8 Foods You Thought Were Vegan or Vegetarian But Aren't

Without proper planning, it can be challenging to eat a healthy and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet. There are specific nutrients you need to be aware of -- including iron, calcium and vitamins B12 and D -- and you may find yourself reading a lot of nutrition labels to figure out which foods have which nutrients. You may also need to peruse the ingredients list. While there are obvious offenders to a vegetarian or vegan diet (like meat), there are some seemingly innocent foods that don’t quite make the cut. Here’s a list of seven common foods you thought were vegan or vegetarian but, surprisingly, are not.

Mexican cuisine is chock-full of fresh vegetables in vibrant colors and is an excellent choice for the vegan diet. A serving of salsa has 15 percent of the daily value of vitamin C and a host of other nutrients, including vitamins A, B and D and iron, calcium and magnesium. The typical pico de gallo preparation includes raw, uncooked vegetables, including tomatoes, garlic, onion, chilis and lime. While several dishes at a typical Mexican restaurant dovetail with a vegan diet, watch out for Spanish rice. Although seemingly benign, Spanish rice is typically prepared with chicken stock, so check with your waiter before ordering. Also consider other vegan choices: guacamole, vegetable fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas and taco salad (hold the cheese and make sure the refried beans are not cooked in lard).

We all knew that yogurt isn’t vegan, but did you know that your favorite brand might not be vegetarian either? Certain yogurts contain gelatin, a thickener made by boiling a bunch of left over animal products — stuff like skin, bone and cartilage. Yuck. Dannon, Yoplait and Noosa yogurts all contain gelatin, so avoid those if you’re off meat. Also be sure to check all food labels for “gelatin” or its sneaky alias, “hydrolyzed collagen protein.”

This subtly flavored cheese, a favorite pairing for Italian dishes with pesto and pasta, is anything but vegetarian. Parmesan is manufactured with an enzyme used to separate milk into curds and whey. Said enzyme is derived from animal rennet -- specifically calf rennet -- which comes from the lining of calf stomachs. Still sound appetizing? Other cheeses, including Gruyere and Gorgonzola, also use rennet, so be sure to check the ingredient list or consult with the chef at restaurants. Some cheeses are manufactured with liquid vegetable rennet derived from plant-based or microbial sources. GO! Veggie produces a plant-based, dairy-free and lactose-free vegan alternative to Parmesan cheese.

Ramen: the lunch choice of college dorm-dwellers and rushed career folk alike. Most instant-noodle varieties seem like they should be vegan (or at least vegetarian), since the main ingredients obviously include vegetables and noodles, but that is not always the case. For instance, the popular Maruchan brand of flavored noodles appears to be vegetarian, but the seasoning packet contains ingredients like beef flavoring and beef powder. So that you can enjoy your quick-preparation noodles just like carnivores, search for healthier alternatives, such as Dr. Mc

Whatever wine varietal you prefer -- zinfandel, pinot noir, cabernet, rosé -- it would seem a foregone conclusion that its robust flavor profile derived from grapes wouldn’t include animal byproducts. However, animal-derived ingredients can be used in the manufacturing process. These include egg whites, pectin and something called isinglass. Isinglass is used to improve clarity in many types of wine and beer and is derived from the bladders of fish. Isinglass from sturgeon and other freshwater fish is also an additive to popular beers, such as Guinness. To ensure that your favorite wine or beer beverage isn’t eggy or fishy, check out Barnivore.com, an online vegan beer, wine and liquor guide.

Commonly, creamer is marked non-dairy, but can also include milk products. How is this possible? The Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on food labeling allow “non-dairy” products to include ingredients derived from milk, as long as labeling also cites the use of milk products. Confused? Several brands of non-dairy creamer often contain milk-derived ingredients like sodium caseinate. Before using that suspect powdered creamer in the auto mechanic’s waiting room or at the office’s coffee bar, make sure to check the ingredients list.

The candy store is a carnival of bright colors, textures…and animal parts? (Oh my!) Candies, such as gummy bears, marshmallows, candy corn and Starburst, often contain gelatin, an ingredient derived from animal sources. According to Lynette Astaire, lifestyle expert and author of “Forever 21: Juice Detoxing for Health + Wealth + Eternal Youth,” “Gelatin is an animal-derived ingredient that slips into so many things we don’t realize. It’s what makes marshmallows un-vegan, and gummy bears, sauces, dessert frosting and even some medications have it.” Yuck! Astaire recommends, “As always, read your labels. And when cooking [recipes that call for gelatin], use agar-agar as a healthier alternative.” To find vegan candies, consult PETA Kids.

And speaking of beans: Together, rice and beans create a complete protein, so eating beans along with your vegan rice at the Mexican restaurant can be a healthy choice for the vegan diet. Unfortunately, many recipes call for adding lard to bean preparations -- especially refried bean dishes. Ensure that your beans are vegan before ordering. If lard is added to refried beans, other choices like black beans may be lard-free.