Plant Based Diet vs Vegan Diet: Which one is healthier?

August 25, 2020

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Recent documentaries, like What the Health and The Game Changers, have encouraged the rise of plant-based and vegan diets. More people than ever are choosing more plant foods and less animal foods. 

But what’s the difference? Why do some people choose a plant-based diet and others choose to go vegan? This article examines the differences between the two types of diets and what benefits you may see from being plant-based or vegan.  

What is a Plant-based Diet?

In the 1980s, Dr. T. Colin Campbell introduced the term plant-based diet as a way of eating. He defined it as a low fat-high fiber, fruit and vegetable diet. He created the diet to focus on better health.  

Being plant-based typically refers to one’s diet only and doesn’t affect other lifestyle choices, like clothing, personal hygiene products, etc. Plus, plant-based eaters may still eat certain animal products and supplements. 

Following plant-based principles doesn’t mean never eating meat or animal products. It means choosing plant foods more frequently than animal foods. 

Popular plant-based foods include: 

  • Nut and seeds 
  • Oils from plants (avocado, olive, canola) 
  • Whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa) 
  • Vegetables 
  • Fruits 
  • Legumes 
  • Avocados

There are plenty of plant foods people enjoy when choosing plants first for meals and snacks.

Benefits of Plant-based diet

Many studies have shown that following plant-based diets can lead to weight loss, reduce risk of health conditions, and improved health. 

Health care providers and dietitians frequently recommend plant-based diets for those at risk of heart conditions. A comprehensive study found that following a healthy plant-based diet significantly lowered the risk of developing heart disease. The study compared plant-based eaters with those following non-plant-based diets. However, keep in mind that not all foods associated with plant based-diets are heart healthy. The study also found that those who ate unhealthy options, like high-sugar drinks, fruit juices, and processed grains, had a slightly higher risk of heart disease. 

Researchers have found that when people adopt a plant-based diet, they often see weight loss. Even when researchers did not restrict calories or mandate regular exercise, participants still see weight loss when following a plant-based diet. 

Furthermore, eating a plant-based diet may be an effective way of managing and reducing risk of diabetes. Data has shown people with diabetes who eat plant-based diets see better glycemic control. 

Following a plant-based diet for long-term has been associated with many health benefits, and future research will continue to provide insights into how plant foods are helpful for the body. 

What is a whole foods plant-based diet?

A whole-foods, plant-based diet focuses on minimally processed foods that come from plants. There is no set diet plan or rules when following a whole-foods, plant-based diet. 

Most professionals agree that the basic principles of this type of lifestyle diet includes: 

  • Eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods 
  • Limit or avoid animal foods and products 
  • Emphasize plant foods, including fruits, whole grains, legumes, and other plant foods that should make up most of your plate
  • Avoid added sugars 
  • Replace white flour and processed oils with whole wheat flour and plant-based oils 
  • Source local organic foods as much as possible 
  • Limit animal foods and products 

Even with these principles, whole-foods, plant-based diets give people more flexibility when making food choices.

What is a Vegan Diet?

The term vegan is not a new term. It was first created in 1944 by Donald Watson. He was an English animal rights advocate, founder of The Vegan Society, and termed the word vegan and veganism to describe a person who avoids eating animal foods and eliminates animal products for ethical reasons. 

Veganism promotes choosing plant-based options for food, clothes, household products, shoes, accessories, and at all times. For some who are strict vegans, this also means avoiding medications, immunizations, and other treatments tested on animals. 

Plant-Based vs Vegan: Key Differences

Many people are reducing the number of animal products they consume. Both plant-based and vegan diets support these lifestyle choices. 

The key differences between plant-based and vegan diets are:  

  • vegan lifestyle may go beyond food choices. 
  • showing compassion towards animals is a key reason many choose veganism. 
  • following a vegan diet means no animal foods or products 100% of the time. 
  • a plant-based diet may mean eating animal foods occasionally.

Some ingredients added to packaged and processed foods derived from animals. Gelatine, omega-3 fatty acids, whey, lactose, casein and other additives are examples of ingredients that vegans would avoid, whereas an individual following a plant-based diet may not. 

Main Differences between them

                                                                  🥬 Plant-Based vs. Vegan 🥬

Plant-based 

Vegan 

Beef and Pork 

Limit

No

Seafood

Limit

No

Poultry 

Limit

No

Eggs 

Limit

No

Dairy 

Limit

No

Whole grains

Yes

Yes

Fruits and vegetables 

Yes

Yes

Legumes 

Yes

Yes

Tofu

Yes

Yes

Added sugars 

Limit

Limit

Packaged and convenience foods

Limit

Limit (avoid any products with animal ingredients, like gelatin) 

 

Is a plant-based diet healthier?

Despite what many people believe, both a plant-based and vegan diet can be healthy or unhealthy. If you are plant-based or vegan, you can still have vegan chips, vegan cookies, plant-based crackers, and many other vegan options high in calories and low in nutrients. 

Both types of diets are healthiest when people are consistent with choosing a variety of food groups, including plant-based proteins. 

The trickiest element for most people following a plant-based diet is ensuring most food choices come from whole foods, not processed, convenience foods. As so many processed plant-based foods exist, it’s important to note they often load these options with other ingredients. 

Many people find better success by slowly adopting a plant-based diet, rather than a sudden shift. Slowly replacing animal foods with plant food can lead to long-lasting health benefits.  

The key to a healthy plant-based diet is to plan meals each week. Meal planning can help ensure people aren’t missing out on nutrients that are often found in animal foods. Vegans and plant-based followers who avoid most animal foods may need to add supplements to meet all nutritional needs. Discuss with your healthcare provider or dietitian what supplements may be needed. 

How to choose a diet for you?

Transitioning to either a plant-based or vegan diet doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The first recommendation is to increase the number of fruits and vegetables at each meal. Fill your plate first with plant foods, then add other foods. 

If you’re looking for a diet mostly focused on your health, plant-based may be the right approach for you. Since vegan diets are more restrictive, they’re often harder to follow long-term. 

Yet, if you’re passionate about animal welfare, environmental concerns, and ethics, a vegan lifestyle may resonate well with you. 

Can you have both?

Both vegan and plant-based lifestyles are meant to increase intake of plant-based foods, and the terms are not meant to divide people. Many people start with plant-based and may then expand into a vegan lifestyle. Or others may follow veganism for some time before adding some animal products back into their daily lives.

Takeaways

Most of us need more plants on our plates, as many people do not get the recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. Eating more plants lowers health risks and improves overall well-being. 

Following a plant-based diet is a way to increase the number of plants, plant proteins, and reduce the number of animal foods you eat. Someone who follows a vegan lifestyle also considers the ethics of eating animals. 

These terms are not always interchangeable, but they do share similarities. Both diets are increasingly popular and can be healthy ways of eating.