Plant-Based Diets

What is the Difference between a Vegan vs. Vegetarian Diet?

vegan pizza

Plant-Based Eating With or Without Any Animal Products

woman-cutting-vegetables3Vegan and vegetarian diets have been making waves in the nutrition department globally. The concept started to enter public awareness in the 1950s. Today, five percent of the US population are vegetarians while two percent are vegans. But what exactly differentiates a vegan from a vegetarian in the world of plant-based eaters?


Veganism is considered as a lifestyle based on the philosophy and compassion that excludes the incorporation of animals, not only in food but also in clothing and other products. This means that vegans have a very strict diet which excludes meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, and even animal-based products such as honey or those which use animal products in the processing such as in the case of some wines and refined white sugar.

People turn to veganism for different reasons. Dietary vegans cite food allergies as the main reason for choosing this type of diet. However, the majority of vegans are ethical vegans, who adopted the lifestyle for moral, ethical, spiritual and religious reasons. These individuals have strong moral principles that are for the environment, animal rights and human health. Ethical vegans subscribe to the idea that animal slaughtering and the incorporation of animals in commercial activities are inhumane and disrespectful.

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Vegetarianism is a diet based on the consumption of plants and one that excludes meat, fish and poultry. There are different schools of thought when it comes to vegetarianism, and with those different philosophies come the differences in their dietary components. For example, some vegetarians who consume dairy but not eggs are lactovegetarians. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians, on the other hand, eat both dairy and egg. There is also the type of vegetarian who excludes meat and poultry but consumes seafood including fish and is regarded as a pescetarian.

The majority of vegetarians follow this diet primarily for health reasons since the food options are naturally high in fiber, low in carbohydrates and low in saturated fats. Others have developed precaution toward food safety especially when it comes to meat and poultry products. There are also those who turned to vegetarianism as a way to commit to their religious beliefs, such as in the case of Hinduism and Jainism.

Raw Vegans

A Raw Vegan Diet is defined as someone who excludes meat from the diet and will only eat food that is cooked not more than 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The idea behind this is that cooking at a higher heat and pressure leads to the loss of essential nutrients and enzymes in plants. Raw vegans also take out processed products from their consumption. Raw vegans subscribe to the philosophy that food should be consumed at it most natural state, which means that little to no killing, processing and cooking should be involved.

The 80/10/10 Vegan Diet focuses on the proportioning of essential macronutrients in the diet. It suggests that 80 percent of the calorie consumption comes from carbohydrates, ten percent from healthy fats, and ten percent from protein while maintaining a plant-based, non-dairy diet. Many people who follow this way of eating rely predominantly on fruit.  Most also choose to eat their food raw. When going through this diet, you wouldn’t feel deprived at all, since the 80/10/10 diet incorporates huge amounts of food to comply with the calorie requirement, since most vegetables and fruits have lower calorie content than meat and poultry.

Another approach was taken to limit eating to part of the day.  Called “Raw Until 4”, this diet started as a fad and incorporates the raw vegan diet concept. Just as what it says, your lunch and breakfast will be raw while anything you consume after four in the afternoon will be cooked and processed. This means you can have breakfast of fruits, a salad for lunch and then pasta for dinner or even stir-fried rice.

Variations of Plant Heavy Diets

Other types of vegetable-based diets include the lactovegetarian diet that includes dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Excluded foods in the diet are meat, poultry, fish and eggs.  A variation on this is the Ovo-vegetarian diet that includes eggs and excludes meat, poultry, fish and dairy products in their diet. A combination of the two – the Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diet- is the most common type of vegetarianism and combines the idea of both Lacto vegetarians and Ovo vegetarians wherein they exclude meat, poultry, and fish but consume both eggs and dairy products.

Additional variations include the pescatarian diet, which is a semi-vegetarian diet wherein seafood and fish are consumed but not meat and poultry.  Another is proletarian, a semi-vegetarian diet wherein poultry and fowl are consumed but not meat, fish, and seafood. And finally, the most well known is the flexitarian diet, another semi-vegetarian diet wherein most of the meals are plant-based with the occasional meat at small quantities.



Following vegetarian and vegan diets provide the body with health benefits much more than those who consume meat. Vegans, because of their elimination of seafood and animal by-products, have taken out food allergens that cause health problems. A 2013 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that vegetarians have lesser probability of developing serious heart disease, with a tracked group of 73,308 individuals. The study also showed that there is a lower death percentage among vegetarians compared to meat-eaters. Deaths associated to kidney and failure and diabetes are also fewer among vegetarians. Aside from their plant-based diet, vegetarians and vegans are also found to have cleaner lifestyles since they also consume little to zero alcohol and smoke lesser, contributing to their longer lifespan.

Eliminating meat and animal by-products from the diet can also lead to lesser consumption of essential nutrients and minerals. This can pose potential risks to vegans and vegetarians. The good news is, these deficiencies can be countered and avoided with proper planning and the right information.

Cautions About Possible Deficiencies in Plant-Based Diets

One possible concern might be Omega-3 fatty acids.  By eliminating fish in your diet, you might be depriving yourself of the essential Omega-3 fatty acids. This is an important dietary component since it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, reduce the risks of atherosclerosis, and reduce triglyceride levels in your body. To compensate for this, you can consume microalgae oil, flaxseed oil, and olive oil. Olive oil is a great choice instead of plant oil since you will need to equalize the amount of Omega-6 fatty acid, which is present in the latter, to your Omega-3 fatty acid.

Another concern with vegetarian and vegan diets is Vitamin B12. Deficiency in this essential vitamin can lead to different health complications including nerve problems, dementia, weight loss, constipation, lethargy, poor memory and megaloblastic anemia. Vitamin B12 is usually found in meat protein, dairy, eggs, and seafood. While plant-based foods also contain this vitamin, the human body is not capable of metabolizing most of it. To counter this, you can add nutritional yeast into your diet as well as non-dairy milk and cereal. If you are not sure if you are consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin B12, you can also take supplements.

raw veggiesOthers have expressed concern about calcium.  You know that your body needs calcium and you are also aware that the most popular source of it is by consuming dairy products. Unless you are a Lacto-vegetarian or Lacto-Ovo vegetarian, chances are, you have entirely eliminated out dairy from your diet. To make up for possible calcium deficiency, you can opt to add legumes, tofu, and fortified soy milk as part of your meals. You can also take in calcium supplements to ensure adequate consumption. Do keep in mind that your calcium intake should be spread out through the day since the body can only absorb as much as 500 mg in one go.

Finally, a few words about Vitamin D.  Vegans and vegetarians are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency because of the exclusion of dairy and fish in their diet. This can result in higher blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, development of type 2 diabetes, development of osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction and even possible development of several types of cancer. The presence of Vitamin D in your system also facilitates a more efficient absorption of calcium. If you follow a raw vegan diet, your best natural source of Vitamin D would be the sun. Vitamin D is also present in non-dairy milk such as soy and almond.

Do you follow some kind of a vegan or vegetarian diet?  If so, and if you are concerned about possible deficiencies, please let us know what you are doing for these in the comment box below.

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Thriving on Plants is a resource for a whole food, plant-based way of eating and living. Here we celebrate all things plant and honor the power of informed awareness and a diet focused primarily of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains to support good health and happiness. Discover what a little more plant can do for your life!


This website is for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing presented here should be construed as a substitute for medical advice. Before beginning any type of new diet (natural or conventional), it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed physician, nutritionist and/or healthcare professional.
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