We hear about people being vegetarian or vegan all the time. While adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet is quite normal for some, for others, it is not something that aligns with their daily dietary habits.
There seems to be a clear understanding of the difference between vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets. Still, the line is often blurred when it comes to the difference between vegan and vegetarian diets.
But, a difference between the two does exist, and it is important to understand both individually to understand how they differ.
1. Vegetarian Diet
A plant-based vegetarian diet avoids consuming meat, seafood, and poultry. Thus, any food or product obtained through animal slaughter is not consumed in vegetarian diets.
The food products in a vegetarian diet are obtained from plants. Thus fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, leafy vegetables, and roots can all be consumed by vegetarians.
‘Vegetarian’ is a broad term and thus includes different types as well.
1.1. Types of Vegetarian Diets
There are 6 types of vegetarian diets. Each of these is a different take under the broad category of vegetarianism.
1.1.1. Lacto Ovo Vegetarian
A person following a Lacto ovo vegetarian diet can consume dairy products and eggs but no meat, poultry, fish, and other seafood or foods containing any of these products.
Lacto stands for milk, and Ovo for eggs. Thus the diet of Lacto ovo vegetarians includes plant-based foods, milk, and dairy products, as well as eggs and products that contain them.
1.1.2. Ovo Vegetarian
Ovo vegetarians have a similar diet to Lacto ovo vegetarians but cannot consume dairy products, unlike the latter.
Hence, their diet includes plant-based products and eggs while preventing the consumption of meat, poultry, fish, other seafood, and eggs.
1.1.3. Lacto Vegetarian
Lacto vegetarians are also known as Lactarians. They are vegetarians that do not eat eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and other seafood.
Lacto vegetarian diets are plant-based and include milk and dairy products (such as butter, cheese, and all other foods made from or using milk and milk).
1.1.4. Pescatarian diet
A Pescatarian diet is plant-based, like the other diets mentioned above. It allows for the consumption of plant-based foods, dairy products, and eggs. But, Pescatarians also eat fish and other seafood.
The name Pescatarian comes from combining the Italian word ‘Pesce,’ meaning fish, and ‘vegetarian.’
There is a divide between opinions on whether pescatarians are considered vegetarians. While some cultures or groups consider fish a part of a vegetarian diet, most don’t.
In countries like India, vegetarianism is usually synonymous with a Lacto vegetarian diet.
1.1.5. Flexitarian Diet
The word ‘flexitarian’ comes from the combination of ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian.’ A flexitarian diet involves increasing the consumption of plant-based foods while also incorporating meat into the diet. Thus, although there is a higher focus on a vegetarian diet, meat is not eliminated.
1.1.6. Vegan Diet
A vegan diet is also a sub-category in the types of vegetarian diets. But when referring to types of diets, vegan and vegetarian diets are considered their distinct categories, especially with a rise in veganism.
A vegan diet is a strictly plant-based diet and excludes any and all animal products. Even products derived from or obtained from animals without harming or killing animals are a no-no for veganism.
Thus, vegans do not consume eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, milk, and any of their byproducts.
2. Vegan Lifestyle and Ethical Veganism
Veganism goes beyond plant-based eating. It is not just a diet but a lifestyle. People that adopt the vegan practice and philosophy beyond diet into their daily life activities are known as ethical vegans, and the practice is called ethical veganism.
People gradually realize the importance of safeguarding animal rights. The unethical and immoral activities and practices often involved in the making and manufacturing animal-based foods and products have led many people to opt for ethical veganism.
Since vegan diets and products are plant-based, this reduces the demand for animal products, reducing animal exploitation.
When following a vegan lifestyle, one takes care that they do not buy and use any goods and services that use animal byproducts, are animal-derived products, and avoid companies that practice animal testing.
2.1. Avoiding Animal Products Altogether
Following a vegan lifestyle includes using no products with animal-derived raw materials or ingredients. So products made of animal flesh and skin (leather, snake skin, alligator skin), fur (such as fox fur), and other raw materials like ivory, pearls, and silk are avoided.
Animal products are produced and supplied because there is a demand for them. Hence when the demand stops, so does its production, thus safeguarding animals. This is because such raw materials are often acquired through unethical means by killing or harming animals.
2.2. Cruelty-Free Products
Products must be tested during the creation or manufacturing process to ensure that they are safe for people to use. Unfortunately, they are often tested on animals.
When the final product and ingredients used in it are not tested on animals, it is cruelty-free and is known as a cruelty-free product.
Testing products on animals puts them in harm’s way, which is highly unethical; hence, the practice of using cruelty-free products is a part of a vegan lifestyle.
3. Disadvantages of Lack of Meat Consumption
Vegetarian and vegan diets provide several health benefits, but the lack of incorporation meat and animal products has risks of certain nutrient deficiencies.
Both plant and animal protein are important for a balanced diet. While plant foods make up for plant protein, animal protein is obtained by eating meat. Some nutrients such as vitamin B12, Heme iron, D3, Creatine, and Carnosine are found only in meat and animal products.
Thus, while the requirement of such proteins and nutrients is met for those who eat meat, there is often a lack of it in people following vegan and vegetarian diets.
4. Benefits of Vegetarian and Vegan Diets
There has been a steady rise in the number of people opting for a vegan lifestyle for over a decade. Trends toward veganism have grown, especially since 2020.
This shift of meat eaters towards a plant-based diet is due to several reasons. Two main reasons that stand out are health benefits and animal welfare concerns.
4.1. Risks Involved in Eating Meat
Recent studies by the World Health Organisation, Harvard University, and various other institutes have studied the risks involved in consuming meat, especially red meat.
These risks involve heart disease and diabetes. Meat includes saturated fats, which, when consumed in large quantities, lead to insulin resistance and increase glucose levels affecting blood sugar control. This leads to a risk of type two diabetes.
Consuming processed animal meat, such as salami, sausage, and bacon increases cancer risk. The chemicals found and added to processed meats can cause stomach and colorectal cancer.
4.2. Health Benefits of Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
4.2.1. Nutritional Requirements
A balanced vegetarian or vegan diet helps maintain a diet with food from all the food groups, thus meeting the nutrition levels required.
Including a wide range of fruits, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables gives the body the necessary vitamins, minerals, and proteins that are nutritionally adequate for the body.
Fortified food makes up for nutrients that are lacking. Fortified foods have added nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to make up for or increase their nutritional value.
For example, vitamin d, found only in meat products, is fortified with foods like cereals and plant-based milk. Vegans and vegetarians consume fortified foods to make up for the lack of consumption of not only vitamin d but also other nutrients that may be lacking in their diet.
4.2.2. Limits Consumption of Unhealthful Foods and Risk of Diseases
Focus on more plant-based foods and drawing attention away from prepackaged snacks and processed food help limit unhealthy eating.
A well-balanced vegan and vegetarian diet promote healthy eating and benefits.
Vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of developing type two diabetes; for those with it, adopting a plant-based diet allows better blood sugar control. Vegetarians and vegans are at a lower risk of developing cancer and heart disease.
Such a diet improves cardiovascular health and also helps with weight loss. The ideal BMI (Body Mass Index) limit is between 12.5 to 24.9. Several studies have shown that people following a vegan or vegetarian diet have lower body mass indexes than meat eaters.
While being vegetarian and vegan by no means implies that one will lose weight, it does help in weight loss. Less saturated fats and more micronutrients are eaten, leading to a healthful diet.
Additionally, Since vegetarians and vegans consume plant sources that are natural resources, it prevents several illnesses, health conditions, and food poisoning caused by poorly processed foods and meat that is raw or undercooked (such as salmonella).
5. The Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian
As we already know, a vegetarian follows a vegetarian diet, while a vegan adheres to a vegan diet. Both are plant-based diets, so the question here is, ‘What is the difference between the two?’
Vegans have a much stricter diet, while vegetarians tend to follow a comparatively relaxed one.
While fruits, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains are eaten by both, depending on the type of vegetarianism, a vegetarian may be allowed to eat eggs, dairy products, or even seafood.
Some minor differences exist in the reasons for people adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet.
India has the largest percentage of vegetarians, around 39 per cent. The reasons behind the vegetarianism of most of these people are based on caste and religion. Vegetarianism lies in the very beliefs of some people and has been followed by people generation after generation.
The vegetarians in India make up a huge chunk of the overall percentage of vegetarians around the world, so religious and cultural beliefs become a major reason for vegetarianism. Adding to this are other reasons like health benefits.
On the other hand, most vegan people have converted to veganism at some point in their life. The leading reason behind stopping meat consumption is to prevent animal exploitation. Many vegans also follow this diet for health benefits.
Many times, non-vegetarians wishing to become vegans may start by becoming pescatarians or vegetarians to make the transition easier. Eventually, they adopt a vegan diet and may even avoid animal products altogether, becoming ethical vegans.
Hence the main differences between vegans and vegetarians are in the strictness of the diet and the reasons for following such a diet.
Vegan and vegetarian diets, although they seem quite similar, have their differences. The popularity of such diets continues to grow, and the larger availability of plant-based foods has made it easier for people to follow them.
Plant-based milk and dairy products, egg replacements, vegan meat, and vegetarian and vegan recipes have all made it easier to follow plant-based diets without making people feel like they are missing out on delicious food.
All in all, the world of plant-based diets is rapidly growing and ever-changing, with more people taking an interest in it every day.