After my last post regarding starter tips for vegetarian/vegan lifestyles got so many views, I wanted to do a more in depth post about common ingredients vegetarians/vegans have to avoid. I know for a lot of meat eaters, and those curious to start these lifestyles, you have no idea really where to begin. Can I eat this? If not, why can't I eat this? Is this (insert: hair care, makeup, body wash, etc..) vegan? Is this okay for my (insert vegetarian friend/relative/etc) to eat? I'm here to help you answer these questions.
I'm listing what I believe are the top ten most commonly found ingredients that aren't vegetarian friendly. Please note: there is A LOT of animal derived ingredients out there and to list them all would take forever. So, your best bet is to read the label and if there's an ingredient you don't know, Google it. That's pretty much how I learned what I know. When in doubt, if you Google something and the answer isn't so black and white, don't purchase the item at that time, email the company and find out exactly if it's an animal derived ingredient. That's what I have been doing for years.
I'm going to split this post into two. Today, I will focus on the vegetarian diet and lifestyle. My next post I'll do the vegan diet and lifestyle. Because being a vegan is so much more in depth, it's going to be easier to do separate posts.
First up, let's discuss the vegetarian diet. There are lacto vegetarians that only eat dairy. There are ovo vegetarians that only eat eggs. Then, there are lacto-ovo vegetarians that eat both dairy and eggs. Vegetarians DO NOT eat poultry or seafood. Pescatarians eat fish. Fake vegetarians eat poultry, they don't even count. That's not a real thing. If you meet a vegetarian eating a chicken sandwich, they're just fibbing. This diet is not just limited to only not consuming flesh. Here's what to look out for:
1) Stock- a lot of soups and sauces contain animal based stock. For example, I know that the Alfredo sauce and red sauce at Olive Garden contains an animal stock, the marinara does not. They may have changed their ingredients as it's been a long time since I've been there, but that was true as of last time I was there. I know this because I ask. ALWAYS ask questions when you're out at a restaurant because you can never be too sure. You can't have chicken noodle soup, and just scoop out the chicken pieces and call it vegetarian. Chicken noodle soup is made from chicken stock. A lot of Asian dishes use fish sauce in their sauces and dishes. There are delicious vegetable stocks that make excellent bases for home made soup and sauces.
2) Grease and fat- this was always an issue for me when going out to eat because if you cook a meat ingredient on anything, it leaves grease and fat behind. When you cook something in the grease and fat, that gets cooked into the food you're cooking, thus making it not vegetarian. I wouldn't touch anything that was cooked in the fat of an animal product. This also applies to pizza. If someone orders a pepperoni pizza, and you pick the pepperoni off, you can't call it vegetarian. If you get a breakfast sandwich at WaWa and pull off the sausage and just eat the cheese and egg (if you even want to call what they serve as eggs), then that's not vegetarian. Lard is an ingredient that you find in a lot of baked goods. Lard is fat taken from the belly of pigs. (YUM!) Tallow is rendered beef fat. I was once making cupcakes for my guests to enjoy at my annual Halloween party, and I bought Walmart brand chocolate icing. To my surprise, it contained beef fat. So you always have to read labels because you never know what ingredients are lurking in your food.
3) Gelatin- you will find some vegetarians that eat this, but once I discovered what it was, I stopped eating it immediately. Gelatin is made form boiling tendons, bones, hair, ligaments, etc.. in water. It's the main ingredient in Jell-o. Also, you find it in marshmallows, candies, yogurt, coatings for vitamins and medicine, and a variety of beauty care products. In my opinion, if you're consuming gelatin, which is made from animal ingredients, it is not vegetarian. A common vegetarian substitute is agar agar, which is seaweed derived and does the same thing gelatin does. If you love Jell-o and marshmallows so much you can't bear the thought of living without them, rest assured, they have vegetarian/vegan versions that are just as delicious!
4) Rennet- this is derived from the lining of baby cow's bellies, but it can be taken from other young animal's bellies too. This is a difficult problem vegetarians face because rennet is found in a lot a lot of cheeses. Most vegetarians will tell you they can't live without their cheese, I know this because I was that vegetarian for so long. That's actually what prevented me from being vegan for so many years. There are rennet alternatives which are sometimes used in the cheese making process, but you want to research first which brands are rennet free. I know that I used to eat Cabot Cheese, which was rennet free. If you Google "rennet free cheese" you should find a website with a list of vegetarian approved cheese brands. When in doubt, send your favorite brand an email to see if they're rennet free.
5) Glycerin(e)- this one is a tricky one. There is animal based glycerin made from animal fats, and vegetable based glycerin. Some ingredient labels will list "vegetable glycerin." If it doesn't mention what kind of glycerin, you should contact the company before making a purchase.
6) Carmine- this is another one that not all vegetarians follow, but personally I find it repulsive and once I learned what it was I wanted nothing to do with it. Carmine is made from crushed female cochineal beetles, and is used in mainly cosmetics, but also artificially red dyed foods and beverages. It's been said that 70,000 beetles must be killed in order to produce ONE POUND of this dye. Insects are living breathing creatures too, so to use products where literally millions of beetles get crushed so you can have your pretty red lips? That's 100% not following the vegetarian lifestyle. Alternatives are beet juice, and other fruit and vegetable dyes. I have two beautiful red shades of lipstick by Pacifica and Emani (that I have reviewed on here!) that are beetle free that I highly suggest!
7) Fish oil and cod liver oil- I wanted to do this one seperate because they have vitamins stictly made from fish oils. They are not vegetarian friendly from the gate, and to boot, are usually encapsulated in gelatin-based capsules.
8) Isinglass- derived from fish bladders. This is most often used as a fining agent during the wine making process. Do some research on your favorite brand, or send them an email! I know that Frey Vineyard and Natura Wines are both vegetarian/vegan, and delicious!
9) Natural flavors- this is always a tricky area because a lot of companies purposely put this on their label so their "secret ingredients" are kept secret from competitors. But, there's no way of knowing when you read the label if those natural flavors are derived from animal sources, which often times they are. Sometimes, you'll see on an ingredient label "natural sources (vegetable derived)" which is awesome since it takes the guess work out of it. If not, send an email the company mentioning that you're a vegetarian and you just want to clarify if the natural flavors are animal sourced. They certainly won't tell you what those natural flavors are, but they will usually tell you whether their plant or animal derived.
10) Confectioner's glaze, resinous glaze, and shellac- made from the excretions of the lac insect. You see this most commonly in candies, like Candy Corn and other shelled or waxy type candies like Reese's Pieces, Mike and Ikes, Nerds, Sugar Babies, etc.. It's what gives candy that shiny appearance. Most confectioner's glaze that I know uses shellac, but I read somewhere there is confectioner's glaze made without shellac, but personally I don't know any.
That's all she wrote! Remember, this is just a sliver of the list of ingredients vegetarians can't have so you have to do your research! I was a vegetarian for 15+ years before going vegan, and I hadn't the slightest clue what it really meant to be a vegetarian in the beginning. But, I did my research and I learned. Once I learned, I became a very strict vegetarian. You may know vegetarians that eat gelatin, or eat candy corns. Those ingredients are wishy washy for some people, but for me they're a definitely non-vegetarian friendly ingredient. Plus, like do you want to eat bugs? Or bug sourced ingredients? Insects count too. This list is based off of the main ingredients I always avoided. So please don't send me an email or leave a comment that you or your friend is vegetarian and eats this or uses that. I am not the vegetarian police. How you or your friend chooses to live their vegetarian life is on them. Once you do your research, and you discover how these ingredients are made, make your own decision on which you believe is right.
I also hope that to any meat eaters out there reading this that this has helped you to open your eyes about what your food and products are really made of. If you're reading this to try and figure out what to avoid when buying for a friend/significant other/family member that's a vegetarian, I hope this makes your search easier. There are SO many easy vegetarian recipes for every day or for the holidays, so between those and this list, you should be getting off on the right foot.
After all is said and done, I hope this has been an informative read for all parties, whether you eat meat or don't. I'll be working on my vegan post as soon as I get a chance, so keep an eye out for that. As I've said before, please never hesitate with any questions you may have. I'm not perfect and I don't know everything, but I will always do my best to find out the answer to something if I don't have it. I'm happy to spread the knowledge!