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Foods You Think Are Vegan But Actually Aren’t

Many foods are commonly believed to be vegan and come as a surprise when they are revealed to be not, for example, some packed peanuts contain gelatin.
Jyothi Shenoy, MD, MBA

Written by Jyothi Shenoy, MD, MBA. Updated on December 16, 2022.

Is bread vegan? What about wine? Can I eat peanuts? And cashews? And chocolates?

Being a vegan comes with too many questions, with each question giving multiple answers that only add to your confusion.

Just trying to make sure everything you are eating is pure vegan can leave you overwhelmed. And then, sometimes you may come across foods that you were sure to be vegan but turned out to be not.

There are many such foods that are commonly believed to be vegan and come as a surprise when they are revealed to be not.

If you are serious about your vegan diet, here’s a list of foods for you to watch out for so that you can make careful choices to match your vegan lifestyle.

1. Chocolate

I can hear you scream! It is hard to let go of chocolates. And it is even harder to believe chocolate to be non-vegan because the Cocoa from which it is prepared itself is derived from plants.

However, we can not forget that milk and milk products are commonly added to chocolates, even to dark chocolate.

Most chocolate brands call out when their product is vegan. But, it is a good idea to check the ingredient list and look for dairy (including casein and whey) to ensure you have made a vegan choice.

2. Omega-3 Supplements

A vegan diet definitely has no room for seafood, which is a precious source of healthy fats like omega-3s. And this is where comes the problem linked to omega-3 supplements.

If you have decided to adopt veganism, you need to ensure that your body is not deprived of these healthy fats. This might prompt you to use omega-3 supplements, which many people assume to be vegan.

But, most omega-3 supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish and other animal sources. Hence, replacing seafood with omega-3 supplements can still be non-agreeable to your vegan diet.

This is why; you will need to be careful while choosing your supplements or look for plant-based alternatives for your supply of omega-3s.

Some of the best plant-based foods rich in healthy fats include almonds, nuts, flaxseeds, Chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut, and whole grains.

You can also improve the production of DHA and EPA (omega-3 fatty acids) in your body by including vegan sources of alpha-linolenic acid in your diet such as flaxseed oil, tofu, canola oil, and soybeans.

3. Beer and wine

A gelatin-based substance called Isinglass derived from fish is commonly used as a clarifying agent for the preparation of beer and wine. Some other non-vegan ingredients used in beer and wine preparation include egg whites and casein (from milk).

Since these ingredients are usually not listed on beers and wines, you might have to ask the store employee or contact the brand to make sure the beverages you plan to buy are vegan.

4. Sugar

Table sugar or refined sugar is made from sugarcane and sometimes, from sugar beets, both of which are purely plant-based ingredients.

But, some kinds of sugars are processed with bone char during the refining process to help whiten the final product. Most brands have started calling out if they are vegan making it easier for you to make the right choice.

You can also use sugar that is certified as USDA-organic to ensure it has not been processed using bone char. This will ensure you are able to follow your vegan diet perfectly.

5. Candies

Sugary sweets such as sour candies, gummies, and marshmallows sometimes contain gelatin. Gelatin is an ingredient derived from animal collagen. It is often listed as an ingredient.

So, it will surely help to check the ingredient list before making the purchase. You can, instead, choose candies that are made with vegan thickening agents, like agar-agar.

6. Peanuts

Peanuts are, of course, plant-based foods. However, some packaged peanuts so they contain gelatin, which is an ingredient sourced from animals.

So, again, when choosing packaged peanuts, make sure you have read the label to check that it does not contain gelatin.

7. Non-dairy creamers

It is not uncommon for vegans to get fooled by the ‘non-dairy’ description of some creamers. The ‘non-dairy’ tag does come with a very small amount of a milk-based derivative called sodium caseinate.

This is why; not all non-dairy creamers are suitable for your vegan diet.

8. Red Foods

Foods and drinks that are red-dyed such as juices, candies, and sodas, often contain carmine (sometimes mentioned as carminic acid or cochineal). Carmine is usually derived from the cochineal scale, which is actually an insect.

So, don’t forget to check the ingredient list on the red-dyed foods to ensure they do not contain carmine.

9. Bread and pizza

Some breads, pizzas, and bagels contain an amino acid called L-cysteine, which is commonly derived from human, hog, or duck hair.

Be sure to fresh nutritional labels for both fresh, and frozen bagels and products.

10. Veggie burgers

Most veggie burgers do contain eggs and dairy. Check the labels and make your preferences clear while ordering a veggie burger at a restaurant.

11. Margarine

If you think of margarine as your obvious vegan alternative to butter, you are wrong. Margarine often contains milk proteins, whey, and gelatin which make it a non-vegan food not suitable for your lifestyle.

12. Worcestershire sauce

Although you might find some vegan-friendly brands for Worcestershire sauce, most traditional recipes for this condiment do include animal-based ingredients like anchovies.

13. Soy Sauce

Most major brands of soy sauce are vegan. However, in the past, many manufacturers used traditional methods to prepare soy sauce with fish ingredients. Some manufacturers use the same method even today. This is one reason why the soy sauce you choose may not be vegan.

Additionally, soy sauce may contain refined sugar that is filtered using bone char. The ingredient label may or may not mention these intricate details. Hence, it is a good idea to opt for vegan alternatives for soy sauce like Coconut Aminos.

14. Chips

This may be surprising because it is just too hard to think of tortilla chips and potato chips as non-vegan foods. However, it is a fact that they do sometimes contain some dairy ingredients, which make them non-vegan.

15. Breakfast cereals

The presence of sheep grease in breakfast cereals is one of the most controversial revelations witnessed by the vegan world.

Most breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D to improve their nutritional content. Some breakfast cereals contain vitamin D3 derived from lanolin, which is an oil derived from sheep’s wool.

This means that cereals containing D3 may not be suitable for vegans.

16. Gummy bears

Most of the major brands of gummy bears contain gelatin that comes from boiling cartilage, skin, bones and other parts of slaughtered animals. This means the gummy bears commonly available in the market may not even be vegetarian.

17. Fruit juices

Some types of fruit juice contain animal ingredients like gelatin and fish oil as an added source of omega-3 fatty acids. Fruit juices are sometimes fortified with vitamin D3 which is derived from sheep’s wool. Also, some varieties of fruit juices contain carmine derived from crushed beetles.

Hence, it is advisable to check the label and watch out for these ingredients, or better yet, make fresh fruit juice for yourself at home.

18. Sprinkles

Sprinkles, which appear to be seemingly innocent, can actually be an unsuspecting minefield for vegans.

The primary ingredient to watch out for in sprinkles is confectioner’s glaze (sometimes mentioned as shellac), which is obtained from insects.

Some other possible non-vegan ingredients in sprinkles include red food dye, white sugar, gelatin, and dairy. These additions can make your favorite sprinkles a non-vegan food.

19. Honey

Honey is often considered a plant-based product as it is collected by bees from the nectar in flowers. Some people also argue that honey is not directly sourced from bees.

Also, even bees have got honey stored in their hives from plant sources. They suck nectar from flowers and store it in the hives, which we consume as honey.

However, these arguments do not show the complete picture. The most objectionable aspect of consuming honey is its exploitive.

There is a risk of the bees getting crushed when the honey-storage slots in the hive are emptied. Also, a single bee can produce not more than two spoons of honey in a month. Hence, it can be too unethical to take away that tiny amount of honey from the bees, given the massive amount of work done by them.

Luckily, it’s very easy to avoid honey. There are plenty of options like maple syrup, agave nectar, and rice syrup that can be used in place of honey. If you want to go vegan, you can choose these animal-friendly alternatives instead of honey to add a dash of sweetener to your dishes.

20. Milk

Milk is often the first food that comes as a kind of a shocker for those who have recently stepped into the vegan lifestyle.

Milk, when you think of it, should not come as any surprise, as we all know it is an animal product. But, the problem with milk is it has been ingrained into our minds as a very very basic food item.

These facts have been so much deep-rooted in our minds, that it never occurs to us that it is not a vegan food.

Some of the best plant-based alternatives you can choose to replace milk include soy milk or almond milk. These are pure vegan foods that will ensure you are able to get all the nutrients while also not cheating on your vegan diet.

According to one study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, soy milk can be the best alternative to cow’s milk.

Almond milk can also provide a balanced nutrient profile and better flavors, however, some people have almond intolerance, and it can cause bloating and diarrhea.

21. Free-range Eggs

Since the primary purpose of veganism is to avoid the exploitation of animals, you may think that eating free-range eggs would be fine. However, the fact is that when it comes to the protection of animals, free-range eggs, though better than caged eggs, are far from being perfect.

Most of the hatcheries providing hens to the free-range egg farms actually kill the male chicks upon hatching. Also, even when the hens are kept in spacious conditions, they have it rough as they are bred to lay eggs at a very high rate. This kind of treatment can expose them to several health problems.

So, eating eggs, whether caged or free-range, does not align with the purpose of veganism. However, there are many vegan egg replacements you can use as a substitute.

Is Veganism a Hard Choice to Follow?

Going vegan can be hard when you are not sure whether the foods you eat are purely plant-based or not. However, now that you have a list of foods that could be non-vegan, you can easily eliminate the possible culprits and stick to your vegan diet without any difficulty.


There are several misconceptions related to a vegan diet. And the major one among them is it does not provide sufficient nutrition to the body.

However, the fact is that a vegan diet, when followed in the right way, does provide all the essential vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants needed for the optimum functioning of our body.

Most vegans discover the switch to be far easier than it is commonly perceived to be. All you need to do is focus on eliminating the obvious non-vegan foods from your diet such as meat and eggs, and then, make careful choices to eliminate the possible non-vegan foods based on the list we discussed above.

Once you have got a hold of what can be included in your vegan diet, it will become easier for you to include a variety of dishes in your meals. And this will surely make your diet nutritionally competent, interesting, and delicious.

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