There are dozens of diets and lifestyle choices out there today, and some of them require a bit more explaining than others. Keto, paleo, the Atkins diet… The list goes on and on, but perhaps no two diets are more common (and more often confused) than vegan and vegetarian.
So, what is a vegan diet? What about vegetarian? What makes a vegan diet different from a vegetarian one? We’ve got the inside scoop.
Vegan vs. Vegetarian: What’s the Difference?
If you’re a vegetarian, you build your meals around fruit, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as non-meat, non-fish animal products. While vegans, a subset of vegetarians, choose not to eat any animal products at all, adherents of the standard vegetarian diet are generally comfortable with dairy, eggs, and honey.
In addition, while many vegans choose not to wear clothes or buy furniture made with animal-derived materials like leather, wool, or silk, most vegetarians don’t factor what’s in their closet or living room into their lifestyle.
There are two main varieties of vegetarianism: lacto-vegetarian and lacto-ovo vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarians include dairy products – milk, cheese, yogurt, and more – in their diets, but not eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, on the other hand, eat eggs as well as dairy.
On the outside of vegetarianism, there are pescatarians who will choose not to eat meat or poultry but will still eat seafood. Those who follow this diet are not vegetarians, but they do tend to eat plant-based more frequently than most meat-eaters.
The Origins of the Vegetarian Diet
Vegetarianism dates back thousands of years – it’s been around for most of recorded history. The first prominent philosopher to encourage his followers to skip eating meat was Pythagoras, the guy who you can blame for having to learn the Pythagorean theorem in grade school math.
Pythagoras taught his followers that being kind to animals was a good and moral thing to do – we like this guy. This ancient philosopher’s teaching about vegetarianism dates all the way back to 530 BC.
However, Pythagoras isn’t the only thinker of old who supported vegetarian eating. Philosophers like Plato, Epicurus, Plutarch, and many others wrote about the virtues of not eating meat. These philosophers believed that treating animals humanely – in other words, not killing and eating them – was worthwhile because those animals had souls.
The Vegetarian Diet Today
While many early proponents of vegetarianism had philosophical or spiritual reasons for following the diet, modern vegetarianism is much more universal. Many people practice vegetarianism based on spiritual convictions, but for others, it’s a matter of health. The questionable ethics of factory farming and commercial food production are also major motivators for eating vegetarian.
By the 20th century, the animal rights movement was in full swing, largely thanks to philosophers and ethicists like Peter Singer. Singer was an early advocate for boycotting the industrialized methods used to raise and kill animals so that humans could eat them. Singer and others like him also opposed using animals for medical or scientific research, a common practice in his day.
Towards the end of the 20th century, scientific evidence continued to point to the vegetarian diet as a worthy alternative for the standard western way of eating. While many people had long believed that you couldn’t get enough nutrients – especially protein – without eating animal-derived foods, this argument for meat-eating just doesn’t hold up.
First of all, vegetarians can get protein from eggs and dairy just fine without eating meat. There are plenty of excellent plant-based protein sources that both vegans and vegetarians can include in their daily meals. In addition, many plant-based foods are fortified with vitamin B12, a nutrient that can be tough to find in a vegetarian diet.
Stats on the Vegetarian Diet
As of 2020, the vegetarian diet has most definitely broken through into the mainstream. In fact, over a quarter of millennials self-report that they are vegetarian! In addition, over 10 percent of the US population identifies with the vegetarian way of living, according to The Vegan Society.
Even though many people in the West still choose to include meat in their diets regularly, it’s becoming more common to try and eat fewer animal products, whether you’re a vegetarian or not. As of 2020, 2 out of 3 people in America say they are actively trying to eat less meat each day—and that includes meat-eaters.
In addition, the general consensus on animal testing, factory farming, and other mistreatment of animals has gotten more and more negative in the last few decades. 72% of Americans report that they are against animal testing, and many people cite anti-animal cruelty convictions as their biggest reasons for turning vegetarian.
What Is Veganism?
The vegan diet is a subset of vegetarianism, but the two don’t mean the same thing! There are a few key distinctions between these two terms:
- While vegetarians may be comfortable with including dairy products or eggs in their diets, vegans are not. They avoid all forms of animal exploitation in their diets, so they use no animal products at all. Instead, those who adhere to the vegan diet avoid animal foods altogether. Vegans don’t eat meat, eggs, dairy, seafood, or honey.
- In addition to taking steps to cut animal products out of their diets, vegans also avoid buying anything made with animal-derived materials. That rules out leather shoes, silk sheets, cosmetics made with animal products, and more.
The Origins of Veganism
The term “vegan” only dates back to the 20th century – it was first used in 1944. Veganism was first introduced into the modern lexicon by a British man named Donald Watson, who was a woodworker, not a linguist. Watson was looking for a word for vegetarians who didn’t eat any animal products at all, and no such word existed – so he made one up!
When Watson coined the term “vegan” and founded The Vegan Society, many people in Britain were steering clear of meat. This was in large part due to a tuberculosis outbreak that made tens of thousands of cows sick. Many Brits were avoiding meat in an effort to keep from contracting an illness should that meat be tainted.
When he first started publishing The Vegan Society magazine, Watson had just 25 subscribers. However, there were over 2 million vegans in the United States and a quarter of a million in the UK when Watson died. Donald lived to the ripe old age of 95, and his healthy vegan diet may have had a part to play in that!
The concept of avoiding animal products altogether is relatively recent, and vegetarianism is still more common than veganism. However, the ranks of vegans worldwide are continuing to grow, and it seems that we’re just now at the beginning of the story of plant-based eating!
So, What Do Vegans Eat?
Lots of things! Without animal products in their diets, vegans get their daily nutrition from whole grains, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and legumes like lentils and chickpeas.
- Vegans often get their protein from legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, rather than animal flesh like pork or beef. Some vegan eaters also opt to include supplements like plant-based protein powder in their diets or eat plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh. When done right, almost every vegan dish can be packed with protein!
- While the standard Western diet is packed with unhealthy fats, this isn’t the case for a plant-based eating plan. There are plenty of fatty foods that are vegan – think nuts, seeds, and avocados – but they’re full of healthy fats that nourish your body and keep it functioning properly.
- A healthy, balanced vegan diet is also rich in complex carbohydrates. By eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and even protein pasta, vegans can fuel their bodies and take in many beneficial nutrients.
- A vegan diet is packed with vitamins and minerals, too! When you fill your plate with a combination of nutrient-dense foods – especially vegetables – you’re getting tons of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. While some people still make the argument that you’re at risk of nutrient deficiencies from a diet that’s only plants, that’s not necessarily the case. So long as you keep an eye on your levels of vitamin D, B12, and omega-3s, you should be in good shape.
So, don’t let anyone tell you that vegans don’t have anything to eat! The plant-based diet is popular for a plethora of reasons, but one of them is how simply delicious vegan food can be.
The Benefits of Veganism
Eating a plant-based diet can have some big benefits for your health and well-being, as well as the world and the animals we share it with! Below are some of the biggest perks of going vegan.
While meat and other animal products are often touted as nutritious, they’re far less nutrient-dense than many plant-based foods. This means that plant foods typically contain more fiber and antioxidants than animal products, as well as more of certain vitamins and minerals.
Plant-based diets tend to be richer in vitamins A, E, and C, as well as minerals like potassium, magnesium, iron, and folate. That’s a lot of nutrients!
To make the most of the plant-based way of eating, stick with as much whole, unprocessed vegan food as possible. That way, you’ll get the most nutrients – and less of the unnecessary filler ingredients and additives!
The Stats Say Veganism Is Good for Weight Loss
The research on vegan diets for weight loss is looking good.
Overall, eating more plants is a great way to get healthier. Like renowned food writer Michael Pollan says, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” When it comes to shedding extra weight and living a healthier life, that’s good advice to live by!
The main reason vegan diets tend to work for weight loss is simple – on average, vegans take in fewer calories from their meals, but they feel just as full. This satiation comes from all of the nutrients in plant-based foods – especially the fiber! Eating vegan keeps you fuller on fewer calories because your body takes in lots of water, fiber, and other good stuff that fills you up. That’s a big win for weight loss and veganism!
It’s Good for the Environment
Eating vegan can make a big difference for the planet. A University of Oxford study indicated that eliminating meat and dairy from your daily meals can make a dramatic reduction to your life’s environmental impact.
According to the study, if the whole world went vegan, around three-quarters of the world’s farmland could be repurposed, and massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions could be stopped. One of the authors of the study, Joseph Poore, told The Independent, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.” Who knew that eating plants could make such a difference!
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the power to choose what you eat is in your hands. Vegans and vegetarians both make use of plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, whole grains, and veggies. The key difference between the two is excluding dairy products, eggs, and honey. Vegetarians also might still choose to include animal products in other parts of their lives, like wearing silk or using skincare products that include animal-derived ingredients.
That said, veganism has tons of benefits—possibly even more than vegetarianism, including possible weight loss, more nutrients, and environmental benefits.
MiiRO is an inclusive company that equally satisfies vegans and vegetarians. We make plant-based treats and vegan-friendly baking ingredients that vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike can enjoy! We’re here to debunk the lie that vegan foods are bland, boring, and no fun, and we think our delicious desserts leave that lie in the dust!
To learn more about MiiRO and all the plant-based goodies we have to offer, check out all our sweet treats. In addition, if you want more information about eating vegan, as well as helpful tips and recipes, make sure to check out the MiiRO magazine!