What is the difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based?!

*Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am studying nutrition and on the path to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Please, contact a healthcare professional with any questions or concerns before adapting a new way of eating.

It is 2019 and I would be shocked if you told me that you do not know at least one person in your life that is vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based. Same with gluten-free. Or soy-free. Or oil-free. But, I digress. The focus today will be on plant-based eating. You probably hear about this way of eating all the time or may even eat plant-based yourself on the daily or by participating in #meatlessmonday. But, do you truly know the difference?! It’s okay if you do not! I’m here to save the day ๐Ÿ˜‰

As a future Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), food is my favorite topic! I love researching about food, talking about food, cooking food, and obviously eating food ๐Ÿ˜› But as your favorite future RDN, runner, and black bean lover (I’m making a lot of assumptions here, okay? :P) I am here to set the record straight about the differences between the types of plant-based eating patterns, and to provide you a few resources along the way. So, let’s get to it! I promise it’s not that long, but full of helpful information and a link to some resources! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Me eating a vegan cookie dough bite and living my best life ๐Ÿ˜›

The key difference between vegetarian, vegan, and plant based

First of all, let’s be clear. Vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based diets have a lot of similarities, but they are not the same. Two of them are diets and one of them is a lifestyle. More on this later.

According to the Harris Poll conducted by Vegetarian Nutrition resource group in 2016, 37% percent of the population always or sometimes eats vegetarian meals when eating out (1). Note that approximately 3% percent of the population is vegetarian (including vegans) all the time, regardless of whether they dine at home or out (1). A slightly higher proportion of people (5%) always eat vegetarian or vegan meals when eating out (1). Three years later, in 2019, I imagine the numbers of vegetarians are even higher, and we see this reflected in huge increased in plant-based options at restaurants. There has also been an increase in exclusively plant-based restaurants. This makes sense because nearly 25% of millennials (yes, I am one :P) consume a vegetarian or vegan diet (2). With the increasing popularity of plant-based, especially with my generation, you may find yourself wondering about the differences between the 3 eating patterns.

Whether it is something you are interested in yourself, you are about to host a dinner party with a vegan guest, or you are unsure how to explain yourself to your family, this is the post for you!

So, grab a bite to eat and let’s discuss the key differences! ๐Ÿ™‚

Vegetarian

A vegetarian diet refers to an eating pattern that forgoes all forms of flesh foods (3). This includes seafood, shellfish, poultry, beef, etc. A vegetarian consumes a diet containing fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products, but no flesh foods (3). Depending on the type of vegetarian, they may consume dairy or eggs, though (3). A vegetarian who still consumes honey, dairy products, and eggs, but no flesh foods is called a lacto-ovo vegetarian (3). A vegetarian that consumes dairy, but not eggs is referred to as a lacto-vegetarian and a vegetarian that consumes eggs, but not dairy is called an ovo-vegetarian (3). There are a multitude of reasons someone might adapt a vegetarian diet, but the most common reasons include: health, environmental concerns, ethical concerns, and enjoyment of vegetarian foods (3,4). Some other less common, but still fun reasons to go vegetarian: you’ll be more regular (runners love talking about poop ๐Ÿ’ฉ), your dinners will be pretty and colorful ๐ŸŒˆ (millennials love putting food pictures on Instagram :P), and you may live longer ๐Ÿ‘ต๐Ÿป (4).

Veganism

Veganism, is not a diet at all, but rather a lifestyle. What does this mean? Someone who practices veganism will not consume any flesh foods, honey, eggs, or dairy. Vegans have been dubbed “strict vegetarians” by some groups. Yet, veganism extends beyond diets. True veganism is an ethical practice that seeks to reduce harm and suffering of animals in the world. A vegan likely will not wear clothes with any animals products (i.e. wool or leather), will not go to zoos, use products tested on animals, and any other activities or practices that might bring harm or suffering to animals.

Please, respectfully discuss with me in the comments or via e-mail if you agree/disagree with the following… but some people may identify as vegan, but occasionally wear animal based products because they already owned them before going vegan (but then will not buy any more animal based products moving forward), use make-up that was tested on animals, or they might allow their child to go to a zoo for a school field trip. The end goal of the vegan lifestyle is to reduce animal harm and suffering, but to also make this lifestyle accessible to as many people as possible! A 95% vegan lifestyle is better than a 0% one! Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Taylor Wolfram of Whole Green Wellness describes this beautifully and in more detail in her post entitled: Veganism is not a diet. I highly recommend checking it out!

Plant-based

Finally, plant-based is a more general term that refers to a few different eating patterns. The most common type of person who calls themselves plant-based is someone who eats a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet, but occasionally has meat or dairy products. A pescatarian falls under this category because they consume a vegetarian diet, but they also eat fish, dairy, honey, and eggs, but no other flesh foods. A second category might be a person who is a true vegetarian or vegan, but they call themselves “plant-based” because it is a more general term and they like the flexibility of this classification.

As of today, I personally call myself plant-based, because I am 98% vegan, but I very occasionally consume food that contains honey (but otherwise no animal products) and some of my clothes and cosmetics are made from animal by-products or tested on animals. I am slowly working to live a more cruelty-free lifestyle, but with my current budget as a student, I’m not about to throw away clothes or shoes I already own, but I try to only buy vegan products when I’m on the search for something new. *If you have any thoughts about this please comment or e-mail me, but be respectful.

A third category of plant-based are people that eat a whole foods, plant-based diet (WFPB). This diet is technically a vegan diet in the sense that it avoids all flesh-foods and animal by-products, but they may not have the ethical ties that a true vegan has (5). Furthermore, a person adhering to a WFPB typically avoids processed foods and choses minimally prepared foods, as close to the Earth as possible, such as i.e. salads (5). This diet was made popular from the documentary Forks over Knives and the book The China Study.

Do you eat plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan? I’d love to know if you do and why you do! Drop me a comment below. Be on the lookout for more information about plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan resources for endurance athletes, specifically, later this summer!

Additionally, comment below or e-mail me if there’s a topic you’d love for me to cover here. My goal is to help and inspire all of you! ๐Ÿ™‚

BONUS! Check out the new blog tab, entitled RESOURCES for some of my favorite resources for plant-based recipes, books, cookbooks, and documentaries! ๐Ÿ™‚

References

  1. How Many Adults in the U.S. are Vegetarian and Vegan?
  2. Everything Is Ready To Make 2019 The “Year Of The Vegan”. Are You?
  3. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.
  4. Why Go Veg?
  5. Plant-Based Primer: The Beginnerโ€™s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet

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