Foods That Are Surprisingly Not Vegan

A vegan diet is one that avoids all animal-derived products and eats only plant-based foods. A well-rounded vegan diet can be very healthy since plant-based diets are associated with lower disease risk. If you’re new to a vegan diet, you’re probably aware of the many foods that aren’t vegan. It gets even trickier when foods that seem like they would be vegan have less obvious non-vegan ingredients.

Some examples of foods that surprisingly might not be vegan include bread, certain types of red dye, cereal, gummy candies, chips, certain sauces, some desserts, and some meatless products. The best way to ensure your foods and drinks are vegan is to check the ingredients list.

DISCLAIMER: While this information was prepared by a certified dietitian, it is NOT a medical advice. Please consult your own medical professional before altering your diet. The information is strictly for educational purposes.

Which Foods Count As Vegan?

Vegan foods don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients like meat, eggs, or dairy. Vegans follow a plant-based diet and typically avoid other animal-derived products like leather and real fur. Vegans usually get their protein from foods like soy products, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Some foods have less-obvious, and sometimes hidden, non-vegan ingredients like gelatin (derived from animal connective tissue) and honey. Other ingredients might not appear to be animal-derived because they have names you haven’t heard of.

Some foods carry a certified vegan seal from Vegan.org, which can make it easier to tell if a food is vegan.

What Are Some Less Obvious Non-Vegan Ingredients?

Here is a list of some common ingredients that might not vegan (you might have to check with the manufacturer to find out for sure with some of the ingredients):

  • Casein
  • Whey
  • Lactose
  • Lactic acid (typically vegan, but can be sourced from animals)
  • Gelatin
  • Beeswax
  • Confectioner’s glaze
  • Cochineal or carmine (made from crushed bugs and used as red food coloring)
  • Isinglass
  • L.cysteine (this can be plant-derived or animal-derived)
  • Oleic acid
  • Lard (can be an ingredient in refried beans, so always check the label)
  • Vitamin D3 – can be animal-derived, whereas vitamin D2 is plant-based. Fortified soy products like soy milk and soy cheese may have vitamin D3 added instead of vitamin D2

Foods With Non-Vegan Ingredients

1.Bread

Many types of bread are vegan-friendly. However, bread can have milk-derived ingredients as well as honey added to it, which would make it non-vegan-friendly. Be sure to check the label to ensure the bread you choose is vegan. 

Gluten-free and/or keto-friendly bread often has eggs added to it to help it rise without the use of traditional bread flours, so keep your eye out for those as well.

Here is an example of gluten-free bread that isn’t vegan (Katz Gluten-Free Oat Bread).

Ingredients:

  • Gluten-Free Flour (Oat, White Rice, Tapioca, Potato, Sorghum)
  • Water
  • Eggs
  • Canola Oil
  • Brown Sugar
  • Honey
  • Xanthan Gum
  • Salt
  • Dry Yeast
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

2.Foods With Natural Red 4 (Carmine)

Many food manufacturers use red dye #40, which is vegan. Natural Red 4 (carmine) is made from crushed beetles and is still used in cosmetics like lipstick.

If you’re buying foods with red coloring, check the ingredients to ensure it doesn’t contain Natural Red 4 as coloring. Natural Red 4 coloring can also be called cochineal or carminic acid.

3.Certain Types of Cereal

When it comes to cereal, the most likely culprit when it comes to non-vegan ingredients is honey. As you can see from the example below (Quaker Simply Granola), there are multiple non-vegan ingredients (in bold).

Ingredients:

  • Whole Grain Oats
  • Whole Grain Wheat
  • Sugar
  • Raisins
  • Vegetable Oil (Canola And/Or Soybean Oil)
  • Whey
  • Inulin
  • Almonds
  • Nonfat Dry Milk
  • Glycerin (glycerin is usually vegan, but can sometimes be animal-derived)
  • Molasses
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Honey
  • Natural Flavor
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Tocopherols (To Preserve Freshness)

4.Gummy Candies

Many gummy candies use gelatin to give them their chewy texture. Gelatin isn’t vegan since it’s derived from animal connective tissue.  

Vegan gummy candies use ingredients like tapioca syrup and pectin, which are plant-based thickeners and gelling agents.

Here in example of non-vegan gummy bears (Haribo brand):

Ingredients:

  • Glucose Syrup (From Wheat Or Corn)
  • Sugar
  • Gelatin
  • Dextrose (From Wheat Or Corn)
  • Contains Less Than 2% Of: Citric Acid, Artificial And Natural Flavors, Palm Oil, Palm Kernel Oil, Carnauba Wax, White Beeswax, Yellow Beeswax, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1
Gummy Candies

5.Certain Flavors of Chips

Chips can have milk-based ingredients, like the example below (Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion chips).

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • Vegetable Oil (Sunflower, Corn, And/Or Canola Oil)
  • Sour Cream & Onion Seasoning (Skim Milk, Salt, Maltodextrin [Made From Corn], Onion Powder, Whey, Sour Cream [Cultured Cream, Skim Milk], Canola Oil, Parsley, Natural Flavor, Lactose, Sunflower Oil, Citric Acid, Whey Protein Concentrate, And Buttermilk)
Certain Flavors of Chips

6.Worcestershire Sauce

Just like some brands of soy sauce are gluten-free and others aren’t, not all brands of Worcestershire sauce are vegan. Lea & Perrins Original Worcestershire sauce isn’t vegan, as you can see below.

Ingredients:

  • Distilled White Vinegar
  • Molasses
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Onions
  • Anchovies
  • Garlic
  • Cloves
  • Tamarind Extract
  • Natural Flavorings
  • Chili Pepper Extract

7.Marshmallows

Most marshmallows contain gelatin, which isn’t vegan. You’ll have to find a specific vegan marshmallow to avoid this common ingredient.

Here are the ingredients for Kraft regular marshmallows:

  • Corn Syrup
  • Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Water
  • Contains 2% or less of:
  • Gelati
  • Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (whipping aid)
  • Natural and Artificial Flavor
  • Blue 1
Marshmallows

8.Certain Types of Fortified Products

Some products have vitamins and minerals added to them, which is called fortification. Products are fortified to help prevent nutrient deficiencies. Some of the common vitamins and minerals foods are fortified with are calcium, vitamin D, folic acid, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Not all products are fortified with plant-based ingredients, like Tropicana’s “Healthy Heart” orange juice (below). That’s why checking the ingredients label on the products you buy is so important when you’re on a special diet.

Ingredients:

  • 100% Pure Pasteurized Orange Juice
  • Fish Oil (Anchovy And Sardine Oils)
  • Fish Gelatin (Tilapia)
  • Sodium Ascorbate And Citric Acid

9.Chocolate

The main ingredients in real dark chocolate are cocoa butter and cocoa solids, which are vegan. Milk products and sugar are often added to help offset the bitter taste of cocoa. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa is more likely to be vegan. Milk chocolate and white chocolate aren’t vegan unless you buy a specific vegan brand.

Here is an example of dark chocolate that isn’t vegan (Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Minis):

Ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Unsweetened Chocolate
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Cocoa Processed With Alkali
  • Milk Fat
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Natural Flavor 
Chocolate

10.Certain Beverages

Drinks like apple juice and certain alcoholic beverages like wine and beer might surprisingly be non-vegan friendly. Some drinks are clarified (separating solids from liquid) using animal products like fish bladders or gelatin. 

You can’t always tell by looking at the ingredients label to determine how drinks are clarified, so you should contact the manufacturer if you’re concerned it might not be vegan.

Popular brands like Apple & Eve, Mott’s, and Juicy Juice have stated that their apple juices aren’t clarified using isinglass (fish bladder) or other animal-derived products.

Choosing drinks with the vegan certification can ensure your drinks don’t contain hidden animal products.

Certain Beverages

11.Sprinkles

Sprinkles and other products can contain confectioner’s glaze, an ingredient made from the secretions of certain insects. Confectioner’s glaze gives a sheen to products like sprinkles. Here’s an example of non-vegan sprinkles (Betty Crocker Decorating Sprinkles):

Ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Vegetable Oil (Palm, Palm Kernel)
  • Cornstarch
  • Confectioner’s Glaze
  • Dextrin
  • Red 40 Lake
  • Blue 1 Lake
  • Natural and Artificial Flavor
  • Soy Lecithin
  • Yellow 6 Lake
  • Carnauba Wax
Sprinkles

12.Graham Crackers

Many graham crackers are honey-flavored, which means they aren’t vegan. Honey Maid graham crackers contain honey, which isn’t surprising given the name. Other brands of graham crackers might contain honey as well, like Annie’s Organic Honey Grahams (ingredients below).

Ingredients:

  • Organic Whole Grain Wheat Flour (organic graham flour)
  • Organic Wheat Flour
  • Organic Cane Sugar
  • Organic Expeller-pressed Sunflower Oil
  • Organic Honey
  • Organic Molasses
  • Leavening (baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate and cream of tartar)
  • Organic Vanilla Flavor
  • Organic Brown Sugar Flavor
  • Sea Salt
  • Organic Rosemary Extract (to protect flavor)
Graham Crackers

13.Certain Meatless Products

Vegetarian meat substitutes aren’t always vegan. Some products use eggs in their ingredients, which means it isn’t vegan. Quorn Meatless Filets contain egg whites, as you can see in the ingredients below:

  • Mycoprotein (86%)
  • Egg White
  • Yeast Extract. Contains 2% or less of Calcium Chloride, Calcium Acetate, Onion Powder, Sage, Sugar

14.Pesto Sauce

Some brands of pesto sauce are vegan, but others can contain cheese and even egg ingredients. Barilla Rustic Basil Pesto isn’t vegan, as shown by the ingredients below.

  • Basil
  • Sunflower Oil
  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Grana Padano Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes (Egg))
  • Salt
  • Cashews
  • Potato Flakes
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese (Sheep’s Milk, Salt, Enzymes)
  • Lactic Acid
  • Yeast Extract
  • Natural Basil Flavor
Pesto Sauce

15.Certain Fruits and Vegetables

Whole fruits and vegetables are naturally vegan, but they can become non-vegan by the way they’re processed. Remember that a vegan diet isn’t automatically healthy – you can still be a vegan and eat less-healthy foods like French fries. Opting for whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables is ideal to provide the health benefits of a plant-based diet.

Produce can have wax added to it to make it look more attractive, such as in the case of apples. Carnauba wax is vegan, but beeswax isn’t, and you likely won’t be able to tell which kind of wax is used on produce.

You can buy your produce at Farmers Markets to avoid the use of wax, or wash off wax with hot water before you eat your produce.

There have been rumors that certain fruits and vegetables aren’t vegan, such as avocados. The reason behind the rumor is that some produce is made through migratory beekeeping, which is when beekeepers travel across the country allowing their bees to pollinate plants. This doesn’t make avocados or any other type of produce non-vegan, though.

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