Becoming vegetarian can feel like you’re giving up a lot of foods, but you might be surprised what you can and can’t eat on a vegetarian diet! Here are a few foods that are surprisingly not vegetarian.
Whether you’re choosing to eat vegetarian for ethical, health, or convenience reasons, there are a few foods you might be surprised to learn aren’t actually vegetarian. A few weeks ago we covered the different types of vegetarians, so if you don’t yet have a grasp on where you’re at you may want to start there.
I was definitely surprised when I learned about a few of these non-vegetarian foods. As always, I want to stress the importance of loving others and their choices where they’re at rather than trying to get someone to adhere to your standards.
Whether or not you choose to consume these foods is up to you. I think it’s good to be informed and make a decision from there. Let’s start with the basics.
Foods that ARE vegetarian
Whole foods in their natural, unprocessed state that aren’t meat are vegetarian such as:
- Beans and Legumes
- Raw Honey
Are eggs vegetarian?
This is hotly debated, but since they do not contain the flesh of animals they are considered vegetarian. Many vegetarians still choose not to eat them, and they are definitely not vegan.
Foods that are not vegetarian
Meat – chicken, pork, beef, fish, shellfish
This one is kind of obvious, but all of these are meat, and therefore not vegetarian.
This savory sauce actually contains anchovy, which is a fish, making it not vegetarian. You can find vegan worcestershire sauce in the natural/organic section of the grocery store.
Caesar dressing is also often made with anchovy. If ordering this in a restaurant or purchasing a bottle of dressing from the store, it’s safe to assume they used anchovy in the preparation. If you’d like to make your own vegetarian caesar dressing you can try my homemade recipe!
Marshmallows definitely fall in the “who’d have thought?” category when it comes to surprisingly non-vegetarian foods. Marshmallows are actually made with gelatin, which is derived from animal products. You may be able to find vegan marshmallows in the natural/organic section of the grocery store.
Jello is also made with gelatin, but you do have a few options when it comes to vegetarian substitutes for gelatin if you just can’t live without that jiggle.
Gel cap medications
Surprise! That gel cap is made with – you guessed it – gelatin. Stick with tablets if you don’t want to consume animal products.
French onion soup
Even though there isn’t any visible meat, French onion soup is made with beef broth, which is definitely not vegetarian. Don’t worry, it’s easy to make vegetarian French onion soup at home.
There aren’t always a lot of vegetarian options at a cookout, and baked beans might seem like a safe option. Hold on though – the base of those beans is probably bacon. Fortunately vegetarian baked beans are also easy to make at home.
Foods that May or May Not Be Vegetarian
While some soup may not sound like it would have meat in it, you’ll want to consider whether or not it was made with chicken or beef broth.
Stuffing is another trickster. If it was cooked inside the bird it definitely isn’t vegetarian. It’s also likely that it was made with chicken broth, and a lot of recipes call for sausage. I have a delicious vegetarian stuffing recipe on the blog if you’re looking for an alternative.
Most flavored yogurts you purchase in the grocery store contain gelatin. Check your label if this concerns you, or consider making your own yogurt at home in your instant pot (affiliate link to the one I own).
Many people are disappointed to learn that not all cheeses are vegetarian. Some cheeses such as Parmesan, gorgonzola, pecorino romano, camembert, gruyere, and manchego are made using animal rennet.
Animal rennet is a set of enzymes produced in the stomachs of unweaned calves and works to curdle the casein in milk. It is possible to find cheese made with plant rennet, just do your research if this is important to you.
Gummy and chewy candy, hard coated candy
Wow, more gelatin here, and a lovely little thing called shellac, which is a secretion of the female lac bug.
Regular refried beans are made with lard, but it’s easy to find vegetarian refried beans at the grocery store.
Store-bought pie crust is also frequently made with lard. Check the ingredients to know for sure.
This one is tricky, but most processed sugar is ground using bone char. Certified U.S. Department of Agriculture organic sugar is not processed using bone char, so you could simply choose organic, or check to see if it says “unrefined” on the label. If your sugar is in question you could always try contacting the company directly to find out their practices.
Even if you order your favorite Thai dish with tofu and no meat, there may still be fish sauce in the sauce. Ask your server if this is a concern for you.
Beer or wine
I never would have guessed that beer or wine wouldn’t be vegetarian, but some is made using isinglass, which comes from fish. You can read more here about vegetarian and vegan alcohol.
Food dyes are a big no-no for me, but if you see Natural Red #4 on your label, just know that it’s made with carmine, a coloring made from crushed-up beetles.
Products enriched with Omega-3
Omegas are important for your health, but just an FYI that the Omega-3 used in most processed foods or supplements is derived from fish. This article has some great suggestions for vegetarian sources of Omega-3.
Vanilla is the best, but “natural flavors” or “natural vanilla flavoring” may be derived from castoreum, which is derived beaver butt. Companies are not required to list castoreum in their ingredients, so you would need to contact the company directly to find out if their flavorings are vegetarian or not.
Another shocker, your bananas could be treated with chitosan, a chemical derived from shrimp and crab shells, in order to extend its shelf life.
Processed bread products
Some processed breads are made with L. Cysteine, which is usually made from duck and chicken feathers. This product has been found in select items from Einstein Bros., Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds just to name a few.
Your favorite salty snack may be made using chicken and beef broth or fat! Check your labels to know for sure.
Packaged cake mix may use lard. Homemade chocolate cake is easy to make, and I always recommend going that route!
What a list! Hopefully if you’ve made it this far you’re feeling empowered in your knowledge and decisions rather than overwhelmed by new information. I would like to encourage further discussion in the comments but remind everyone to speak with kindness and understanding of others and their choices.
If you’re interested in becoming vegetarian, check out my post on how to transition to vegetarian as well as my 50 Best Vegetarian Recipes. You’re also welcome to join my Meatless Recipes and Tips Facebook Group for further support in your journey!
Kaitlyn Maddox says
This has helped me become a vegetarian.
Personally, eating meat that is made out of animals is bad because they’ve been killed in a very bad way. My family believe I should not be vegetarian but I’m sticking to my own believes. I shouldn’t have to change myself to make others happy. Thank you for make this website/article:)
Thank you for this! I’m going vegetarian, and this is super helpful. I mean, bananas? Really?! So thank you SO MUCH.
Any dairy apart from basic milk/cream may not be vegetarian, but there are usually vegetarian variations. Check labels for gelatine (sour cream, yoghurt (plain/flavoured) especially thick types of yoghurt, some icecream flavours) and animal rennet (most types of cheeses).
This means processed food items that contain cheese like pasta sauce, pesto, filled pasta like raviolli ….. etc may also not be vegetarian and the labels will usually just list “cheese” not necessarily include the ingredients used in the cheese.
Lindsay Moe says
Great points, thanks for sharing!
I’m not going to lie, I feel panicky after reading this. I have been “vegetarian” for about a decade now but the only things I knew to avoid from this list were anything with gelatin and anything with animal based broths. I’ve thought about going vegan before but realized it is not a good idea for me because I get majority of my protein through dairy products. I have a few different medical issues that restrict my diet, and I would likely become malnourished if I tried to go vegan. But now I feel like I realistically can’t be vegetarian either because I don’t think I can go by all of these things and I feel: panic.
Lindsay Moe says
I’m sorry this made you feel panic. It sounds like you’re doing a great job of being aware of what your body needs, and that is important! It’s ok to do what you can to cut out animal products, even if it means making a few compromises. There are so many different types of vegetarians (I have a post about that too!), and labels don’t really mean anything in the end. Just keep doing what feels right to you, I think you’re doing great!