The Veggie Table: 8 Sneaky Foods Vegetarians Should Avoid

by in The Veggie Table, April 17, 2010


Whether you’re following a vegetarian diet or cooking for a veggie-inclined friend, it’s a no-brainer that you want to stay away from foods that contain meat. But what about lesser-known animal ingredients? Many processed foods that seem veg-friendly may not be. Check out our list for foods you might not know about.

Worcestershire sauce – This sauce is usually used to spice up grilled or barbecued meats. But if you love a good Bloody Mary, it may be made with Worcestershire sauce, which includes anchovies in its ingredients. Fortunately, there are vegan versions out there, so grab a bottle and enjoy it on your veggie burgers, grilled tempeh, or in a homemade Bloody Mary.

Vegetable Pad Thai – This noodle dish is typically listed in the vegetarian section of Thai restaurant menus, but authentic Pad Thai is made with fish sauce. While a vegetarian sauce could be used, it’s in your best interest to double check before you place your order and wind up with something fishy.

Caesar dressing – This classic dressing is another anchovy-packed condiment that is typically used on a seemingly-vegetarian Caesar salad. Unless, of course, you find a tasty vegan or vegetarian version that satisfies your salad standards.

Refried beans –You probably know many  prepackaged refried beans are high in fat, but it’s actually animal lard that makes these beans bad for a vegetarian. There are many lard-free varieties out there. My favorite is Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Refried Black Beans (pictured).

Sweets made with gelatin – When I first went veg I knew that the animal ingredient gelatin was found in marshmallows and Jell-O, but after digging through ingredient lists, I found it is in other sweets, too. Some mint candy, yogurt, chewy fruit candy (like Skittles and Starburst). Gum with a hard shell contains gelatin, too.

Soy cheese – If you’re a vegetarian, you might still eat cheese and dairy products. But if you’re a vegan, you likely choose cheese alternatives, such as soy cheese. Many soy cheeses on the market contain the ingredient casein, which is a milk protein. Casein is used in cheese alternatives because it helps to bind and melt the cheese. There are casein-free options, like Teese Vegan Cheese that tastes great and melts, too!

Wine and beer – Not all wines and beers are made using animal products, but those that do might not list it on the label. No animal ingredients are present in the final beverage, but some beers and wines are refined using a product called isinglass, which comes from fish, or may be filtered with bone char. This handy guide will help you find vegan wine and beer. Cheers to that!

Gel-cap medications – Did you know that anything “gel-cap” contains gelatin? I sure didn’t. Look for non-gel-cap versions of the medication you’re prescribed and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

TELL US: Have you found any other vegetarian un-friendly foods that surprised you?

Janel Ovrut, MS RD LDN, loves experimenting with vegetarian and vegan cooking. Read her food blog, Eat Well with Janel, and follow her on Twitter @DietitianJanel. Catch up on her previous posts here.   Learn more about all our contributors »

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Comments (14)

  1. […] couple of years ago I posted about eight sneaky foods vegetarians should avoid because they contain surprising animal-based ingredients. Since that list was not entirely […]

  2. […] couple of years ago I posted about eight sneaky foods vegetarians should avoid because they contain surprising animal-based ingredients. Since that list was not entirely […]

  3. democratic says:

    The crux of your writing while sounding agreeable at first, did not settle very well with me personally after some time. Someplace within the paragraphs you were able to make me a believer unfortunately only for a very short while. I still have a problem with your jumps in assumptions and you would do nicely to help fill in those breaks. When you actually can accomplish that, I will definitely end up being impressed.

  4. modmod says:

    Guinness and most lager is made with isinglass- fish bladder!

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