Vegans avoid eating foods of animal origin.
There are a variety of reasons for following a vegan diet, including ethical, health, or environmental concerns.
Some of the foods vegans should avoid are obvious, but others may surprise you. What’s more, not all vegan foods are nutritious and some are best avoided.
This article lists 37 foods and ingredients you should avoid on a vegan diet.
1–6: Animal foods
Veganism is a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it for food or any other purpose.
For this reason, vegans avoid eating foods of animal origin, such as:
- Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, etc.
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
- Fish and seafood: All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster, and fish sauce.
- Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
- Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches, and fish.
- Bee products: Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.
Summary: Vegans avoid eating animal flesh and animal by-products. These include meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and foods made by bees.
7–15: Ingredients or additives derived from animals
Many foods contain animal-derived ingredients or additives that most people don’t know about. For this reason, vegans also avoid consuming foods containing:
- Certain additives: Several food additives can be derived from animal products. Examples include E120, E322, E422, E 471, E542, E631, E901 and E904.
- Cochineal or carmine: Ground cochineal scale insects are used to make carmine, a natural dye used to give a red color to many food products.
- Gelatin: This thickening agent comes from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of cows and pigs.
- Isinglass: This gelatin-like substance is derived from fish bladders. It’s often used in the making of beer or wine.
- Natural flavorings: Some of these ingredients are animal-based. One example is castoreum, a food flavoring that comes from the secretions of beavers’ anal scent glands.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Many products that are enriched with omega-3s are not vegan, since most omega-3s come from fish. Omega-3s derived from algae are vegan alternatives.
- Shellac: This is a substance secreted by the female lac insect. It’s sometimes used to make a food glaze for candy or a wax coating for fresh produce.
- Vitamin D3: Most vitamin D3 is derived from fish oil or the lanolin found in sheep’s wool. Vitamin D2 and D3 from lichen are vegan alternatives.
- Dairy ingredients: Whey, casein, and lactose are all derived from dairy.
These ingredients and additives can be found in a wide variety of different processed foods. It is very important that you check ingredients lists carefully.
Summary: Vegans should check food labels to make sure products don’t contain the ingredients listed above.
16–32: Foods that sometimes (but not always) contain animal ingredients
Some foods you might expect to be 100% vegan sometimes contain one or more animal-derived ingredients.
For this reason, vegans seeking to avoid all products of animal origin must use a critical eye when deciding whether to consume or avoid the following foods:
- Bread products: Some bakery products, such as bagels and breads, contain L-cysteine. This amino acid is used as a softening agent and often comes from poultry feathers.
- Beer and wine: Some manufacturers use egg white albumen, gelatin, or casein in the beer brewing or winemaking process. Others sometimes use isinglass, a substance collected from fish bladders, to clarify their final product.
- Caesar dressing: Certain varieties of Caesar dressing use anchovy paste as one of their ingredients.
- Candy: Some varieties of Jell-O, marshmallows, gummy bears, and chewing gum contain gelatin. Others are coated in shellac or contain a red dye called carmine, which is made from cochineal insects.
- French fries: Some varieties are fried in animal fat.
- Olive tapenade: Many varieties of olive tapenade contain anchovies.
- Deep-fried foods: The batter used to make deep-fried foods like onion rings or vegetable tempura sometimes contains eggs.
- Pesto: Many varieties of store-bought pesto contain Parmesan cheese.
- Some bean products: Most baked bean recipes contain lard or ham.
- Non-dairy creamer: Many of these “non-dairy” creamers contain casein, a protein derived from milk.
- Pasta: Some types of pasta, especially fresh pasta, contain eggs.
- Potato chips: Some potato chips are flavored with powdered cheese or contain other dairy ingredients such as casein, whey, or animal-derived enzymes.
- Refined sugar: Manufacturers sometimes lighten sugar with bone char (often referred to as natural carbon), which is made from the bones of cattle. Organic sugar or evaporated cane juice are vegan alternatives.
- Roasted peanuts: Gelatin is sometimes used when manufacturing roasted peanuts to help salt and spices stick to the peanuts better.
- Some dark chocolate: Dark chocolate is usually vegan. However, some varieties contain animal-derived products such as whey, milk fat, milk solids, clarified butter, or nonfat milk powder.
- Some produce: Some fresh fruits and veggies are coated with wax. The wax can be petroleum- or palm-based, but may also be made using beeswax or shellac. When in doubt, ask your grocer which wax is used.
- Worcestershire sauce: Many varieties contain anchovies.
Summary: Animal-based ingredients can be found in foods you wouldn’t expect to see them in. Make sure to check your labels to avoid any surprises.
33–37: Vegan foods you may want to limit
Just because a food is vegan doesn’t mean it is healthy or nutritious.
Therefore, vegans wanting to improve their health should stick to minimally processed plant foods and limit their use of the following products:
Suggested read: Vegan Fact Sheet
- Vegan junk food: Vegan ice cream, candy, cookies, chips, and sauces generally contain just as much added sugar and fat as their non-vegan counterparts. Plus, they contain almost no vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds.
- Vegan sweeteners: Vegan or not, molasses, agave syrup, date syrup, and maple syrup are still added sugars. Eating too much of them may increase your risk of developing medical issues such as heart disease and obesity.
- Fake meats and cheeses: These processed foods generally contain lots of additives. They also provide you with far fewer vitamins and minerals than whole, protein-rich plant foods like beans, lentils, peas, nuts, and seeds.
- Some dairy-free milk: Sweetened dairy-free milk generally contain a good amount of added sugar. Opt for the unsweetened versions instead.
- Vegan protein bars: Most vegan protein bars contain high amounts of refined sugar. What’s more, they usually contain an isolated form of protein, which lacks the nutrients you’d find in the plant it was extracted from.
Summary: Vegans who want to optimize their health should limit processed foods. Instead, choose foods that can be consumed in their original form whenever possible.
The bottom line
Vegans attempt to avoid all foods of animal origin.
This includes animal and meat products, as well as foods that contain any ingredient that is derived from an animal.
That said, not all foods made from plant-only ingredients are healthy and nutritious. Vegan junk food is still junk food.Last updated on September 15, 2021, and last reviewed by an expert on September 11, 2021.