When it comes to diet trends, vegetarian eating patterns, including vegan and plant-based diets, seem to be on the rise. You likely know someone who is following one of these diets, or you may have adopted a vegetarian-style of eating yourself.
There are many terms someone may use to describe their approach to eating this way, from vegetarian to vegan or plant-based and even pescatarian. The differences can be subtle and there are many similarities. With so many options, it is important to understand how someone may eat, what a particular vegetarian eating pattern entails, or what option best suits your goals, needs and lifestyle.
Going vegetarian means choosing to eliminate meat from your diet. Depending on the variation, you might still choose to include types of animal by-products, such as milk, eggs, or honey.
These are 6 different types of vegetarian diets:
- Full vegetarians – Choosing to abstain from any form of meat and animal by-products completely.
- Lacto vegetarian – Whilst all meat is removed from the diet, dairy and honey are still consumed. This practice evolved from cultures that don’t consider eggs to be vegetarian.
- Ovo vegetarians - Allows for eggs and honey, but not dairy. Ovo-vegetarians often object to dairy industry practices.
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarians – Removing all meat from the diet but still including eggs, dairy and honey. This is the most common Western vegetarian diet.
- Pescatarian – Fish and seafood are still eaten, but all other forms of meat are avoided.
- Flexitarians – This is subject to debate, as flexitarians often follow a diet rich in plants and typically prefer to include more plants in their diets than meat.
People who prefer a stricter form of vegetarianism should still prioritise including protein in their diet from other sources, especially those older, to keep their strength and mobility. Some alternative protein sources include well-sourced and appropriately prepared legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. ~ The Vegan Society
Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” in 1944. Veganism has deep roots in animal rights and vegans focus on protecting animals by avoiding all animal products. Those following a vegan lifestyle eliminate eating animal products along with avoiding a range of animal-derived items. For example:
- Clothes and other items made from silk, wool, down, fur, and leather
- Skincare and cosmetics including those made with beeswax, lanolin, stearic acid, collagen,
- Products refined or made with bone char. This includes some brands of white sugar and most tattoo ink.
- Beer and wine created within animal fining agents
The choice of food is also very limited, and one needs to carefully examine the ingredients of whatever is eaten to ensure it is 100% vegan.
Although this may seem challenging at first, it does become easier when learning about vegan products.
It’s important to note that you can eat a vegan diet without following the vegan lifestyle. In that case, you could be a “dietary” vegan or a plant-based eater, depending on who you ask.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell introduced the plant-based diet in the early 1980s. He used the term “plant-based” to separate dietary research from vegan ethics. Over the past three decades, the definition of plant-based has shifted resulting in several definitions. “Plant-based” is a vague definition that leaves the majority of people confused about what they can or cannot eat.
In some cases, people use plant-based diets and vegan diets interchangeably. However, plant-based does not necessarily imply “meatless”. It simply means that the majority of food comes from plant sources. As originally written, this way of eating allows for animal products (meat, dairy, eggs and honey) in small amounts. Of course, many plant-based diets do exclude animal products.
The term “plant-based” is often used as a short form of “whole food plant-based diet.” Whole foods are ingredients that are processed as little as possible before eating (and this could include meat, dairy, and honey, although recently the focus has shifted to animal-food free).
- A Vegan diet includes all plants.
- A Vegetarian diet includes some blend of plants, dairy, eggs, and honey.
- A Plant-Based diet may supplement plants with small portions of meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Overall, this diet focuses on “whole foods”
For Vegetarians and Plant-Based eaters, the use of animal products depends on the person. Some follow these diets for reasons other than animal rights. Therefore, they may use animal-based clothes, cosmetics, and more.
Vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diets were not originally designed with specific nutritional requirements at their core, and as a result, this means these diets are not automatically or necessarily healthy. Instead, these 3 approaches are centered around the idea of excluding certain types of food, which may or may not increase your intake of more nutritious foods. After all, processed, manufactured and fried foods can all be made without animal products!
However, because vegans, vegetarians and those following plant-based diets do place a lot of emphasis on consuming plants, they do have the potential and ability to increase the nutritional value of their diets. Eating a wide variety of organically grown, seasonal plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds), will generally provide adequate micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) as well as plenty of fibre.
There are some micronutrients that need to be considered when avoiding all animal-based foods. Vitamin B12 and the most readily available form of iron (heme iron) are only found in meat. Plants do contain a type of iron called non-heme iron, which can be used but it is neither as accessible nor easily absorbed as heme iron. There are other micronutrients including zinc and iodine which are found in higher amounts in animal-based foods.
Plants do contain protein, but the amount is less in plant-based sources as there is in equivalent portions of animal-based sources. It becomes important to include a variety of sources of plant-based protein that can provide simple yet tasty choices that fill this nutritional need.
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Vegans, vegetarians and plant-based proponents have the potential to eat highly nutritious diets, but there is a greater need to pay careful attention to consuming the right variety of foods.
The Bottom Line
Although there are differences between vegan, vegetarian and plant-based diets, these lifestyles have more in common than not. They each offer diets with many health benefits and are more environmentally sustainable than the average western diet, providing individuals with a great way to help protect our environment. When deciding what diet to follow yourself, choose the one that best fits your lifestyle, goals and needs. It is important to start slowly knowing you can develop and change your choice over time as you become more comfortable eating this way. As with any big lifestyle changes, changing your diet should be done with the approval of your health care provider.