If you are new to the vegetarian world, the difference between vegan and vegetarian diet may be confusing to you. While all vegans are vegetarians, all vegetarians are not vegans. Let us look at the main differences between vegan and vegetarian diets, and how they can cover our nutritional needs.

What is a vegetarian diet?

A vegetarian is a person who does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish or by-products of animal slaughter. A vegetarian usually lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae and yeast.

Types of vegetarians

There are different types of vegetarian diets:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: These vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians: They eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
  • Ovo-vegetarians: These type of vegetarians eat eggs but do not eat dairy products.
  • Vegans: Vegans do not eat dairy, eggs or any other type of food derived from animals.

While some people are vegetarians for religious reasons, others choose to follow vegetarian diets for health reasons.

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet includes plant-based foods and eliminates all animal-based foods. It excludes not only meat but also dairy, eggs and other animal-derived foods like honey, gelatine, whey, casein etc.

Being a vegan is more than just about food. Most vegans avoid the use all items that are tested on animals. They also don’t use products made from leather, silk, fur and wool.

Types of vegans

There are five types of vegans:

Ethical: These vegans believe in ending the exploitation of animals, which is why veganism includes avoiding products that are tested on animals and those made up of leather, wool and fur.

Plant-based: These people choose to follow a vegan diet for health reasons. These people use products made up of leather, silk and wool.

Raw: These vegans do not eat anything cooked, so their diet mainly consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.

High carb low-fat: HCLF vegans eat a diet rich in carbs in the form of vegetables, fruits and grains, and avoid fat as much as possible.

Environmentally conscious: These people believe that mass production of meat and dairy products puts a lot of pressure on the environment. By boycotting the livestock industry, these people hope to cut down their carbon footprint and reduce their impact on the environment.

Differences between vegan and vegetarian

Food choices

Vegans eat no animal products. Vegetarians don’t eat animals but may consume products derived from them like eggs and dairy.

Lifestyle choices

Vegans believe that animals have rights and should not be used by humans.  So they avoid using animals for food, clothing, cosmetics or entertainment.

Vegetarians are opposed to killing animals for food but may use animal-based products for other purposes.

How do vegan and vegetarian diets impact our health?

Insufficient protein

Animal-based diets are rich in proteins. Since vegan and vegetarian diets do not include meat, you are not able to get your complete proteins. Legumes, beans, brown rice, nuts and tofu are rich in protein, but they are not sources of complete protein.

You must have a variety of plant proteins so that you can get all the amino acids that your body requires.

Nutrient absorption

Our body can not absorb vitamins and minerals from plant sources as easily as they can from the animal sources. The iron from plant sources like spinach, lentils and beans called non-heme iron is not that easily absorbed by the body.

Increase your intake of vitamin C to help you absorb more iron from plant sources. Calcium from plant sources is also not that easily absorbed. You must take some vitamins and minerals supplements while you are on a vegan diet.

Weight loss

Since vegan and vegetarian diets consist mostly of fruits and vegetables, you may end up losing weight. Fruits, vegetable, legumes etc. are low in calories so you may end up taking too few calories without realising it. Add nuts and avocados to your diet as they provide healthy fats and calories.

Digestive issues

Plant-based diets are rich in fibre. While dietary fibre is good for the digestive system, too much of fibre can cause health issues like bloating, gas, diarrhoea and even constipation. So add fibrous food to your diet slowly and increase your intake of water to counter these issues.

Which diet is healthier – vegan or vegetarian diet?

According to the American Dietetic Association, both vegan and vegetarian diets can be healthy for all stages of life like pregnancy, lactation, infancy and adolescence, if they are planned well. In fact, these diets can also benefit in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases (1).

Both vegetarians and vegans have an insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D and B12. However, vegetarians do consume slightly higher levels of calcium and vitamin B12 as compared to vegans.

Compared to vegetarian diets, vegan diets provide added protection against obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular mortality.

According to studies, compared to lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, vegan diets seem to provide some added protection against obesity, hypertension, type-2 diabetes; and cardiovascular mortality (2).

Some other studies have also indicated that vegans have lower BMI as compared to vegetarians. Vegans also seem to gain less weight as they age as compared to vegetarians.

Final words on vegan vs vegetarian

There is shuttle difference between vegan and vegetarian. However, both vegan and vegetarian diets can be healthy if we plan them well. In fact, they have numerous health benefits and aid in weight loss. Any deficiency in vitamins and minerals should be made up by taking supplements after you consult a doctor.