Plant-based vs Vegan: What's the Difference?

Katie Mae, Plant-based Transition coach

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Is it the same as vegan or vegetarian diet?

What’s the difference?

Does this sound familiar? Don’t worry, many others are asking the same questions. There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between plant-based and vegan.

There’s a couple key distinctions. Let’s start with the food…

A plant-based diet is one that is based on whole plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. As the name implies, it is a diet with plant foods as the focus rather than a processed food or animal-based diet. Processed and animal-based more accurately describe the diet of westernized societies (however, this is shifting).

There are many doctors and other health professionals promoting a plant-based diet, with some adding unique specifics or emphasis. Most often a plant-based diet is referring to one that is 100% plants. However, technically one could eat a diet largely based on plants and still consume small amounts of animal products. As of yet, there is no legal regulation on what the term plant-based means.

A vegan diet, on the other hand, is one that eliminates the consumption of any other sentient being or their by-products. This means no animal flesh (beef, poultry or fish), no dairy products, no eggs and no honey. I love how Terry Mason, a urologist and Commissioner of Health for the city of Chicago, puts it: “If it walks, hops, swims, crawls, slithers, has eyes, a mom and a dad – don’t eat it.”

Depending who you ask, honey may or may not be an acceptable ingredient for vegans. A vegetarian diet comes with much more variety. Vegetarians generally don’t eat animal flesh, but are ok with dairy products and/or eggs. Ultimately, they limit their animal consumption based on what they are comfortable with. For instance some people call themselves pesco-vegetarians, meaning they eat include fish in their vegetarian diet.

A key piece to note is that even though a vegan may not eat any animal products, this does not mean they are eating whole, plant foods. French fries, Oreos and Coke can all be vegan. The food industry has caught on to the growing acceptance of a vegan diet, and thus vegan junk food has become easily accessible and increasingly palatable. These animal-free foods are still loaded with sugar, oil and salt so they are not just appealing, but can often be addictive. You can see that a vegan diet does not necessarily equate with a healthy diet.

In all honesty, I would say a whole food, plant-based diet that includes very small amounts of animal is healthier than a vegan diet consisting of highly processed foods.

 If we go beyond food, the second difference between plant-based and vegan is that veganism is a lifestyle choice involving ethics and politics. Vegans abstain from eating and using animals products, including clothes and cosmetics; and reject anything treating animals as commodities, such as hunting and animal testing.

Both choices – to be plant-based or vegan – can stem from the desire for better health, animals rights, or to protect the environment. The intention depends on the individual.

That being said there are many people that consider themselves vegan and plant-based, which I think is fabulous! This would mean living a vegan lifestyle that includes a diet solely based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. This way of living leads to vibrant energy and health, reduced suffering for thousands of animals; and protection for the environment all at the same time. It’s no wonder why every day more and more people are making the transition. I give a big, BIG kudos to any plant-based vegan.

Have you thought about it, why not live in both worlds?

Here’s a fun Vegan Starter Kit if you’d like to know more about a vegan lifestyle. If you’d like more info about eating a vegan or plant-based diet, here’s a tasty resource from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Please share this message with any of your friends and family that are confused by the terms plant-based, vegan and vegetarian. Knowledge is power. The more we can bring clarity to these terms the more accurately they will be used in restaurants, on food packages, and in general conversations, ultimately helping to progress both the plant-based and vegan movements.