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Foods That Aren't Vegan: 24 That Will Surprise You


We know that vegans don't chow down on greasy cheeseburgers and dairy ice cream, but even some foods that look plant-based make the list of foods that vegans can't eat. 

Switching to a vegan diet can feel complicated and challenging, as many of us grow so accustomed to eating animal and dairy-laden foods in our regular diet. 

Some foods are an obvious no-go for vegans - if you're snacking on some cheese or eating chicken, you're clearly off the wagon, hovering somewhere in the realm of flexitarianism. 

Then, there's the matter of the grey areas, controversial foods that some vegans choose to consume and others don't, like almonds, avocados, and other crops that use bees for artificial pollination. 

Today we're addressing the most challenging part of a vegan transition - the surprising foods that are not vegan that many vegans unknowingly consume. 

Wondering what can't vegans eat? Read our list of non-vegan food below so you can grocery shop as an uber-informed vegan consumer!

#1: Gum & Altoids

Some gum is vegan, but certain gum brands use gelatin or glycerin as a binding agent that gives gum its flexible chew. 

Even mints aren't safe; Altoids contain gelatin, too, making them one of the most surprising things that aren't vegan. 

#2: Fortified Breakfast Cereals

Cereal contains dried grains, fruit products, but even the healthiest looking cereal may have a sneaky source of animal-products. 

Cereals fortified with vitamin D3 usually derive it from lanolin, the oil in sheep's wool. 

Keep an extra watch on cereals with chocolate chunks - they sound delicious, but they may have some milk ingredients.

#3: Candles & Makeup

Two things that aren't passable by most vegans' standards are beeswax and honey, though some let it pass as they feel farmers harm the bees minimally. 

You'll find many high-quality candles containing beeswax, and manufacturers use it in many natural beauty and makeup products, as it's a fantastic skin moisturizer. 

Read your makeup labels closely, and opt for soy wax candles instead. 

#4: Candy Glaze or Shellac

One of the more upsetting things vegans can't eat are some candies - say it isn't so! Hard, super glossy candies are likely glazed with shellac, a hardened resin secreted by an insect, the lac. Yes, candy glaze is basically bug poop.

#5: Certain Bread

Some bread, like challah or brioche, contain eggs and dairy in their recipe, but there's an even sneakier ingredient that puts some other types of bread on the list of foods vegans can't eat. 

  1. Cysteine is a dough conditioner found in many pre-packaged loaves of bread that we source from feathers or human hair - yuck!

Whey, a milk by-product, is another of the non-vegan ingredients to look out for, as it often hides in certain bread products and sweets.

#6: Beer and Wine

We're just as heartbroken as you are about this, but not to worry - there are still plenty of vegan beer options available, so read your labels closely. 

With the growing popularity of microbreweries and craft beer, more and more breweries add extra ingredients to their typical hops recipe to make milk stouts, honey ales, and lacto-fermented sours, which contain milk or honey ingredients. Other ales may use isinglass to filter their yeast, which derives from fish bladders. 

Some wine ferments with gelatin or animal-derived proteins and crustacean shells are sometimes used to fine or filter the wine. Wine labeling is vague, so in this case, it's best to ask the winemakers themselves about ingredients. 

#7: Soy Cheese

This one seems ludicrous, but it's true - some soy cheese brands include ingredients like casein, a milk protein in their ingredients. It doesn't make much sense to us to have dairy in a product aimed at those that don't eat traditional dairy products, but there are still plenty of brands of soy cheese that are vegan, so read your labels closely.

#8: Veggie Burgers

Veggie burgers are an incredible vegan find - we think many recipes taste even better than the real deal. 

While most veggie burgers are vegan, some include eggs and milk, making them suitable for vegetarians but not entirely plant-based dieters.

#9: Red Candy Dye

Natural red #4 is a food dye derived from the shells of crushed beetles, commonly found in candy and other processed food products. 

Avoid carmine, natural red #4, and crimson lake on the label, and look for plant-based dyes, lycopene or anthocyanin. Or, avoid foods with dyes altogether, which seem more pointless than anything. 

#10: Cake Mix

Some boxed cake mixes contain lard in their list of ingredients. If you find a vegan cake mix, you can adapt the added ingredients, usually oil, eggs, or milk, for vegan alternatives instead that make a moist, delicious cake!

#11: Vegetable Soup

It's right there in the name - vegetable soup has to be vegetarian, right? 

This veggie staple still holds a place on our vegan list of foods not to eat because sometimes, it's not vegan-friendly. 

It's all in the stock - when a vegetable soup has veggie stock, you're usually in the clear. The issue is that many choose to make vegetable soups with beef or chicken broth instead, which isn't evident to the naked eye, making the potential for accidental consumption pretty high.

Read your labels to determine what type of broth your veggie soup holds.  

#12: Margarine

This vegetable oil-based product might seem like the perfect non-dairy alternative to butter, but not everything is always as it seems. 

While plain, simple margarine recipes are always vegan, producers create new margarine types to fit other lifestyle needs. Some margarine contains yogurt for a low-fat option, while others have whey or milk ingredients for flavor and texture. 

#13: Gummy Candies

Candies are having a rough go of it on this list, which we suppose should be a blessing in disguise - a few more good reasons to avoid these sugar-laden treats. 

Gummy candies are gummy because of their gelatin, which comes from boiled bovine hooves and skin. 

If you want your gummy fix without the animal products, there are some vegan gummies on the market to enjoy. 

#14: Refried Beans

Beans not fitting into a vegan diet? It feels like blasphemy against the basic tenets of veganism. While most beans are ideal for a vegan diet, refried beans may pose a problem in some cases. 

Refried beans are boiled, mashed, and cooked in fat - the issue is we often don't know where those fats come from, and they're usually from animals in restaurants. If you're out to eat and not sure, ask your server about their bean ingredients. 

At home, try one of our favorite vegan alternatives: tofu press a block of firm tofu, mix in some savory Mexican spices and fry up the combo with oil before adding to your favorite Mexican meals. 

#15: Worcestershire Sauce & Certain Condiments

The basic ketchup and mustard sauces are usually vegan, but plenty of others contain all sorts of animal products. Worchestershire sauce contains fish ingredients, so don't add it to your Bloody Marys!

Guacamole, pesto, salad dress, and BBQ sauce are sometimes vegan and sometimes contain milk, cream, eggs, or anchovy - read your condiment labels closely and ask your servers when you dine out. 

#16: Certain Vitamins

The gel caps on many vitamins and other pills contain ingredients like gelatin. Certain supplements themselves derive from animals - look out for omega-3s taken from fish oil, and hydrolyzed collagen from animal bones. 

Use uncoated vitamins, or find gel-caps made with agar agar, a seaweed derivative, instead. 

#17: Processed White, Powdered, & Brown Sugar

Many vegans can't wrap their head around giving up processed sugar simply because it means avoiding virtually every processed food, a very challenging feat. 

Processed sugar contains no animal products, but it's filtered and bleached with animal bone char. 

Organic, raw, coconut, and beet sugar are viable alternatives that use no animal products or bone char in their production process. 

#18: Bananas

This one even surprised us during our research - bananas aren't always vegan products, despite being a simple piece of fruit.

Bananas are tropical fruits that often travel quite far to reach our grocery stores' shelves. Many farmers use chitosan to preserve bananas and increase their shelf life. 

One problem for vegans - chitosan comes from shrimp, crab, and other crustacean shells. 

Ask your local grocery store for more information or opt for preservative-free organic bananas instead. 

#19: Dark Chocolate

While plenty of dark chocolate doesn't contain dairy, it depends on the percentage of cocoa in the ingredients and other things that are not vegan, like caramel chunks. 

Read your labels closely to choose a good-quality, dairy-free dark chocolate. 

#20: Plant-Based Creamers

While plant-based creamers are mostly free of dairy, they often contain minimal amounts of sodium caseinate, which derives from milk products. 

Instead, opt for plant-based milk, or drink your coffee and tea black. 

#21: Certain Crackers

Many crackers are vegan by default, but there are countless flavor options down the cracker aisle. Lots of these flavors contain animal-derived milk ingredients or meat flavorings. 

It's not just the ones labeled as "cheesy" - some seemingly vegan crackers surprisingly contain milk, too. 

#22: Fortified Fruit Juice

This list makes you question some of the food manufacturers' choices - why add strange ingredients in where they don't need to be?

In fruit juice, some brands add extra vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 acids to make their product "healthier," but they, unfortunately, choose animal-based sources instead of plant-based ones. 

On top of that, some juices contain gelatin to thicken and red dye #4 to make it a more appealing, though artificial, color. 

#23: Miso Soup

Miso soup doesn't look to contain animal products, but it includes a fish base for flavor. Be especially careful when eating Asian cooking, as most meals start with fish sauce, even those that don't contain meat.

Check with your servers, as some restaurants offer vegetarian versions of miso soup and other dishes. 

#24: French Fries

French fries are just potatoes, yes, but beware of what they cook in - sometimes these surprising non-vegan foods fry in animal fat!

Final Notes: Careful Label Checking

If there's one thing this list tells us, it's that even vegan foods aren't vegan sometimes. 

No matter how confident you feel in a product, it's always a good idea to check your labels, read them closely, and get to know and understand the names of non-vegan ingredients that aren't obviously animal-based. 

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