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Plant-Based vs Vegan Diet | What’s the Difference?

A plant-based diet consists of foods mainly or entirely derived from plant sources. A vegan diet is 100% free of animal ingredients or labor in its foods.

When people hear the terms plant-based or vegan, they may initially believe them to be the same thing. After all, don’t vegans eat plant-based foods? While this is the case, there are similarities and differences between the two that are sometimes misunderstood. It is these differences that show that, while they do share some themes, they are still two different lifestyle and diet choices.

Different labels may be used for diets depending on what a person is comfortable with. There is a large amount of stigma attached to vegans due to the actions and behaviors of a minority. Although this is not representative of the behavior of most vegans in society, it has still caused problems for fellow vegans who feel judged or misrepresented. Due to this, a vegan may label themselves as plant-based to try to avoid the negative connotations associated with the word “vegan”.

A person who follows a plant-based diet may eat mostly vegan foods, but can occasionally allow themselves vegetarian or even omnivorous foods. They may have specific times or days where they break away from the vegan diet, or may simply be more relaxed with it, such as when out for a meal and there is a lack of vegan options available.

Fundamentally, the main difference is that vegans will not use any products that contain animal ingredients or have had animals used in their production, while plant-based diets may dip in and out of animal produce and by-products as they see fit.

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What is Veganism?

Vegans were originally referred to as non-dairy vegetarians. They didn’t eat products that involved the outright killing of the animal for meat, but also avoided any by-products such as eggs, milk, or cheese. There have been many documented examples of vegetarians throughout history for a variety of reasons including wanting to be kinder and see all life as equal, or originally for a number of religions including traditional Hinduism and Jainism.

This eventually developed to veganism as people realized this cruelty would still be subjected without the killing of an animal, such as by using hormones or forced birth to promote high levels of continuous milk production. The lack of autonomy that animals had in their lives was also a source of discomfort for many previous meat eaters or vegetarians.

The term “vegan” came to fruition in November of 1944, when Donald Watson and some of his fellow “non-dairy vegetarians” decided to find a simpler name for themselves. Eventually, they settled on “vegan” as it used the beginning and the end of the word vegetarian.

The definition of veganism has changed over the years, but generally surrounds the belief that a philosophy and way of life that causes no harm to others, including animals, is the best way to live. This means ditching any products that have animals involved in either the ingredients or methodology. This lack of harming others will also relate to the farmers and workers who produce the product. An ethical vegan will try to ensure that the product is accredited with a Fairtrade symbol to ensure that no slavery or underpayment has taken place.

Veganism doesn’t just stop with diets. It also encompasses all products in life, from furniture, clothing and shoes, makeup, as well as any other products that might contain the above, or even have been tested on animals.

Becoming vegan isn’t just about helping animals. Studies have shown that a vegan diet can help promote a healthier lifestyle. This includes reducing cholesterol levels and the risk for diabetes or heart problems. Eating a proper, balanced vegan diet will still ensure that you receive the proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, while trying to promote a healthier and morally sound lifestyle.

The environmental impact of eating animal products is also considered in the vegan lifestyle. While there is a cost associated with rearing animals, whether correctly or in abhorrent conditions, there will also be a negative effect on the planet. Research has found that, by cutting out animal products and leading a completely vegan lifestyle, a person could reduce up to 73% of their carbon footprint. This would improve the condition of the planet and help with reducing the damage to the ozone layer, as well as to reduce global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps.

To summarize, veganism is not only about preventing the killing or harm of animals in that one moment by avoiding to eat the products, but also to ensure animals have proper, autonomous lives, the planet is well looked after, and no advantage is taken of people involved in the creation of food.

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What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Veganism is a version of a plant-based diet, yet not all who follow a plant-based diet are vegan. The plant-based diet is exactly how it sounds, a person who eats food mainly from plants where possible. This doesn’t mean they will completely avoid animal products.

Plant-based diets were first documented in the 18th Century when gourmand doctor George Cheyne realized he needed to stop eating foods that caused him to lack energy and want to sleep all the time. He removed all wine and meat from his diet and started living solely on seeds, breads, and root vegetables such as turnips, parsnips, and potatoes. He noticed that, soon enough, both his energy levels and mood were lifted.

From this, George started promoting his lifestyle to his patients, which was one of healthy eating, partaking in exercise, getting fresh air, adequate sleep and rest, and occasional purging via vomiting. It is those lifestyle choices, minus the vomiting, that we put in practice today as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

There are different varieties of plant-based diets, but the most commonly known six are:

Vegan – A person following a vegan diet will eat strictly plant-based foods that don’t contain or take advantage of animals, with no wavering. This counts out meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, and honey.

Lacto-vegetarian – This type of vegetarian is the same as a vegan, but tolerates the usage of dairy products. Honey may also be allowed. Any other food in the vegan diet is still not allowed.

Ovo-vegetarian – An ovo-vegetarian follows all the strictures of a vegan with a plant-based diet, but allows eggs in their diet, and possibly honey. None of the other foods are allowed.

Traditional vegetarian – A lacto-ovo-vegetarian is less strict than its predecessors, allowing both dairy and eggs within the diet while still avoiding meat, fish, and shellfish. Similarly, to its two singular counterparts, a traditional vegetarian may also allow honey in their diet.

Pescatarian – This is a much more relaxed version of the plant-based diet. Meat is still not allowed, including poultry, yet fish and shellfish are deemed as acceptable. The pescatarian will also consume dairy products and eggs.

Flexitarian – Those who follow this plant-based diet are also known as semi-vegetarians. They are a lot more casual with their diet. A flexitarian will, for the most part, follow a plant-based diet, but can dip in and out of eating meat as they see fit. This allows the person freer rein with their food choices, particularly when out for a meal or somewhere where there is limited, or no, vegan options available. This, obviously, comes at the cost of contributing towards the genocide of animals and harm on the planet.

Plant-based diets have become more popular over recent years due to the endorsement from popular celebrities. Actress Olivia Wilde has switched between veganism and vegetarianism since the age of 12, Miley Cyrus is a dedicated vegan who swapped out her leather clothing and accessories for vegan-friendly products to still rock her image but in a kinder way, as well as continuing her philanthropism, and Tobey Maguire became a vegetarian in 1992, further transitioning to veganism in 2009. These are just some of the many celebrities who have adopted a healthier and kinder lifestyle. It is also due to this that more people may also have made the switch from wanting to follow in their idol’s footsteps.

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Similarities

From face value, it is clear there are many similarities between vegan and plant-based diets as a whole.

Focus on Plants – Both diets focus on foods coming from plants. This includes nuts, berries, seeds, and other fruits or vegetables. Even with the non-vegan plant-based diets, the emphasis with food is still placed on plants rather than animal products. A person’s diet should be made up of mostly vegetables and other non-animal ingredients for both health and morality.

Compassion – Plant-based and vegan diets both show more care all round. Both want to stop the killing of innocent creatures for the sake of a meal. People in both groups understand that factory farming is a means of mass-producing animals for the sheer intention of slaughtering them. This doesn’t sit right, especially among committed animal lovers. Generally, the conditions that these animals are kept in are extremely poor, with a lack of space, surrounded by their own feces and deceased animals, and often pumped full of chemicals to make them bigger solely to make more money for a company. Plant-based eaters—and especially—those with a vegan lifestyle are unable to contribute towards unnecessary suffering. They refuse to spend their money on these products in hope that, without the demand, there will be less of a supply. Some vegans and plant-based supporters may also aid with charity work or protests to try to promote further understanding and compassion from others.

Health – Vegan and plant-based diets benefit from a healthier life than their meat-eating counterparts. When consumed correctly, these diets are suitable for people of all ages. Eating meat has been linked to causing a variety of health problems including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, obesity, cholesterol, acne, erectile dysfunction, Alzheimer’s, and an overall shorter lifespan. By omitting these foods and consuming plant-based foods—or better, vegan foods—a person will more likely have a higher quality of life, and for longer.

Breastfeeding – For both vegans and plant-based diets that disallow dairy, breastfeeding is the one exception. A mother produces milk to adequately feed her infant, and is a natural part of life. A human mother feeding her human baby is no different, meaning this will not go against the morality code for either group regarding taking advantage of another being. It is important to note that, for vegans and ovo-vegetarians, dairy from any other source is still not allowed.

Differences

We have previously discussed that veganism is plant-based but it doesn’t always work the other way around. Plant-based encompasses a variety of dietary and life choices, of which being vegan is one of them. There are some differences that show how each diet is separate from the others, and how certain aspects, such as gaining nutrients, can run parallel while either being cruelty-free or not.

Allowances – Generic plant-based diets that are vegetarian or flexible in nature are far laxer than veganism. Where vegans strive to live a completely moral and kind life, the other nodes of plant-based eating still have some cruelty towards animals. The contents of a person’s diet may also change depending on need. Some vegetarians or vegans are less strict on their dietary choices while pregnant due to needing extra nutrients to sustain another life, as well as due to the cravings that can occur in some people.

Animal vs Fish Debate –  Whereas a vegan will not touch any animal product, regardless of whether it lives on land or sea, some plant-based followers will still eat products containing fish or other seafood. There has been an ongoing debate by some wondering why animals are off-limits, but fish can still be harmed. Research proves that fish feel discomfort and a sense of pain, except differently to how land-based creatures and people feel. Some may wonder if this means that fish are deemed lesser than land animals. It is also one of the points frequently brought up in a lot of anti-vegan or vegetarian rhetoric, as well as questioned by vegans themselves. Simply, it can be that some people prefer gaining some of their nutrients from fish, while others would look for cruelty-free means of achieving the same end result.  

Nutrients – Depending on a person’s diet, their nutrients may come from a variety of places. Vegans will take some nutrients from seeds as opposed to animal products. Where a plant-based pescatarian might take their omega-3 directly from fatty types of fish, a vegan can take theirs from seaweed or a variety of seeds instead. A person may choose not to instantly go from eating meat to veganism. They may instead use plant-based diets as a means of transitioning. This can be used to ensure the person still gets all their required nutrients without a shock to their system from cutting out foods that their body is conditioned to. While this will take longer, and means extra time promoting cruelty and buying products that have animal sources, it may be better in the long run to avoid any negative side effects or simply abandoning their new, healthier choice altogether. There is also the availability of using supplements to ensure the body has what it needs. However, it is important to note that, whichever diet you follow, if it is truly balanced you should be able to get all the vitamins and minerals you need to sustain your health solely from the foods you are eating.

Products – The clothing you wear may differ depending on whether you are generically plant-based or truly vegan. Being plant-based tends to be more about dietary choices, so clothing may not come into the mix. A vegan will refuse any item that is made from animals. While this can also encompass furniture in the car and home, as well as a number of other products, one of the biggest sticking point for vegans may be the use of animal products within clothing.

Vegan Leather – This leather does not come from animal products. Instead, it is made purely from naturally occurring polymers found in pineapple leaves, fruit waste, and recycled plastic. This is great for the environment as it reduces wastage, and doesn’t harm a living being. There are some concerns that come from vegan leather production that people do not necessarily appear in traditional cow-hide leather, such as the chemicals used within the creation that may potentially be toxic.

Materials – Aside from leather, there are other materials that a vegan would avoid that someone who is simply plant-based may not. Silk comes from silkworms, so would be classed as an animal by-product and, therefore, off limits. Pearls would be another material. These are commonly used for garnishing material or in making jewelry. The pearls are made by inserting an irritant into an oyster, which can be compared to a major surgical procedure in humans, then collected by opening the shellfish again. Following this, the oyster is either again impregnated with another irritant, or discarded or killed. This means pearls are not suitable for vegans, or some vegetarians, but may still be deemed alright by pescatarians. Another material would be wool. This does not involve the killing of any sheep, and can be for their benefit to remove old layers, however it still means using an animal’s wares for profit. Wearing wool is common for plant-based followers, but would not be tolerated by strict vegans. Any material that vegans use would need to be entirely synthetic or truly plant-based.

Celebrity Endorsement – One designer noted for her use of solely vegan leather is Stella McCartney. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Stella advocates for animal rights. In doing so, creates gorgeous items of clothing that are completely fine for vegans to wear. She is a vegan too. Her mother, Linda McCartney, was a vegetarian and developed a brand of meat-free burgers and sausages in the United Kingdom that allowed vegetarians to have more choice. Likewise, Stella’s father, the legendary Beatles member Paul McCartney, is still a vegetarian to this day, and promotes vegetarianism to others. He also advocates many vegan beliefs, such as banning fox hunting and fracking, showing again how plant-based and vegan lifestyles can coincide with one another.

These show that, while the plant-based diet is important, there are so many other aspects of cruelty prevention and alternate products available to people. Vegans look further than simply food as to how they can truly live as cruelty-free. Again, being plant-based is a good start, but it is clear that is the foundation for working towards a cleaner future.

Ethics and Morals

Ethics and morals can be a large part of both vegan and plant-based lifestyles. They are what prevent people from sitting by and partaking in cruelty towards animals, the environment, or even workers in poorer countries who may be taken advantage of when farming and selling products.

Charity Work – Whether vegan or plant-based, people from both of these may engage in charity work or protests relating to animal welfare and care. Some charities that promote vegan and plant-based diets are available only for those who are vegan, whereas others will encompass more of a range of plant-based consumers. Generally, it seems that some plant-based charities such as the Vegetarian Society work to provide vegetarian-friendly products to low income consumers, whereas more vegan charities, for example Animal Aid, also put work into the conservation and protection of both animals and the planet.

Animal Testing – Vegans find animal testing abhorrent and obsolete. They won’t use a product that contains an ingredient that has been tested on animals. Someone who follows a plant-based diet may use products tested on animals, but also may pick and choose dependent on the need. For example, someone following a plant-based diet might opt not to use beauty products tested on animals, but still feel comfortable receiving a vaccination that was previously animal tested. Here, it all depends on necessity. While makeup and other beauty items aren’t essential to maintaining one’s health, it may be imperative that a vaccination is received, such as key workers needing the flu vaccination yearly to protect their clients. Depending on their job and health requirements, otherwise loyal vegans may also need to receive medical treatment that has animal ingredients or previous animal testing. While this would go against morals, it is not deemed as frivolous. Generally, it would not be looked down upon by the vegan community, while in the plant-based community it would already be a non-issue.

Honey – Honey can cause debate among vegans. This is an accepted food amongst those who are plant-based, and amongst some vegans, however others are against the production and consumption of honey due to it requiring the work of bees. The honey is primarily made to provide nutrition for the bees over the winter months. These bees are then exploited, often gassed to enable easier removal, and their hard work is replaced by a less nutritional sugar substitute. There is also the added risk to their health caused by numerous hives being located in one area, meaning it is easier to pass disease around. While honey consumption is not an issue for those who avoid meat or follow one of the other five plant-based branches, taking advantage of a creature would go against the ethics and morals that a vegan holds dear.

Although the ethics and morals of those who follow plant-based diets and vegans themselves can intertwine, it is evident that vegans are far stricter and hold themselves to a more detailed moral code regarding the treatment of animals and the planet, in food and otherwise.

Conclusion

All vegan diets are plant-based, yet not all plant-based diets are vegan. Veganism follows a strict code of morals and dietary exclusions for the good of the body, the planet, and animal welfare. Plant-based diets incorporate a wide array of choices when eating that may exclude certain food types or be temporal.

Overall, any form of plant-based diet can do some good for animal welfare, but it is true veganism that will have the most benefit. Again, plant-based diets will give you a large amount of health perks, but it is only when completely discounting animal corruption that you will find yourself at your healthiest.

When changing your diet, it is always imperative that you speak to a nutritionist to ensure that you still get all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that your body requires. Cutting out animal products from meals may not be enough to keep you healthy. You may be advised to seek nutrients elsewhere. For example, the protein that you previously consumed in eggs and meat may now need to be obtained from beans or soy-based products. While you may have good morals in mind, it is equally important that you don’t have any other underlying conditions, such as a vitamin B-12 or zinc deficiency, that may affect your vegan diet.

Otherwise, following a plant-based diet, including veganism, should be fairly simple to do if you get into the routine of planning meals and knowing which places or ingredients best suit you.

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