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7 Key Difference Between Vegetarians and Vegans. Which One is Better?

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There is no doubt that the interest in plant-based diets is on the rise. For those practicing them, the difference between vegetarians and vegans might be obvious but it can be confusing for those just starting to get interested.

In this article, we will explore 10 essential differences between vegetarians and vegans, from the products they consume and their ethical stance to their health benefits and environmental impact.

What Are The Main Differences Between Vegetarians and Vegans?

1. Definition Of Veganism VS. Vegetarianism

a. Vegetarians

A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat any type of meat, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, insects or animal flesh of any kind.

The inclusion of dairy and eggs depends on the type of vegetarian diet they follow but, in the most common use of the term, it refers to do those who do consume them.

Vegetarian don’t consumeVegetarians might consume
Beef, Pork, and GameAnimal-derived that do not involve slaughter.
Chicken, Turkey, and DuckEggs
Fish and ShellfishDairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
InsectsHoney
Rennet, gelatin, and other types of animal protein
Stock or fats that derive from animal slaughter

b. Vegans

Veganism can be viewed as the strictest form of vegetarianism but beyond being a diet, veganism a moral position. The Vegan Society currently defines veganism as a way of living that seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty for food and any other purpose.

Therefore, vegans do not eat any type of animal flesh, dairy, eggs or animal-derived ingredients. These include gelatin, honey, carmine, pepsin, shellac, albumin, whey, casein and some forms of vitamin D3.

They also avoid wearing animal products (for example, leather, wool, and silk) and avoid using any products that have been tested on animals, or contain animal byproducts.

Foods vegans avoidOther products vegans avoid
MeatLeather Goods
PoultryWool
Fish and ShellfishSilk
EggsBeeswax
Dairysoaps, candles, and other products that contain animal fats
Honeylatex products that contain casein, which comes from milk proteins

Insectscosmetics or other products that conduct test on animalsRennet, gelatin, and other animal proteins
Stock or fats that derive from animals

In conclusion, the main difference between vegetarians and vegans is that, while both avoid the consumption of any animal flesh, vegetarians might consume eggs, dairy and other animal-derived product that vegans don’t.

2. Types of diets Inside Veganism VS. Vegetarianism

a. Types of Vegetarian Diets

With vegetarianism being more flexible than veganism. it involves several types of diets. Here are some of the most common:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Vegetarians who consume dairy and egg products.
  • Lacto vegetarians: Vegetarians who consume dairy products but not eggs.
  • Ovo vegetarians: Vegetarians consume eggs but not dairy.

Other groups sometimes included are pescatarians who do not eat meat or poultry but do consume fish and flexitarians who are part-time vegetarians.

However, they do eat animal flesh so they are not technically vegetarians.

b. Types of vegan diets

While veganism is originally not a diet but an ethical posture, nowadays people are creating and adopting different versions of it for health and trend reasons.

These are some of the most common vegan diets:

  • Dietary vegans: avoid animal products in their diet but use them in other products like clothing and cosmetics.
  • Whole food vegans: favor a diet rich in whole foods choosing those that are as unprocessed as possible.
  • Junk-food vegans: adopt the lifestyle for ethical reasons but their diet consists of mostly processed vegan food.
  • Raw-food vegans: believe that raw foods are superior and that cooking destroys enzymes and vitamins. They eat only foods that are raw or cooked at temperatures below 118°F (48°C).
  • High carb low fat (HCLF) vegans: eat large quantities of carbs in the form of fruit, vegetables and grains, and as little fat as possible (around 10-15%).
  • Low Carb Vegans (Paleo, Keto): people practicing this lifestyle, want to lose weight or believe this diet supports their athletic performance or blood sugar control.

For a more comprehensive list of all vegan diets of there check out this article.

3. History Of Veganism VS. Vegetarianism

a. History of Vegetarianism

The term “vegetarian” was first coined by the British Vegetarian Society in the mid-1800’s. However, many anthropologists believe that most early humans ate mainly plant foods, being more like gatherers than hunters.

This view is supported by the fact that the human digestive system resembles the ones of other plant-eaters rather than the ones meat-eaters. The fact that humans on meat-based diets contract major health problems such as heart disease and cancer much more frequently than people eating vegetarian diets is another supporting factor for this view.

The Start of Vegetarianism in the U.S.A.

Vegetarianism was not very common in the United States until 1971 when Frances Moore Lappé’s bestseller Diet for a Small Planet was published.

Lappé’s personal research on world hunger issues led her to discover that it takes 14 times as much grain to feed an animal than what you get out of it in meat. She then wrote Diet for a Small Planet, at the age of 26, to encourage people to eat meatless meals and stop wasting the world’s food.

Diet for a Small Planet launched the vegetarian movement in the United States. Vegetarian cookbooks, restaurants, and communes started appearing out of nowhere.

Frances Moore Lappé’s bestseller Diet for a Small Planet

b. History of Veganism

In 1975, Australian ethics professor Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation, which was the first scholarly work to present ethical arguments for not eating animals or experimenting on them.

This book virtually launched the animal rights movement in the U.S. overnight. Animal rights groups started showing up everywhere, including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in the early 80’s.

But it wasn’t until 1940 that the term ‘vegan’ was born. A British woodworker by trade, Donald Watson wanted a name to differentiate himself and others who took vegetarianism to a new level, avoiding eggs and dairy. Donald Watson took the beginning and end of the word “vegetarian.”

Watson had turned to vegetarianism at the age of 14, after witnessing the slaughter of a pig on his uncle’s farm. 18 years later he went fully vegan, having become convinced that the use of any animal-parts for human consumption was immoral.

In November of 194, the British worker created the Vegan Society to address the lack of a community for vegans. It aimed to persuade people to adopt a vegan lifestyle and it has continued with its mission until now.

Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society. (Source: The Vegan Society)

4. Health Impact Of Veganism VS. Vegetarianism

When it comes to health studies, vegans and vegetarians are often placed together under the ‘plant-based’ group so there are not many studies comparing their health impact of one vs. the other.

However, there is a lot of research showing the health benefits of both vegetarian and vegan diets.

Studies show both vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy plant compounds (1).

Body Mass Index (BMI) and Cholesterol

2017 study examined the effectiveness of a plant-based diet in 49 adults with obesity. Participants were randomly given a plant-based low-fat diet or a normal diet with regular medical care.

At the 6-month and 12-month follow-ups, participants following the plant-based low-fat whole-food diet had significant reductions in body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels compared with those in the normal care group.

Also, in 2017 a systematic review found evidence suggesting that plant-based diets can help lower levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol.

Benefits for athletes

2019 review found evidence suggesting that plant-based diets can offer a number of cardiovascular health benefits for endurance athletes, such as:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Improved blood pressure and blood flow
  • Lower risk and even reversal of atherosclerosis
  • Better blood sugar control
  • Reduced oxidative stress and inflammation

Which One Is Healthier?

According to the American Dietetic Association, appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of life, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes (1).

It is difficult to say which diet is healthier since they both have advantages and disadvantages.

Both diets tend to contain limited amounts of vitamin B12, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (1) and nutrients like iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin D (23). An insufficient intake of such nutrients can negatively impact various aspects of health, including mental and physical health (5678).

Unlike vegans, lacto-vegetarians get calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D from dairy products. Vegans are also at greater risk for an essential omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, which. vegetarians can obtain more easily from eggs. However, avoiding dairy and eggs may help vegans keep their cholesterol levels down.

Both vegetarians and vegans should plan their diets to make sure they are getting all the necessary nutrients. They can also consider including fortified foods and supplements, especially for nutrients such as iron, calcium, omega-3 and vitamins D and B12 (12).

Following a plant-based diet whether it is vegan or vegetarian does not guarantee good health. It is still possible to lead unhealthful lifestyles or to eat a diet of processed “junk” food.

5. Ethical Posture Of Veganism VS. Vegetarianism

a. Vegetarians

For those with ethical motives, vegetarianism is frequently a step on the journey to veganism.

People who decide to go vegetarian for moral concerns, often care deeply about animals but are yet unaware of the barbaric practices within the dairy and egg industries.

b. Vegans

As we have seen, vegans avoid the consumption of not only meat but all animal-derived products. Here are some of the prevailing moral reasons they deice to do so:

The dairy industry is as cruel and deadly as the meat one

difference between vegetarians and vegans

Female cows are constantly raped so they keep producing milk and their babies are taken away from them. Male-born calves are sent to the slaughterhouse while female ones expect the same destiny.

The average lifespan of a cow in a natural environment is 25 years, while female dairy cows are typically sent to slaughter around age five.

Eggs = dead

In the egg industry, male chicks are treated as a byproduct, as only hens are biologically capable of laying eggs. Over 260 million male-born are slaughtered in the US every year.

The most common practice of disposing of male chicks is called Culling. It consists of batches of living chicks being sent through a grinder.

Honey results from the exploitation of bees

Strict vegans don’t eat honey since commercial honey farming harms the health of the bees.

Honey’s main function is to provide bees with carbohydrates and other essential nutrients. Bees store it and consume it over the winter months when production dwindles.

Bee farmers take their honey away and replace it by sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup, However, these don’t provide bees the nutrients found in honey and can even harm their immune systems and can cause genetic changes that reduce their defenses against pesticides.

Other unethical practices of bee farmers include clipping the wings of queen bees to prevent them from fleeing the hive and killing entire colonies to prevent the spread of disease, instead of giving them medicine (1).

Use of animals for other purposes

As we have established, veganism is an ethical posture that objects the use, abuse and exploitation of animals.

For this reason, vegans not only avoid eating animals and their secretions but they also exempt themselves from wearing animal products (such as leather, wool and silk) and using any products that have been tested on animals or contain animal-derived products.

For this reason, vegans would avoid using a lipstick containing beeswax or animal-based coloring. They will also avoid supporting the use of animals in entertainment (for example, circuses, horse race, elephant riding, etc.).

6. Environmental Impact: Vegetarian vs. Vegan

Nowadays it is a wide-known fact that red meat is one of the biggest enemies of climate change, but what about the other diets? Is there a big difference in the environmental impact of a vegan diet vs. a vegetarian one?

For reference, let’s consider an average American’s diet which has a footprint of around 2.5 t CO2e per person each year while a Meat Lover rises up to 3.3 t CO2e.  

In this context, the vegetarian foodprint is 1.7 t CO2e while the vegan is 1.5 t CO2e. 

Each of these estimates includes emissions from food that is eaten, wasted by consumers and lost in the supply chain.

Source: Shrink That Footprint

 The difference between vegetarian and vegan diets comes from dairy being replaced by a mix of cereals and vegetables.

The reason that these five foodprints vary so much despite being so similar is that the carbon intensity of food consumption differs greatly between the food groups.

Source: Shrink That Footprint

The chart above shows how red meat is the most carbon-intensive way to get food energy. The second one is dairy, which explains the difference in the footprint of vegetarian vs. vegans.

Cereals, oils and snacks are the least carbon-intensive.  These factors are the reason why foodprints get smaller as less red meat, dairy and chicken are consumed.

A completely plant-based diet – vegan – is predicted to have the greatest positive impact on the environment.

“If you’re aiming for a very low carbon diet, you won’t do much better [than] a seasonal vegan diet, particularly if you also limit food waste.” Shrink That Footprint.

7. USA Statistics Of Veganism VS. Vegetarianism

a. Vegetarians

2018 study by Gallup showed that  5% of the US population is vegetarian.

The percentage of vegetarians hasn’t changed much over the past decade. Gallup has asked Americans if they consider themselves vegetarians four times since 1999, with 5% or 6% saying they are vegetarian each time.

Americans earning less than $30,000 annually are more likely to identify as vegetarian. Nine percent of this group say they are vegetarian, a higher percentage than those making 30-75k (5%) and those making 75k+ (4%)

Vegetarianism is also higher among Americans under 50 than among those who are older. 8% of Americans aged 30 to 49 and 7% aged 18-29 say they are vegetarian while only 3% of those 50 to 64 and 2% of those 65 or older saying so.

b. Vegans

Contrary to vegetarianism, there has been a definite percent rise in vegans. A recent study from research firm Global Data showed a dramatic increase in veganism from 1% in 2014 to 6% in 2017. That is 600 percent over just three years.

This may point towards people going directly from a meat-eating diet to a vegan diet, without using a vegetarian diet as a transition step.

With 327 million people in the USA, that means that there are about 19,632,000 vegans in the USA.

There is little meaningful variation by age and income level in the percentages among vegans.

It’s worth noting that the 6% figure is self-reported, which can be a flawed measurement. One person’s idea or strictness of a “vegan lifestyle” can differ from the next.

Takeaway

While both avoid the consumption of animal products, veganism is stricter than vegetarianism and is not considered a diet but an ethical posture against animal cruelty.

Those who adopt a vegetarian diet for moral concerns are often unaware of the cruel practices of the dariy and egg industries.

When well planned, both types of diet can be considered safe for all stages of life, but vegan diets may even offer additional health benefits.

Veganism has also a greater positive impact on the environment.

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