What Can’t Vegans Eat? Foods to Avoid on a Plant-Based Diet

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Veganism is more than just a dietary preference; it’s a lifestyle. By following a vegan diet, we not only pledge to live healthily, but also to adopt a cruelty-free way of living, too. 

We often tend to think that going vegan simply means giving up animal products such as meat. But is that really all there is to it? 

Short answer, no. It also means giving up animal byproducts. And these things are very sneaky, let me tell you. They often hide in foods that you would never have imagined. 

So, instead of telling you about all the foods that vegans can eat, I am going to tell you about the foods that we can’t eat. 

Obvious Foods That Aren’t Vegan 

sheep and lambs

Some foods are obviously not vegan, such as animal products, because they are literally living beings. So, definitely don’t include the following in your diet:


It is obvious why vegans don’t eat meat. Meat includes animal flesh such as beef, pork, veal, lamb, goat, and is often referred to as red meat. Basically the flesh of all livestock.


Poultry is known as white meat and includes the flesh of poultry animals such as chicken, duck, goose, quail, and turkey. 

Fish and Other Seafood

brown trout

All types of fish are living beings, so they are no-go when it comes to a vegan diet. Examples: Fish (all types), shrimp, squid, anchovies, lobster, crab, oysters, scallops, mussels, etc.


Dairy products are made from milk which comes from living beings, so you cannot include them in a plant-based diet. Other than milk, the parent ingredient, dairy products include cheese, cream, sour cream, butter, ghee, yogurt, and even ice cream.

Dairy forms part of many vegetarian diets, but not a vegan diet.

Non-Vegan Foods That Some Find Confusing or Contentious

eggs and honey

Some foods are part of an ongoing debate about whether or not they are vegan. They are derived from animals, but don’t necessarily cause harm to animals. Well, at least that’s what some people think. So what’s the truth?


The debate surrounding eggs is that they are laid by hens and are technically not causing any harm to them. The hens are just doing what they would normally do, right? So why shouldn’t eggs be considered vegan? 

The reason vegans don’t eat eggs is because the hens are selectively bred to lay an insane amount of eggs every year. This leads to a lot of health complications in the hens. They are denied their autonomy, and are forced to be an egg-producing factory. (1)

This is the case with backyard eggs as well, which is why eggs are not part of a vegan diet.

Honey (and other products made by bees)

Honey is made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Okay, so what’s the harm in that? Nobody is harmed, right? 

Well, for starters, the reason that honey is not vegan is because it is food made by bees for bees to eat during the cold months of winter. So bee farmers essentially steal their food, often replacing it with corn syrup that is industrially processed. 

How would you feel if someone stole your food (that you took hours and hours to prepare) and quietly replaced it with something that tasted meh

Although this isn’t the same as consuming animal flesh, it still is a type of cruelty. This alone is reason enough not to consume honey, but there’s more!

Commercial beekeeping is not all that different from animal farming. The bees are exploited and harmed, and entire beehives are sometimes burned to prevent the spread of diseases. Another reason why honey is not included in vegan diets.

Food and Pantry Staples That You Need To Double Check

Not everything that seems vegan is actually vegan. Remember what I said about animal byproducts hiding sneakily in many places? 

It’s always best to check the ingredients for the following items, even if you think the product is vegan:

Non-Dairy Creamers 

Non-dairy creamers are usually made using plant-based milk such as almond milk, soy milk, or coconut milk. 

But this doesn’t automatically make them vegan.

Some of them contain animal products such as lactose, casein, or whey. So check the ingredient list or look for brands that are specifically vegan.

Breakfast Cereal 

Breakfast cereals often contain added milk or honey. But the most important reason that they aren’t always vegan is due to the fact that many of them contain Vitamin D3. 

This is a difficult Vitamin to get in adequate quantities, so they are added to the staple breakfast food. But the problem is that this is derived from sheep’s wool grease. So check for a vegan logo before you buy your favorite cereals. (2)

Chewing Gum 

Ever heard the rumor that gum is made from pigs? It’s actually true! Many contain stearic acid – a product obtained from the fat of animals, especially pig’s stomach. 

Other common non-vegan ingredients used in gum are gelatin, glycerin, carmine, and lanolin


Bread is usually vegan, but not always. Non-vegan ingredients to look out for in bread include milk, honey, and eggs. For example, Challah bread often contains eggs.

Instant Cake Mixes 

Just like normal cakes, instant cake mixes can contain eggs and dairy products, such as milk.

French Fries

Sometimes, french fries are fried in animal lard or fat instead of vegetable oil. Some of them also come with natural flavorings that make them unsuitable for vegans.

For example, McDonald’s fries in some countries contain beef!


Worcestershire sauce usually contains anchovies, while BBQ sauce contains anchovies and honey. Pad Thai sauce is another non-vegan sauce, since it is made using fish and oyster sauce. 

Miso Soup 

Miso soup stock, known as katsuobushi dashi, is made using dried fermented tuna shavings, which makes the soup non-vegan.

White Sugar 

White sugar often undergoes a refinement process in which bone char is used. Bone char is made from, you guessed it, the charred bones of animals. 

Flavored Coffee Syrups 

Many flavored syrups contain dairy products and white sugar. So, if you’re at your local coffee shop, ask them to give you vegan syrup instead.


Those colorful sprinkles may look innocent, but they usually contain shellac, which is made from insects. Some also have a coating of beeswax and dairy ingredients such as whey powder

Fruit Juices 

This may come as a surprise, but fruit juices are not always vegan. For starters, they can contain refined white sugar.

Second, manufacturers often add Vitamin D3 (which, as we’ve already seen, can be derived from sheep’s wool) and Omega-3 fatty acids (which can come from fish oil).


Marshmallows contain gelatin (an animal protein), which is usually what gives them that consistency that everyone loves so much. Thankfully, it’s not necessary. Check out our article on vegan marshmallows for an in depth look at this tasty treat.

Soy Cheese 

You might think that soy cheese would be a vegan alternative to regular cheese, but that is not always the case. Soy-based cheese sometimes contains casein which gives it the ability to melt like real cheese. The ones which don’t contain casein are vegan, though.

Dark Chocolate 

Just like milk chocolate, sometimes dark chocolate also contains dairy ingredients like milk, butter fat, and whey

Red Food Dye 

Red food dye, also known as carmine, is usually made by boiling and then crushing cochineal beetles, so they are not always vegan.


Fresh pasta tends to include egg as an ingredient, so look out for that. Dried pasta, on the other hand, does not contain egg, and is usually vegan. 

Waxed Fruit 

Fruits are often waxed to maintain their freshness and give them a better appearance. But the wax might contain either shellac (made from insects) or beeswax


Did you know that alcoholic drinks aren’t always vegan? Before alcohol is bottled, it undergoes a filtration process called fining. Common items used in this process include isinglass (protein made from fish bladders), casein, albumin, and gelatin

Soy Sauce 

Soy sauce, in itself, is vegan. It is the companies that make the sauce that are the problem. Some of them routinely test their products on animals, so do your research before you buy!


That’s right. Salted and roasted peanuts are not always free of animal derived products! Some of them contain gelatin which is added to make the salt and spices stick to the peanuts better.

Pesto Sauce 

Pesto sauce usually contains parmesan cheese, so it is not always vegan. Pro Tip: If you’re making it at home, you can use vegan cheese, or simply add nutritional yeast instead of cheese!

Refried Beans 

Beans are just beans, right? Wrong. Refried beans often contain lard, so it’s another food vegans avoid.

Fake Meats 

Unbelievably, some fake meats contain eggs and milk. So, to make sure that you don’t accidentally consume these products, always check the ingredients.

Also, since fake meats are processed foods, it is not advised to make them a regular part of your plant-based diet.

Gummy Bears

Gummy bears may look cute and taste yummy, but they often contain gelatin. So check for a vegan logo before you buy them.


Many potato chips are not suitable for your vegan lifestyle because they contain dairy ingredients. Flavored chips sometimes contain powdered cheese or animal flavors.

Vegan or not, don’t eat processed foods too much, because vegan junk food is still junk food.

Animal Derived Ingredients and Additives To Watch Out For 

In the previous section, we talked about various common foods that might have non-vegan ingredients in them. Now, let us look at what those animal derived ingredients are.

  • Egg Whites: Commonly used in baked goods such as cakes, cookies, and macaroons.
  • Carmine: A red colored dye made by grounding cochineal insects. It is often used to add color to food products.
  • Isinglass: Obtained from dry fish bladders, it is used in the fining process of vinegar, beers, and wine.
  • Tallow: A form of animal fat (usually beef) sometimes used for roasting and frying (as a substitute for butter).
  • Albumin: Albumin is a type of protein usually derived from egg or milk. It is usually present in Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, and protein supplements (including protein bars).
  • Fish Oil: Made from the tissues of fish, it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • Gelatin: This thickening agent is made by boiling the bones, tendons, skin, or ligaments of cows and pigs. It is commonly found in puddings, marshmallows, candies, ice cream, yogurt, and even some wines.
  • Confectioner’s Glaze: Often made with shellac, which is derived from the female lac insect. It is used to add a glaze or shine to many products such as candies or fruits. 
  • Glycerin: Glycerin can be made from animal fat or vegetable oil and is used as a food additive or sweetener. A common product that contains glycerin is chewing gum.
  • Whey: It is a type of protein derived from milk and is found in cheese (and other dairy products), candy, chocolate, ice cream, and even protein bars.
  • Casein: Casein is the second type of protein derived from milk and is found in dairy products such as cream, yogurt, and sour cream.
  • Lipase: Lipase is made from the pre-gastric juices of calves, lambs, and baby goats. They are commonly used in the making of various types of cheese.
  • Retinol: Animal-derived retinol (known as retinoids) is usually obtained from egg yolk or fish-liver oil. Since it is rich in Vitamin A, it is frequently used in dietary supplements. 
  • Lard: Lard is the fat from the abdomens of animals. Commonly used to roast, fry, or sauté. It can be found in foods such as refried beans, baked goods, and potato chips.
  • Ghee: Ghee is made from milk and is used for frying and roasting.
  • Rennet: It is an animal-derived product taken from the enzymes of a calf’s stomach. It is used in the making of cheese.

Now you know what NOT to eat.

Remember, the rule is to eat plant-based foods that contain no animal or animal-derived byproducts. Check out our article on vegan grocery shopping to find out about all the vegan items you can add to your shopping cart!

Don’t forget to share this article, too! 

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foods vegans cant eat
About The Author:
Rupali Jeganathan

Rupali Jeganathan, a passionate environmentalist, has over 5 years of writing experience under her belt.
Being an enthusiastic and happy vegan herself, she is always looking for ways to share tips and information with others who share the same lifestyle.

  1. Ed Winters | Why Don’t Vegans Eat Backyard Eggs? | https://www.surgeactivism.org/backyardeggs
  2. Miranda Larbi | Loads of Popular Cereals Aren’t Vegan Because They Contain Sheep’s Wool Grease | https://metro.co.uk/2018/05/09/loads-popular-cereals-arent-vegan-contain-sheeps-wool-grease-7531948/


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