7 foods that seem vegetarian — but definitely are not

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Eating vegetarian seems simple — just avoid meat — but in today's tasty world of processed foods laden with mystery ingredients, keeping your diet cruelty free may be more difficult than it sounds. 

Animal products and derivatives of animal products are used to make ingredients like gelatin, rennet, shortening and many other binders and fillers to keep your food product looking delicious. Vegetarians and vegans who want to steer clear of animal products should reconsider what's in these foods. 


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Gelatin, often found in chewy candies like gummies and marshmallows, is also used in creamy products like yogurt. Yoplait uses beef-derived gelatin to give "consistency and texture to yogurt," according to its website. 

The yogurt is certified dairy, meaning that no actual meat is in the product, but ingredients in the product do derive from beef. Yoplait isn't the only yogurt brand to use gelatin in its dairy products: Noosa uses bovine-derived gelatin in its creamy yogurts and acknowledges on its website that this may not be suitable for vegetarians. 

For gelatin-free yogurt, consider plain Greek yogurt, like Fage or Dannon's all-natural yogurt, which uses pectin, a plant-derived thickener.


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A source of sustenance for many vegetarians — how else are you going to make that pity veggie burger edible? — many types of cheeses are not actually vegetarian. Rennet, a substance derived from the stomachs of young calves, goats or lambs while they're still nursing and have not yet eaten grass, is a popular cheese-making ingredient. Chymosin, which is also sometimes called rennin, is the enzyme found in rennet that coagulates and turns milk into cheese. 

Any cheeses labeled with rennet, chymosin, rennin or even just plain "enzymes" probably contain animal-derived ingredients other than dairy. You can refer to Joyous Living's list of certified vegetarian cheeses to make sure your cheese is 100% veggie. You might consider making your own soft cheeses like paneer, ricotta and more heat or acid coagulated cheeses that don't require rennet.


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Before you spread tofu cream cheese all over your bagel, know that the bread itself may not be vegetarian. L-cysteine, used as a dough conditioner in manufactured breads, is derived from poultry feathers or human hair. The product is said to be used in Dunkin' Donuts' bagels as well as at Einstein Bros.


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Guinness famously went vegan in November 2015 after removing fish bladder from its beer-making process, but plenty of breweries, wineries and distilleries still use animal-derived ingredients. Finings, which are used to improve beer and wine clarity, can be made with gelatin or isinglass, which is made from fish bladders. For a list of vegan-friendly booze, check out Barnivore

McDonald's french fries

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If you're skipping the Big Mac to be meat free, you're going to have to skip the side of fries too. Both "natural beef flavor" and "hydrolyzed milk" are ingredients in McDonald's beloved french fries, making them neither vegetarian nor vegan. Sad.

Minute Maid Ruby Red grapefruit juice

Minute Maid

Wondering what makes this grapefruit juice so ruby red? It's not a vibrant fruit. It's beetles.  

Cochineal extract, used to color the juice, has been derived from insects for centuries, yet this natural coloring agent came under fire circa 2012, when Starbucks was called out for using beetle-derived red coloring in strawberries and cream frappuccinos rather than plant-based dyes. Starbucks has since ceased using cochineal, but it can be found in many other red-hued food products.  

Jelly beans

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You can thank the female lac insect for your shiny jelly beans. This beetle, native to Thailand and India, naturally deposits lac on trees and twigs, which is then dissolved and turned into shellac, you know, that glossy coating you put on floors and candies. It may be shiny, but it's not vegetarian. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group blog, Jelly Bellies, Russell Stover's jelly beans, Hershey's Milk Duds and Raisinettes all contain the bug-derived ingredient.