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5 Foods Vegetarians Should Avoid

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published July 21st 2013
Not as Green as They Seem
[ADVERT]Oh for the days when a vegetable was a vegetable. Remember when we were once able to separate the five food groups without any hassle? Everything fit in a category quite easily, and there was no doubt about what everything was (apart from the age old debate about whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable).

These days food is a minefield, and there have never been so many question marks about what things are made of. For example, is a beef lasagne made from a cow or a horse?

While for the average person this is something of irritation, for those with specific dietary requirements, it is even more crucial to know what is in our food. Vegetarians in particular face a lot problems. If you are a vegetarian, here are five foods you should be wary of, because they may not be all that they seem at first glance.

1. Beer

beer, guinness
Image from Wikipedia

What are the ingredients in beer? Barley. Check. Hops. Check. Water. Check. Yeast. Check. Fish guts. Excuse me? I'm sorry to say it, but it is true. Many breweries use an ingredient called isinglass to filer out the yeast at the end of the process. Isinglass comes from fish bladder.

This is not the case with all beers, but the problem is that breweries are not obligated to list isinglass on the ingredients if used, so you cannot be sure which ones have it and which ones don't. A good guideline is to watch out for British cask ale, as they are the ones most likely to use it.

2. Margarine

Image from Wikipedia

You would think that margarine was the safer option when compared to butter. Vegans cannot eat butter because it uses dairy products, but margarine is made from vegetable fat, so surely that is okay, right? Wrong. Some margarine brands use animal fat as well as vegetable fat. The good thing is that this is listed on the ingredients and all you have to do is check.

3. Food Colouring

Those lovely colourful iced cakes look so tempting don't they? But just how do they make all those bright colours? With food colouring. And what is that food colouring made of? It depends on what colour it is, but if it is read then you might be in for a nasty surprise. Red food colouring is made from E120. E120, also known as carmine, is bug blood. Specifically, it comes from a South American insect called a cochineal.

4. Waxed Fruit

You would think if anything was suitable for vegetarians it would fruit. In most cases it is, but be careful when you buy things like lemons. Only buy unwaxed lemons. The wax used to preserve some fruit is also made out of insects.

5. Sugar

Image from Wikipedia

How do they make sugar so white? You see on the packet that it is called 'refined', but what exactly does that mean? First the sugar crystals the put in syrup to remove the brown coating, but to make it even whiter, they also use bone char.

If you are looking for alternatives, cider could be swapped for ale, soya spread for margarine, juice some cherries or raspberries for red food colouring, only get unwaxed fruit, and use unrefined sugar. The best advice I can give is to always read the ingredients on the back, and make sure that it says 'suitable for vegetarians'.
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Why? Don't get caught out
Your Comment
Just to clarify....some ciders are also filtered using isinglass
by cathy (score: 0|7) 2303 days ago
Thanks Bryony, for this food for thought. I didn't know some beers used that process, but I knew about wine. Always so much to keep in mind.
by Katy Holliday (score: 3|1133) 2293 days ago
Thank you Bryony. I am a vegetarian and heard many years ago about fish guts being used in the process of beer making but have been unable to find any written proof until now. The other food items are fascinating too. Great article : ) Nicole
by Nicole Arathoon (score: 1|21) 2302 days ago
Just because someone wrote it doesn't make it written proof. She is probably right but don't believe everything you read. Also I heard that some wines also use it thus why you can buy wines that are labeled vegetarian.
by nicme (score: 0|8) 2302 days ago
Do you have a source regarding the sugar not being vegetarian - I have read that it is usually vegetarian in Australia but not in America.

I am also surprised you didn't include gelatin and rennet which are also surprising where they will be when you turn vegetarian.
by gggir (score: 0|5) 2300 days ago
Great article,'s amazing how many sneaky little additions find their way into in even the 'greenest' foods!
by Carolyn Hopping (score: 2|950) 2289 days ago
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