Unless you live inside a McDonald’s, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about vegan and plant-based diets. You may have seen new vegan meat substitutes (plant-based burgers, tofurky and the like) or frozen meals labeled as plant-based showing up in your local grocery store. You’re probably also seeing the word “vegan” on a lot of products as well. But do you know what each diet entails? What are the differences when it comes to plant-based vs vegan diets? Are they the same diet or something different? And if they’re different, which diet may be more beneficial to you, your lifestyle, and your health? Let’s find out.
Plant-Based vs Vegan Diets: What Is A Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet is often used as a synonym for a vegan diet when in reality, it is different. For example, on a vegan diet, all animal products are excluded. A plant-based diet can include minimal animal products, but most of the diet should come from plants.
Think of it this way, plant-based can mean a lot of things, while vegan is one very specific diet. A plant-based diet is a diet category encompassing multiple diets like lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, and strict vegetarian/vegan diet. When someone says they are plant-based, it is best to clarify what they mean when they say this.
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What foods can you eat on a Plant-Based diet?
As stated in the previous section, a plant-based diet differs by individuals. But in general, foods that are allowed include:
- Processed foods
- Animal products (seldom)
What Foods Do Plant-Based diets Avoid?
If you are, for example, following a pescetarian diet, you would avoid all meat and animal products except fish and crustaceans. But if you are a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, you would avoid all meat but still eat eggs and dairy products.
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Plant-Based vs Vegan Diets: What Is A Vegan Diet?
The vegan diet is more than just a diet; it is a lifestyle. The lifestyle component distinguishes it from a plant-based diet that avoids meat completely. The dietary portion does not include animal products like meat, fish, egg, dairy, and honey.
With veganism, the lifestyle implications are what make it truly shine. For example, you will avoid leather and other materials made from animals, live sustainably, avoid products that involve animal testing, avoid brands with a known history of animal cruelty, and support companies that do not test on animals. When embracing veganism, you may find your calling and become involved in activism for animals and their rights.
What Foods Do You Eat?
When following a vegan diet, your options are plentiful. You can eat these foods:
- Processed foods
What Foods Do You Avoid on a Vegan Diet?
And as implied, you will avoid any animal product derived foods, like:
- Dairy products
Potential Benefits of a Vegan Diet
When it comes to plant-based vs vegan diets, both can come with some benefits. According to the Cleveland Clinic, if you choose to follow a whole food plant-based diet, meaning a diet limiting oils, added sugars, and processed foods, you can lower your risk of developing:
- Colon and breast cancer
- Heart Disease
Additionally, if most of your food consists of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, you will consume plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Antioxidants reduce cell damage by protecting your cells from free radicals. And phytochemicals do a variety of functions in the body but ultimately help fight disease.
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What Nutrition Concerns for Plant-Based and Vegan Diets?
The main nutrient concerns for a plant-based diet and a vegan diet are very similar. They include concern for: vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc. But according to the 2016 position statement by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), a well-planned vegetarian and vegan diet can be nutritionally whole and adequate for all stages of life, including infancy to older adults and athletes. Both a vegetarian and vegan diet can help prevent and treat certain diseases.
A well-planned diet includes regularly consuming foods fortified with the nutrients of concern like vitamin B12, D, and omega-3 fatty acids. It can also involve taking a daily supplement to ensure that you do not come short in meeting your daily vitamin and minerals needs.
Plant-Based vs Vegan Diets: Which Diet Is Right For You?
Finding out which diet is best for you depends on a few factors.
If you are interested in a plant-based diet or a vegetarian diet, please try it out for yourself. Giving up meat or solely eating fish if you are a pescetarian may seem like an arduous task at first, but you will learn to adapt. There are plenty of meat alternatives to try, and you can transition from a meat-eating diet slowly if need be.
Suppose you are even a bit curious or fully willing to transition to veganism and the lifestyle that comes with it. Then, more power to you! Although you will no longer consume animal products, your culinary options are not heavily limited like you may fear.
If you are nervous about making this substantial dietary shift. In that case, I recommend going on social media websites like YouTube, TikTok, Twitter. There you can read posts or watch informational videos from Registered Dietitians like me, who speak about how to optimize your health on a vegan diet, recommended fortified food and vitamins, etc.
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Then, I recommend you dive into the world of vegan recipes and cooking videos to get yourself accustomed. If you want simple meals to prepare in under 10 minutes, there’s a video for that. If you desire fancy, complex meals, there are videos for that as well. Honestly there are videos for every aspect of plant-based and vegan recipes.
Lastly, since the vegan diet does not exclude processed foods, I can almost guarantee there is a replacement for whichever non-vegan food you feel that you may miss. The food industry’s innovations with meat alternatives and vegan cheese alone are astonishing.
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Plant-Based vs Vegan Diets: The Bottom Line
Now that we’ve gone over what it means to be vegan and what the plant-based diet can encompass, are you interested in trying out either? Before committing to veganism of the plant-based diet, we always recommend doing your research. As mentioned in this article, it can be easy not to meet daily nutritional needs.
If you do not feel comfortable researching this topic on your own, please contact a health professional like a dietitian specializing in helping individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet. You do not have to go on this journey alone.
Kaelyn Johnson is a Registered Dietitian from Southern California who has worked as a clinical dietitian and is now a freelance writer. She has written for WebMD, produced an e-book, and written case studies for healthcare practitioners.