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The Difference Between Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Sharon Palmer

Plant-based diets are growing in popularity, as people look to gain health and and environmental benefits. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, 3.3 percent of the population is vegetarian, and about half of those are vegan. Younger adults (18-34 years) have the highest rate of vegetarianism (5.3 percent), suggesting continued growth on the horizon.

So, what is the difference between these two eating styles? Though many people have their own personal interpretation and adherence, here are the basics.

The Difference Between Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Vegan Diet. A vegan diet excludes all animal foods, including animal flesh, dairy products (cheese, milk, yogurt, butter), eggs, and honey. While many foods such as milk, yogurt, and meat are obviously non-vegan, there are many hidden animal ingredients in foods, such as supplements, sauces, baked goods, and processed foods. Vegans may also avoid products associated with animals beyond the dinner plate, including clothing, accessories, cosmetics, and household items that are tested on animals or made with animal products such as leather, silk, or wool.

Vegetarian Diet. A vegetarian diet typically refers to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which means a diet that excludes all animal flesh, but allows for dairy products and eggs. Hence, this eating pattern and lifestyle is less restrictive than the vegan diet, though it still may require attention to ingredients lists on food products and restaurant menus.

The Benefits. It has become increasingly clear that vegetarian and vegan diets offer many benefits. The evidence is so solid that the Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 suggests a vegetarian-style eating pattern as one of three diet patterns for optimal health. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that these diets, when appropriately planned, are appropriate for all ages and may reduce the risks of chronic disease and obesity.

The Adventist Health Study 2 compared five diet patterns (non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan) among 96,000 participants, discovering that, overall, the more plant-based the diet, the greater the benefit for conditions like body weight; blood cholesterol, insulin, blood pressure, and inflammation levels; and cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and mortality risk. There were even environmental benefits; vegetarians had a 28 percent lower carbon footprint than non-vegetarians, and vegans had a 42 percent lower carbon footprint.

Vegetarian and Vegan Nutrients of Concern

Pay attention to these nutrients of concern and sources.

 Vitamin B12Vitamin DCalciumIronZinc
VeganFoods fortified with B12, supplement recommendedFortified plant milks, mushrooms exposed to light, moderate sunlight exposureFortified plant milks, tofu, kale, almonds, broccoliWhole grains, beans, green leafy vegetables, tofu, tomatoesOats, tofu, cashews, beans, nuts, tempeh, broccoli,
VegetarianEggs, milk, cheese, yogurtFortified milk and yogurt, eggs,Milk, yogurt, cheeseNone in addition to aboveMilk, yogurt, cheese

Note: Vegetarian choices may also include vegan options listed. For more information on nutrients of concern, check out my tips here.

Image: Veggie Pot Pie with Biscuit Topping, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

  1. Great points. In my opinion, The Core Difference Vegans eat no animal products, while vegetarians don’t eat animals, but may eat products that come from them (such as dairy and eggs).

  2. Being a vegan i always struggle to find food for myself , But i found some great recipes from your blog. Also, i recently tried a vegan protein by Kapiva and it has been such a great addition to my work out /diet intake.

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