgusting!

  2. Sara
    Posted July 22, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I recently discovered that caesar salad dressing contains both parmesean cheese AND anchovies! I probably should’ve figured that it has cheese in it, but I was not expecting the anchovies…bleh

  3. J
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I picked up a bag of regular Skittles (in the red bag) and did not see gelatin labled as an ingredient anymore (and as far as I know all Skittles are now vegan). Sadly, Starburts stills uses gelatin. Go for Mambas instead! Taste even better than Starburts! I love them! 😛

  4. Janel
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for that info about Skittles! I’ve updated my post!

  5. Posted July 26, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    I was very surprised to learn that some cheeses weren’t vegetarian. I knew they weren’t vegan because of the milk, but the fact that they used animal rennet shocked me.

  6. Posted July 29, 2010 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    The most surprising and debatable ingredient for vegans is refined sugars. While they do not contain any animal products by an ingredients-based definition of vegan, some refined sugar is processed with animal bone char. Similar to what you mention about wine/beer. I have been trying to do research on various big companies to see if I can even find out this info, but based on how our food industry is operated I would bet that “some refined sugars” means “most refined sugars”, especially if you are consuming soda and candy. The charcoal is used to remove color, impurities, and minerals from sugar. The charcoal is not ‘in’ the sugar, but is used in the process as a filter. In my opinion, if you are a vegan you should probably just stick to alternatives like raw sugar, beet sugar, date sugar, barley malt, rice syrup, molasses, agave, or maple syrup.

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