Celebrities like Carrie Underwood and Beyonce are vegans. Millions more are vegetarians. In fact, the number of vegans has doubled since 2009. There are vegan foods, vegan restaurants, and the whole idea of being vegan has become part of our culture. But what are the differences in vegan vs vegetarian? What are the benefits of each meatless way of life? And if you’re thinking about adopting a meat-free meal plan, which one is right for you?
Benefits and Drawbacks of Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
In the vegan vs vegetarian debate, there are important similarities. Both diets eliminate meat from your plate. Although animal products are convenient sources of iron, protein, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals, you can still get much of these nutrients from plant-based foods, though these are not as bio-available as what we get from meat.
Vegans in particular have a more difficult time than vegetarians because their diet is more restrictive. A cup of cooked lentils and a cup of cooked black beans each have a whopping 18 grams of protein. A veggie burger patty has
about 13g of protein; while 4 ounces of firm tofu gives you 11g of protein. However, it is much harder for the human body to extract this protein than protein from eggs, steak, or chicken breast.
It takes thought and preparation to get a balanced diet from a vegan or vegetarian diet, but if they are done correctly these diets have amazing health benefits. One study found that a low-carb vegan diet lowers cholesterol levels and cuts your risk for heart disease. Vegans, who eat no animal products (including eggs, dairy and honey), may also be putting less stress on the environment. According to the Washington Post, the annual output of methane (a greenhouse gas) from a cow equals the car emissions from burning 235 gallons of gas.
1. Reduce Your Chances for Chronic Disease
Vegetarians and vegans have fewer chronic diseases than meat eaters, according to researchers. Responses from 97 vegetarians and 97 non-vegetarians showed that the vegetarian group reported fewer health problems such as high blood pressure and obesity. People following vegan diets, according to a study funded by the NIH/National Cancer Institute, had the lowest risk for heart disease, cancer, and hypertension when compared with those who consumed some animal products.
The vegans also had more omega-3 fatty acids and higher carotenoids and isoflavones, which indicates lower inflammation levels. The vegan group in the study was the only one to be within the healthy weight. It is important to note, however, that these comparisons cannot completely account for all conflicting factors.
For example, since vegetarian and vegan diets are widely perceived to be healthy, it follows that those who choose these diets are often those who care deeply about their health. This means that, in addition to eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, they are also likely to follow the advice of doctors, take supplements, refrain from smoking, get plenty of exercise, and avoid sugar and processed foods; all of which could be confounding factors when comparing diets and outcomes.
2. Diabetes Prevention
A vegan diet has been shown to reduce the prevalence of type two diabetes by 50%. Older adults also dodged diabetes by changing their diet. Among the 20% of participants in a Diabetes Prevention Program who were ages 60 and older, lifestyle changes resulted in a 71% reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes.
The study also showed that plant-based eating was more beneficial than semi-vegetarianism. 61,000 individuals participated in the study, and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes declined in relation to each reduction in animal products in the diet. While 7.6% of non-vegetarians got type 2 diabetes, 6.1% of semi-vegetarians, 4.8% of pesco-vegetarians, 3.2% of lacto-ovo vegetarians, and 2.9% of vegans got the disease.
3. Weight Control
In the vegan vs vegetarian debate, both diets have been linked to reduced weight gain and a lower body mass index. Weight loss is not as clear cut and there are many confounding factors here. Meats, eggs cheese and milk from animals are calorie-dense foods that may keep you from having a calorie deficit and so losing weight. You can eat a greater volume of vegetables, grains, fruits and legumes and still stay within your break-even calorie range.
4. Lower Heart Disease Risk
We’ve heard this for years, but including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your diet can reduce your risk for heart disease. But what happens when you exclude meat? The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington D.C. looked at clinical trials and studies and concluded that a plant-based diet improved measures of heart health.
They claim a plant-based diet:
- Reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 40%
- Cuts coronary heart disease risk by 40%.
- Unblocks partially blocked or fully blocked arteries up to 91% of patients.
- Causes the risk of high blood pressure to go down 34%
5. Reduced Cancer Risk
Antioxidants, which are found in abundance in fruit and vegetables, have been shown to fight against cancer. The Adventist Health Study-2 looked at cancer rates of 69,000 participants. Lacto, pesco, and semi-vegetarians and vegans had a lower rate of cancer than those people who consumed meat. When it comes to vegan vs vegetarian and the reduction of cancer risk, the vegan diet reduced risk of female-specific cancers best.
6. Reduced Risk of Vision Problems
One study compared how a meat vs vegan vs vegetarian diet affected the development of cataracts. It claimed that vegetarians and vegans had the smallest incidence of getting cataracts. Age-related macular degeneration is one of the most frequent causes of vision loss in older adults. One Australian study discovered that people who ate red meat at least 10 times a week were nearly 50% more likely to get age-related macular degeneration than people who ate meat less than five times a week.
Key Differences between Vegan vs Vegetarian Diets
The Vegan Diet
As we have stated earlier in this article, vegans do not consume any products of animal origin. This means no foods from animals and no products tested on or made from animals. These include gelatin, leather, beauty products, soaps, and cosmetics. Vegans are technically a subset of vegetarians. Here is a breakdown of the vegetarians types:
- lacto-ovo (vegetarians do not restrict eggs and dairy products from their diets)
- pesco (vegetarians who eat fish and seafood along with dairy products and eggs)
- ovo (vegetarians who consume eggs but no other animal product)
- lacto (vegetarians who include dairy products in their meals, but no other animal products)
- semi (vegetarians who follow diets that exclude red meat but no other foods of animal origin)
- vegan (vegetarians who eat no animal or animal-derived products at all)
When it comes to vegan vs vegetarian, vegans have a more beneficial impact on the environment. Veganism is also more of a belief system that affects all areas of a person’s life; not just menu-planning. Vegans believe that animals have the right to live freely and not be raised specifically as a food source. They have strong feelings about animal agricultural practices that they consider cruel and painful for the animal.
The Vegetarian Diet
Vegetarians eliminate meat from their diet, but dairy, eggs, and honey can usually stay. Some vegetarians even eat fish and seafood. Vegetarians eat fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, seed, nuts and legumes. Vegetarians are not restricted to a certain eating pattern. They have more options of eating style. You can even be a semi-vegetarian, or someone who eats chicken and fish, dairy, and eggs. Most vegetarians choose to eat eggs and dairy products.
The vegetarian diet has long been one of the healthiest ways to eat. According to the American Heart Association, people who follow a diet where 70% of the food comes from plants are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. The diet also has been shown to reduce risk for some cancers, high blood pressure, and premature death. At the same time, there are malnutrition dangers whenever you restrict an entire food group, and vegetarians are less susceptible to these dangers than vegans.
Vegan vs Vegetarian Diet: Which One Is For Me?
Going to a vegan or vegetarian diet is not easy. It is a process that depends on your commitment to a lifestyle change. It is likely going to take weeks, months, or sometimes years to eliminate animal consumption from your routine. If you consume meat and other animal products at every meal, then the transition to vegetarian will be a huge shift.
Going to a vegan lifestyle will be even more of a challenge. But none of this is impossible. It’s not an all-or-nothing process. Instead, the shift to vegetarian or vegan can be gradual.
Many people start with the goal of going semi-vegetarian. After that, they eliminate all meat from their diet. The next step is whether they want to stay a vegetarian or become a full-fledged vegan. Here are some of the difficulties you should plan for:
While plant-based diets can boost your health, vegetarian, and vegan diets in particular, can lack some nutrients. You have to make sure you are getting enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12. A vegetarian can find these nutrients in dairy products and eggs, but a vegan will have to get a little more creative. Supplements can fill the void.
Being a vegetarian or a vegan also doesn’t mean you can eat anything without animal products in it. Cheese and milk are high in calories, true; but cookies are, too, and cookies are far worse for your health. Beware of vegetarian and vegan junk food.
It’s one thing to prepare your meals at home, but what do you do when you go out to eat? You may be new to this lifestyle and unknowingly choosing something that is not vegan or vegetarian. And what do you do when the restaurant has a meat-heavy menu? These days, restaurants are more than willing to substitute or omit an ingredient. They may even have a secret menu they can give you. You just have to ask.
Beans are a great substitution in a meat entrée. If there’s no entrée that remotely looks vegetarian, then opt for a salad, sides, or soup. Keep a mental list of restaurants with plenty of vegan and vegetarian friendly options so that when people are discussing where to go you can suggest a place.
Even though it can be challenging at times to transition to vegan or vegetarian diet, it doesn’t have to be painful. They key to success is setting your own pace. Put any perfectionistic tendencies aside and take it one meal at a time. First, you may want to just add more fruits and veggies to your meals. Try to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Fill half of your plate with vegetables and use the other half for meat and carbs.
Once you get used to buying, preparing, and eating those extra fruits and veggies, have one or two vegetarian meals a week. If that fits you well, you can ramp it up to vegetarian weekdays and eventually get to a vegetarian diet.
If you want to go on to vegan, you can start eliminating the easiest foods first. Maybe you don’t drink milk or start trying out almond or soy milks to find what you like best and get used to the taste. Then move on to more difficult items, such as cheese or eggs. Don’t get too bummed if the idea of being vegetarian or vegan is better than the actual lifestyle. Give it time.
In the vegan vs vegetarian debate, both diets share some common themes. They encourage a more plant-based diet that can reduce your risk for chronic diseases. These diets can also boost energy, help you control your weight, and open up your tastebuds to new foods. While going vegan seems to be the cool diet for celebrities, a vegetarian diet gives you more nutritional options. You have to decide for yourself if you want more flexibility in what you can eat and what fits best with your values.