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Vegetarian vs. Vegan vs. Plant-Based: What’s the Difference?

Vegetarian vs. vegan vs. plant-based. How do you tell which is which? The nuances may seem subtle to many, but to people who practice these lifestyles, the differences matter a great deal. Here’s the breakdown.

The subtle differences between vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based diets have been a source of confusion for years. As a person eating a plant-based diet the majority of the time myself, I can totally see why.

At first glance, the term “plant-based” seems pretty self-explanatory – eat mostly plants, yeah? But defining a vegan lifestyle isn’t quite so straightforward. That’s why I’m here to clarify things, in order from most basic to most extreme. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple.

Vegetarian vs. Vegan vs. Plant-Based

What is a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian, the most straightforward of the three diets, basically means “meatless.” Vegetarians choose to eliminate all meat from their diet (chicken, beef, etc.), often for ethical reasons, but are generally comfortable retaining animal byproducts like milk and eggs.

A few variations of this diet include: “lacto-vegetarian” – adding dairy back into the mix, “ovo-vegetarian” – adding eggs back into the mix, and “pescatarian” – adding fish back into the mix. 

What is a plant-based diet?

People who eat a plant-based diet eliminate all animal products from their diet including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, gelatin, and other animal byproducts, and tend to avoid processed foods.

Their diet consists primarily of whole, plant foods including fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. While this may sound vegan to you, where plant-based dieters differ from vegans is outside the kitchen

What is a vegan diet/lifestyle?

Vegans also eat entirely plant-based diets; however, the conviction to avoid all animal products and byproducts stretches into every other area of life. Veganism is a philosophy deeply rooted in the protection of animal rights.

As such, vegans eliminate animal products not only from their diet, but also from their wardrobes, skincare, and beyond. For example, the average vegan would not wear leather or use a beeswax-based lip balm.

Considering going vegan? This Vegan Starter Kit is a great place to start!

Read More: 10 Reasons to Eat Less Meat (Or None at All)

Why It Matters

Diet is something that is usually deeply personal to people. And the health-based or heart-based reasons why someone might choose to eat a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet are often pretty complex.

In my opinion, understanding the reasons people often choose one particular diet over another is a great way to practice empathy. Do you have a friend who lives a vegan lifestyle? Ask them why! I promise you, they will be touched that you asked.

Do you eat a vegetarian, plant-based, or vegan diet? What common misconceptions do you often come across in your daily life?

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