Vegan, vegetarian, plant-based diet: what are the differences between these concepts and why do I prefer the term “plant-based”?
According to the Vegan Society, “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”. In other words, a vegan does not eat any animal products (no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy, and no honey) and does not wear clothes that come from animal (e.g. leather).
Vegetarian diets are less restrictive than vegan diet. According to the Vegetarian Society, “A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal”. The most common type of vegetarian diet is the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet which excludes meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish but does include eggs and dairy.
However, there is no strict definition of a plant-based diet. Even though you can find some definitions that assimilate a plant-based diet to a vegan diet: “A plant-based diet consists of all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices and excludes all animal products, including red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products” , a more common definition is that “plant-based diets […] include generous amounts of plant foods and limited amounts of animal foods” . In other words, and as stated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2016, plant-based diets include both vegetarian and vegan diets .
Why do I prefer the term plant-based diet?
First of all, because it’s not as compartmentalised as the terms vegan or vegetarian. Yep, I don’t like boxes. I like the flexibility and open-mind touch behind the concept of plant-based diet. I am not 100% vegan and I don’t really consider myself as a vegetarian: my meals are made of plant-based foods and I don’t rely on eggs or dairy for my protein intake (and you will never find here a recipe that includes eggs or dairy!). But yes, I do sometimes have egg – when in a rush, I would rather have a biodynamic egg than a ultra-processed vegan thing. But no milk, no cream, no yogurt. This is why I really recognise myself in this concept of “plant-based diet”.
The other reason why I really like this term is because it does include the notion of whole food and minimally processed food which, in my opinion, are not encompassed in the terms vegan or vegetarian. As recently demonstrated (yes, you sometimes need to prove the obvious…), a vegan diet high in refined grains, sweets, and sugar sweetened beverage is not healthy . However, there is a large body of evidence showing that a high consumption of minimally processed plant-based food such as fruits, vegetables, pulses, whole grains, nuts, and seeds significantly lower the risks of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes [3,5–7].
Whatever box you belong to (omnivore, flexitarian, vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, or no defined box), try to eat as much whole food and minimally processed food as possible!
- Ostfeld RJ. Definition of a plant-based diet and overview of this special issue. Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC. 2017;14(5):315.
- American Dietetic Association CFF, Dietitians of Canada P, Kotani M, Takeuchi A, Tabei T, Masamoto Y, et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2003;103(6):748–65.
- Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(12):1970–80.
- Satija A, Bhupathiraju SN, Spiegelman D, Chiuve SE, Manson JE, Willett W, et al. Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017;70(4).
- Hu FB. Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2003;78(3 Suppl):544S–551S.
- Aune D, Giovannucci E, Boffetta P, Fadnes LT, Keum N, Norat T, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease , total cancer and all – cause mortality – a systematic review and dose – response meta – analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2017;dyw319.
- Slavin J. Why whole grains are protective: biological mechanisms. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2003;62:129–34.