The term “plant-based diet” is one that is broad and includes several ways of eating, such as whole foods plant-based, vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian. Most people use the term “plant-based” in a way that means 100% plant-based, where no animal products are eaten. Plant-based can also be used to refer to diets that are mostly plant-based, such as vegetarian diet and flexitarian diet.
Is there a difference between vegan vs plant-based diets?
To put it shortly: a vegan diet is simply one type of plant-based diet. All vegans are considered plant-based, but not all plant-based eaters are vegan.
By some definitions, and in the most literal sense, a plant-based diet is simply plant BASED. Even some omnivores consider themselves plant-based when their diet is mostly plants, with only some animal products. Many people who are consciously aiming to eat less meat consider themselves going plant-based as well.
Vegetarian and flexitarian diets also fall under the plant-based term, but would be considered “mostly plant-based”, since they eat mostly plant foods, with only a small portion of their diet coming from animal derived foods.
Are there any other differences between vegan vs plant-based diets?
While all plant-based diets have much in common, a notable difference between ‘vegan’ vs ‘plant-based’ is the reason behind the choice.
Vegans make their choices based on animal welfare and environmental reasons, as well as health. Vegans also usually avoid animal products in clothing and cosmetics for the same reason.
Plant-based eaters typically prioritize the health benefits of a plant-based diet over the environment or animal welfare. For the most part, the food choices between a vegan vs plant-based diet are very similar.
Comparison of plant-based diets:
Omnivore: Food comes from both plant and animal sources with little to no restrictions. The base of their meals is still likely mostly plants (vegetables, fruits, grains), but meat and animal products are eaten at most meals.
Mostly plant-based: the majority of food comes from plant sources. Meat, eggs, and dairy may be eaten, but less frequently and/or in smaller amounts than an omnivore.
Flexitarian: the vast majority of food comes from plant sources. Flexitarians are vegetarians who may occasionally eat meat.
Vegetarian: the vast majority of food comes from plant sources, but dairy and eggs may be regular parts of the diet.
100% Plant-based: all foods come from plants. The main reason for choosing a 100% plant-based diet is usually personal health, with animal & environmental welfare as possible secondary factors.
Vegan: all foods are plant-based. The main reason for choosing a vegan diet is usually for animal welfare, while personal and environmental health as possible secondary factors. Many vegans also care deeply about their health and may label their diet as plant-based or whole foods plant-based. Vegans also avoid using personal care products or wearing clothing made from or tested on animals.
Whole Foods Plant-Based: all foods are plant-based, but only unprocessed foods in their natural state are included. The main reason for choosing a whole foods plant-based diet is usually personal health. Animal & environmental welfare are also possible secondary considerations.
Is a vegan diet healthier than a plant-based diet?
As we learned, a vegan diet is actually just one type of plant-based diet. Foods on a vegan diet can be the exact same as a plant-based diet, but they are not always the same. Whichever way you choose to eat is perfectly ok. Putting a label on how you eat doesn’t make you healthier.
A healthier diet is about more than just what you eat, but also how you eat and how you diet makes you feel. A healthier diet is more flexible, less restrictive and should be free of guilt and shame around food choices.
Some people talk about “junk food vegans”, or vegans who eat mostly highly processed foods, while others believe plant-based diets are always healthy. In these cases, they would probably be referring to vegan diet vs whole foods plant-based diet. For example, you could still choose highly processed foods that are plant-based on a vegan diet (hello Oreos!), but not on a whole foods plant-based diet.
Both eating only highly processed plant-based foods, and completely unprocessed plant-based whole foods are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Find the balance that feels good for you and allows you to eat how you like, but leaves out feelings of guilt, shame, and restriction.
No matter which type of plant-based diet you choose, studies show you’re better off incorporating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats while limiting highly processed foods, foods with added sugars, red meat, processed meats, and alcohol.
Do we really need to label our diet as vegan vs plant-based?
When choosing whether to say you’re vegan vs plant-based, the title is less important than how you feel. Does the way of eating feel restrictive and cause you guilt or shame you when you don’t follow the “rules”? Or does it make you feel physically good, as well as empowered that you are making changes that support the life you desire?
The problem with putting a label on our eating pattern is that it creates a set of external rules to follow, instead of listening to our own values and the needs of our bodies.
Also consider how sustainable the diet is for you. Can you eat this way for the rest of your life or will you need to rely on willpower? Studies show that restrictive diets are almost never sustainable, and can even increase the risk of disordered eating such as orthorexia.
Now that you know that a vegan diet is simply one type of a plant-based diet, which plant-based diet is right for you? Let us know in the comments!
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