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Plant-Based Vs. Vegan Diets: Differences and Similarities


What’s all the hype between plant-based vs. vegan diets? Are they different? Are they even healthy?

That’s a valid question for vegans or flexitarians to consider because these are two terms thrown around by the food and nutrition industries, often without any real examination of what they entail. 

If you’re just learning the nuances of a plant-based or vegan diet, then you’ll want to know which diet is going to best suit your lifestyle. Both diets are similar (they are both fundamentally plant-based,) but both diets are also subtly different. 

The most basic way to look at it is like this. Vegan diets are exclusively plant-based. There’s never any meat or dairy when you’re eating vegan. A plant-based food diet, however, is only predominantly plant-based (it can include non-plant-based items.)

It’s confusing, but don’t worry; we’ll smash a few vegetarianism myths in more detail and explain the differences between a plant-based diet vs. vegan diet below. For extra clarification, we’ll also explain what a whole foods, plant-based diet is!

What is a vegan diet?

Let’s start by looking at the vegan diet.  

A vegan diet is entirely plant-based. That means plant-based foods are the only option on the dinner table. Vegans do not eat meat, seafood, eggs, or dairy products. Importantly, vegans do not use animal products or benefit from animal products in any way.

Veganism is the strictest form of plant-based eating out there and becomes a lifestyle as much as a diet. Vegans are against any and all cruelty to animals and the exploitation of animals. Strict vegans choose not to eat honey, use leather products, or use any products that have animal enzymes in them.

There are many vegan diet benefits, but for many who adopt the lifestyle, it’s as much a moral and ethical choice as it is a chance to realize the benefits of a well-balanced vegan diet.

There are also several different types of veganism with many vegan health benefits. These include whole foods vegans (we’ll explain whole foods diets later), raw food vegans, and others. 

What is a plant-based diet?

If veganism is the avoidance of all animal products, then what is the definition of a plant-based diet, and what does plant-based mean?

A plant-based diet is primarily plant-based, but it doesn’t have to be exclusively plant-based. Perhaps a less confusing name for this diet is a flexitarian. A plant-based diet is flexible, but the majority of meals and foods consumed are plant-based.

In practice, this means that a person on a plant-based diet can enjoy meat, eggs, seafood, or dairy products, but they won’t do so regularly. This is the main difference between plant-based and vegan because vegans would never entertain the idea!

You might be on a plant-based diet if you’re cutting down on meat, or if you’ve cut out meat altogether but still eat eggs and cheese and drink milk. If you only eat from a plant-based diet food list (no meat, seafood, eggs, or dairy) but continue wearing a leather hat, then technically, you can’t call yourself vegan; you’re plant-based. 

The term plant-based seems very similar to being a vegetarian, and that’s because it is. The plant-based lifestyle, however, leaves more room for flexibility. People are commonly weighing up the pros and cons of being vegetarian by dabbling in plant-based foods and cutting down on meats rather than merely cutting meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy out altogether. 

What is a whole food plant-based diet?

If you’re still keeping up, let’s look at what a whole food plant-based diet is. This is an increasingly common distinction, and it means that you’re following a plant-based diet but only consume whole foods.

This means there are no oils and unnecessary fats in your diet. The distinction arises with the popularity of plant-based junk food. As more people become plant-based, there’s a higher demand for vegetarian burgers, veggie chicken nuggets, and other fatty foods. As the number of plant-based eaters increases, so does the list of plant-based foods considered to be junk food or fast food!

A plant-based whole food diet, then, doesn’t include junk food or fast food. It’s all healthy, non-processed, whole grain foods. Similarly, vegans that stay away from processed vegan food can also have a whole food, vegan diet. 

Can you be vegan and plant-based?

Can you be vegan and plant-based at the same time? Sort of. A vegan is, by definition, plant-based. After all, they only eat plant-based foods. 

If you are plant-based, though, then you might not be vegan, as you can include other types of non-vegan foods in your diet. 

Ultimately, the popularity of the term ‘plant-based’ is giving increasing numbers of flexitarians a more appropriate term for a predominantly plant-based diet that might include a few burgers or steaks every month. 

What are the benefits of a plant-based or vegan diet? 

Regardless of whether you’re vegan or plant-based, there are lots of benefits to these diets. Increasing the number of vegetables in your diet is an excellent way to improve your nutrition, as you’ll be increasing the variety and the quantity of nutrients and vitamins that you consume.

Importantly, cutting down on meat, seafood, and animal products is not only seen as a moral choice in favor of the animals themselves but a way to help the environment, too. There are many proven benefits of a plant-based diet for the environment, particularly if you cut down on red meat and dairy products. 

Can there be problems with a plant-based diet? 

Plant-based diets and vegan diets are often said not to offer enough protein or calcium, leading to unhealthy deficits. This isn’t the case, as protein and calcium are found in many fruits and vegetables, too. Tofu, for instance, is an excellent meat substitute.

With more and more people opting for a plant-based diet, choice and variety are no longer a problem either. Supermarket shelves are stacked with meatless burgers and chickenless chicken nuggets!

Of course, as with any diet, there needs to be a balance. If you transition to a plant-based lifestyle but only start eating vegan fast food, then you’re going to be consuming far too many salts and saturated fats! 

Plant-based vs. vegan: which diet is best for you? 

The terms plant-based and vegan carry subtly different meanings, but for many, the plant-based diet is preferable (or easier) to the vegan. A vegan diet is much more limiting, but it can be the right option for ethical and moral reasons. 

If you are not yet ready to become a vegan, then a plant-based diet is an excellent step. For health, ethical, and environmental reasons, it’s essential that we all start consuming more vegetables and less meat.

Whole food, plant-based, and vegan lifestyles all have their pros and cons. It’s up to you to make the decision which one is right for you. 

Why not bookmark our guide to a plant-based vs. vegan diet so that you can debate the best diet for your lifestyle?

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