Nowadays, more and more people are turning to a clean, vegetarian lifestyle, and for good reason. Whether it’s to sustain the environment, advocate for animal cruelty in meat packing, or by religious rule, a vegetarian diet and lifestyle can be healthy but sometimes hard to navigate.

Little do we know, many seemingly “vegetarian” foods can be full of animal byproducts, and that can be troubling for those who want a strictly vegetarian lifestyle. Here is a guide to which foods are (surprisingly) not vegetarian!

Pies

A warm and scrumptious fruit pie seems like a vegetarian’s dream. It’s a dessert that just involves a flaky crust and delicious fruit filling, but there’s more in some pies than meets the eye.

In order to give pie crusts the buttery flavor and body they need, bakers usually put lard in the dough. Lard is an animal byproduct, usually from pigs, which is collected from the fattiest parts of the pig. If you follow a strict vegetarian diet and want to steer clear of animal products, be sure to check any pie you buy from the store for lard in the ingredients section of the nutrition label.

If you’re buying from a bakery, just ask if they use any lard or animal byproduct in the crusts. This applies to many foods with a thick crust as lard is a common leavening agent and flavor booster.

Fruit filled may not be vegetarian due to animal lard in the crusts

Photo: Benny Mazur via Flickr

Sugar

Baked goods, desserts and even your morning coffee are usually made with white sugar. It’s a staple for every sweet we love. However, refined white sugars have recently been found to come in contact with what is called bone char.

Bone char is basically what it sounds like; the remnants from charring cow bones. The bone char is used for bleaching and filtering white sugar to give it a bright white tint. Not all white cane sugar is refined with bone char, but it can be hard to determine if an already-made dessert has bone char-refined sugar.

However, if you want to avoid the animal product as much as possible, then try to avoid refined sugars or switch out your white sugar for sugar that’s made from beets (it’ll say it on the label!).

white sugar may not be vegetarian for its contact with bone char

Photo: Humusak via Pixabay

Cheese

Cheese is arguably the guilty pleasure for any vegetarian. It’s rich tangy flavor levels up any vegetarian dish, but some cheeses may have more ingredients than you asked for.

Commonly found in processed cheeses, cheese “cultures” and “enzymes” are animal fats used to curdle the cheese and get it to a thicker consistency. Animal “rennet” is the most common culture/enzyme found in deli cheeses and even cheese-flavored foods. Rennet is the fat collected from the inner lining of the cow stomach.

While many kinds of cheese have animal rennet in them, vegetable rennet and microbial rennet are starting to become more common. So there are more vegetarian cheese options out there! Though, it can be hard to tell whether the rennet is animal or not unless it specifically says on the label. If the label simply says “cheese cultures” or “enzymes” or “rennet”, then it’s more likely that it is animal fat.

Some cheeses never use cultures, like cream cheese and ricotta cheese, so those are definitely vegetarian. So if you want truly vegetarian cheese, check the label for deli cheese for these cultures and enzymes!

Cheese can be non-vegetarian for incorporating animal rennet

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

French Fries

The possibility that French fries aren’t vegetarian is agonizing, but it’s true. While potatoes cut into fries are clearly vegetarian, the rubbings and oils used to cook the fries can saturate them with animal products.

Many premade and restaurant French fries are actually rubbed with tallow, which is rendered beef fat. Chicken and beef bouillon are also used to spice up the fries to give them a richer flavor. Even when the fries aren’t rubbed in animal fat, there’s still a chance that they get fried in animal fat as well. Or that fried meats shared the same oil as the fries. So really, French fries may not be as vegetarian as you’d think.

If you’re buying premade fries, then check the ingredients label for “tallow”. Proceed with caution at restaurants, asking them if their fries have tallow or animal fat in them. Usually, fries are made in a separate fryer from the meats in most chain restaurants, but it doesn’t hurt to ask them as well. Worth asking for the sake of your vegetarian diet choices.

French fries can be fried in animal fat and tossed in beef tallow

Photo: Lorena Cupcake via Flickr

Fruit-flavored Jello and Jellybeans

Anything fruit flavored seems safe for a vegetarian diet, especially treats like jello and jellybeans. However, jello and jelly beans typically contain gelatin, which can be taken from cows’ and pigs’ collagen. This fat is what makes these have the jelly consistency. So it’s hard to find them without animal product in them.

Not all jellybeans use gelatin since most are just sugar based and don’t rely too much on gel consistency. For jello, there are some natural alternatives you can use, like agar jelly (plant-based).

Jello almost always contains gelatin, an animal product, which makes it non-vegetarian

Photo: Bluesnap via Pixabay

Soups and Pasta

A vegetable soup and creamy pasta seem perfectly vegetarian. Until you realize that chicken and/or beef broth can be added in to add body to the dishes. Be careful of soups, even ones with no meat in them!

Chicken broth is the base for most soups, including vegetable ones, so check the label or with the restaurant. If it’s made with vegetable broth, then you’re good to go.

For pasta, creamy sauces thicken and hold more flavor when cooked with chicken or beef stocks. Chicken and beef bouillon are typical ingredients used for alfredo sauces. Add in cheese full of animal enzymes, and your pasta becomes a dish very far from being vegetarian. So check your sauces especially for chicken and/or beef broth and cheese cultures!

Vegetable soup is not necessarily vegetarian since it can be made with chicken broth

Photo: naimbic via Pixabay

There are some common ingredients you’ll see on nutritional labels that can indicate animal byproducts. If you see “cultures”, “enzymes”, “diglycerides”, “gelatin” and/or “glycerin” in the foods you eat, then there is a chance there are animal fats.

Buying kosher and halal foods can sometimes be considered vegetarian also, but still, check your labels as they can have animal fat from kosher/halal meat. Finding truly vegetarian food can be challenging, but it all depends on you and your preference. If you want to lead a completely vegetarian lifestyle, then it’ll take that extra effort of reading labels and asking servers what’s in your food. Many of these foods aren’t necessarily healthy for you anyway. So cutting them out for the sake of a vegetarian diet may benefit you!

Whatever you choose, we commend any effort you make to keep up a vegetarian lifestyle. A vegetarian diet is cleaner, better for the earth and can better your health as well!

Read on:

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How to Make Sense of Food Labels

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