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Vegan Vs Vegetarian: Differences, Benefits, Similarities And Downsides

The difference between vegan and vegetarian diets is confusing as people often consider both as the same thing. Though they both follow a meat-free diet and sound almost similar, they have many differences and different health benefits.

The interest in both veganism and vegetarianism are drastically increasing in Western societies as they are related to plant-based eating patterns and avoiding animal products partially or completely.

Plant-based diets are known to provide incredible health benefits, especially related to weight loss, improve metabolism, reduce inflammation and enhance cognitive functions of the body. This is due to the presence of polyphenols and plant sterols, along with an abundance of vitamins and minerals.[1]

In this article, we will discuss vegan vs vegetarian diets, their health benefits, downsides, food examples and other details. Take a look and choose what's best for you.

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What Is a Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is a strict form of vegetarian diet that excludes the consumption or use of any animal products or byproducts like meats, seafood, eggs, fish, dairy, goose-fat shoe polish and leather products. In short, a vegan diet totally dispenses products that are partially or wholly from animals.

This diet type is gaining more popularity these days, especially among younger individuals. It is because people have started considering veganism as a way of living that focuses on practices in which no forms of exploitation or cruelty to animals is carried out, neither for food, clothing or other purposes, for the benefits of animals, humans and the environment.

A vegan diet excludes products like[2]

  • Eggs
  • Beeswax and honey
  • Dairy
  • Garlic
  • Onions like spring onions, scallions and leeks.
  • Animal products may contain animal ingredients like cheese and gelatin.
  • Cane sugar as they are whitened with bone char.
  • Vegans consume products like veggies, fruits, nuts, grains, pulses, seeds in endless combinations. People following a vegan diet are compassionate about not using anything related to animal exploitation for any purposes. They even avoid using clothing, accessories, beauty products and medicines made with animal products or their byproducts. [3]

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What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet is a restrictive diet type that excludes eating meat products or byproducts of animal slaughter. Unlike a vegan diet that totally excludes animal products/byproducts, a vegetarian diet includes animal byproducts such as eggs, milk and honey as they do not involve animal slaughter.

In vegetarianism, these products are excluded:

  • Beef and pork
  • Poultry like duck, chicken and turkey
  • Seafood and fish
  • Gelatin and rennet or other types of animal protein
  • Insects
  • It includes foods like nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and meat substitutes like tofu and paneer.

    People follow a vegetarian diet due to multiple reasons, such as personal ethics, health benefits, concern about animal welfare, and cultural and religious beliefs.

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    Also, though vegetarianism is a restrictive diet type, it is not associated with any serious eating consequences or disorders. This is because vegetarians consider this diet type as a dietary restrain or say, their habitual eating pattern, and not a form of dieting in which people intentionally restrict themselves of calories and later, end up overeating meat products and increasing the risk of diseases like obesity and diabetes. [4]

    Compared to veganism, vegetarianism is less restrictive. In a vegetarian diet, there are also different variations available like alacto-vegetarian (those who not eat meat products but eat dairy), lacto-ovo-vegetarian (those who do not eat meat and fish but dairy and eggs), pescatarian (those who eat only fish and seafood) and ovo-vegetarian (those who consume only eggs and no meat products).

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Vegan Vs Vegetarian

Both vegan and vegetarian diet types mainly involve the use of plant-based products, the foods have a high amount of nutrients like fibre, plant proteins, folate, vitamins C, A, and E, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, and iron compared to non-vegetarians foods. [4]

However, they have certain differences that include:

1. Glycemic control

Both vegan and vegetarian diets are known to lower glucose levels and control diabetes, however, according to a study, glucose control was found to be better in a vegan diet compared to a conventional diabetic diet. [5]

2. Lowers body weight and risk of heart diseases

A low-carbohydrate vegan diet can help in reducing body weight and risk of heart diseases, compared to a high-carbohydrate lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (milk and eggs but no meat products). [6]

3. Lower intake of calories

Though both diet types are plant-based, a vegan diet type is associated with lower calorie intake. Therefore, a vegan diet can effectively lower the risk of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

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4. Low energy

Some studies have mentioned that as a vegan diet is low in calories, it may cause low energy in vegans compared to vegetarians in which foods like dairy are included which are a good source of energy. [1]

5. Bone health

Some plant-based foods like kale and broccoli are rich in calcium, however, not as much as dairy products like milk, yoghurt and tofu. Therefore, veganism may cause certain bone-related diseases due to deprivation of calcium, compared to vegetarianism.

6. Certain toxins

A study has shown that eggs contain food-related carcinogenic toxins like dioxin that may increase the risk of cancer in some. As a vegetarian diet also includes the consumption of eggs, it can be less preferred over a vegan diet. [7]

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Certain Similarities Between Vegan And Vegetarian Diets

  • Both vegan and vegetarian diets are known to improve the gut microbiota which is beneficial for human health. The polyphenols in these plant-based diets increase Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus which have anti-inflammatory and anti-pathogenic effects. [8]
  • Plant-based diets consisting mainly of fruits and vegetables are packed with phytochemicals and vitamin C that may help boost the immune functions, prevent certain cancer types, reduce the risk of heart diseases, improve mental health and prevent obesity. [9]
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    Downsides of Vegan And Vegetarian Diets

    • Some studies question the completeness of vegan and vegetarian diets. They say that as both these diet types are a restrictive form of a diet and exclude the use of animal products, a person on any of these diets can experience deficiencies of nutrients like iron, protein, vitamin B12 and animal protein, which are abundantly found in meat products. [10]
    • A study has shown that half of the vegans are categorised as vitamin B12 deficient and are at an increased risk of diseases such as depression, dementia megaloblastic anaemia and paranoia which are caused due to vitamin b12 deficiency. [11]
    • Pregnant women who are either vegan or vegetarian can experience certain pregnancy complications like low birth weight and increased risk of preterm delivery due to the deficiency of iron and vitamin B12, whose main sources are meat products. [12]
    • To Conclude

      Following veganism or vegetarianism should be the personal choice of an individual. Though both these diet types have multiple health benefits, they have downsides too. Therefore, if you are planning to start on any of these diet types, it is better to consult a medical expert or a dietician to get an overview so that you won't miss out on vital nutrients while following these diets.