If you are considering giving up meat, dairy, or other animal-based products for health reasons or to support your values and beliefs, you’ve probably pondered the difference between a vegetarian diet and a vegan diet.
On either diet, you’ll restrict your consumption of animal protein, animal by-products, and other food products made from animals — the differences lie in the level of restriction, as well as the reasoning behind undertaking the diet.
Both of these plant-based eating styles can help you develop healthier eating habits and provide oodles of health benefits. For example, a 2017 literature review of 96 studies reported a 25% decrease in incidence and/or mortality from heart disease in people following a plant-based diet. A vegetarian diet decreased the incidence of cancer by 8%, while a vegan diet decreased the incidence by 15%.
Still, both eating patterns take a great deal of dedication and consistency. Clearly alike in many ways, vegan and vegetarian diets do differ in a few ways (and in one big way). In this article, you’ll learn the difference between the two and how to choose the right diet based on your goals.
What Is the Vegetarian Diet?
A vegetarian diet involves avoiding all animal protein, including beef, poultry, pork, fish, game, seafood, or shellfish. Vegetarians also do not eat any by-products of animal slaughter, such as bacon fat, bouillon cubes, and chicken broth. Vegetarian diets consist mainly of grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, peppers, and healthy fats such as avocados, olives, and many oils.
However, there’s no single template for a vegetarian diet: Vegetarianism limits animal foods to varying degrees, depending on each person’s own values and preferences. Some types of vegetarians include:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but allows eggs and dairy.
- Lacto-vegetarian: Excludes meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, but allows dairy.
- Ovo-vegetarian: Excludes meat, fish, poultry, and dairy, but allows eggs.
- Pescatarian: Excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allows seafood and shellfish.
Vegetarian diets continue to increase in popularity, especially with more availability of plant-based foods and the idea of a plant-based—but not plant-only—lifestyle. Many people follow vegetarian diets because they like the flexibility of being allowed eggs, dairy, or seafood, but also enjoy the health benefits of eating mainly plants.
What Is the Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet eliminates consumption of all animal products. Like the vegetarian diet, this includes beef, poultry, fish, and game. But a vegan diet does not allow for the choice to consume eggs, dairy, or seafood. You can’t eat any animal by-products or food products made with animal-based ingredients, such as whey and casein proteins, amino acid supplements, collagen, gelatin, and honey.
Many vegans also restrict or eliminate their usage of non-food products and clothes made from animals. Examples include leather handbags, suede shoes, and silk scarves. Some unsuspecting products aren’t allowed on a true vegan diet, either, such as many alcohols, jams and jellies, dyed foods and beverages, and white sugar (bone char is used to make the sugar white).
However, many vegans uphold the belief that veganism isn’t about being perfect: It’s mainly about doing the best you can for animal welfare. So you don’t need to scour the ingredients list of every product you buy, but definitely do your research to understand if any products you use or foods you eat (especially processed foods) actually contain unsuspecting animal ingredients.
Veganism Is More than a Diet for Some
Although vegans and vegetarians may choose to restrict animal foods for similar reasons, veganism typically extends much farther than just food consumption. Vegans may have a higher bar for what’s considered an acceptable use of animal products; often, vegans only feel it is acceptable when there is absolutely no other choice.
Veganism is considered a lifestyle strongly rooted in animal welfare, and some vegans don’t eat this way because of the health benefits—they do it more for the animals than themselves. Many vegans also boycott companies that test on animals and only buy cruelty-free beauty products; live very sustainable and minimalistic lives; and avoid zoos, circuses, aquariums, rodeos, and other scenarios in which animals are used for entertainment.
You needn’t pick up these lifestyle factors to eat a vegan diet. If animal welfare is one reason you wish to stop eating animal products; simply adopting the diet part of veganism is a very good start.
The Core Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
Vegan and vegetarian diets revolve around the same premise: Eat plant-based. The main difference between the two diets is that veganism is more restrictive than vegetarianism.
Depending on what type of vegetarian diet you decide to undertake, you may very well be able to eat some of your favorite foods without worrying about what’s in them. For instance, a lacto-ovo-vegetarian can eat brownies, yogurt, cheese pizza, whole-milk lattes, and a scrambled egg and veggie burrito.
A vegan, on the other hand, would need a brownie recipe with no eggs and a plant-based milk; a soy milk or nut milk latte; and a tempeh or tofu scramble in place of eggs.
Similarities Between Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
If you were to eat a vegan diet one week and eat a vegetarian diet the next week, both weeks could potentially look exactly the same. That’s because vegan and vegetarian diets both stipulate plant-based eating, so you’ll encounter a lot of produce, grains, beans, legumes, and vegetable-based oils.
One other similarity between vegan and vegetarian diets is that the rise in popularity of plant-based eating has led to the creation of plant-based versions of snacks and processed foods.This isn’t always a bad thing, but remember that plant-based doesn’t always equal healthy. A vegan cookie can still have more than the daily recommended intake of sugar. However, the increase in the availability of vegan and vegetarian snack foods can certainly make it easier to stick to either diet.
Is A Vegan or Vegetarian Diet Healthier?
It’s hard to definitively say whether a vegan diet is healthier than a vegetarian diet, or vice versa. There’s a lot to take into account, and much of it has to do with your individual food choices. Below, learn about the health benefits and risks of vegan and vegetarian diets.
Both vegan and vegetarian diets can be extremely healthful at all stages of life, including during childhood and pregnancy, as long as the diet is planned properly. Vegan and vegetarian diets can also be healthy for athletes, despite beliefs that a plant-based diet can’t support physical activity. Some shared benefits of the two diets include:
- Reduced risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers
- Plant-based diets generally promote anti-inflammatory eating
- May help you lose weight by naturally reducing calorie intake
- Can improve blood sugar control
- Replacing animal proteins with soy protein may have beneficial outcomes on kidney function in people with diabetes who have kidney damage
- May lower cholesterol and blood triglycerides
Vegan and vegetarian diets naturally encourage you to eat more plants, which may increase your intake of certain essential nutrients. Plant-based diets are often higher in folate, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and E—all nutrients found in varying degrees in fruits, vegetables, starches, legumes, and other plant foods. Plant foods also tend to be high in fiber, as well, which helps with digestive health.
Speaking of nutrients, however, vegans and vegetarians are both at risk of nutrient deficiencies if they don’t properly plan their diets and pay attention to the types of foods they consume on a regular basis.
The US Department of Agriculture's Healthy Eating Index scores vegan diets as healthier than vegetarian diets, but vegetarian diets still sit relatively high on the index. How healthy your vegan or vegetarian diet really is depends on your food choices: Eating a plant-based diet of primarily processed foods is not necessarily better than eating an omnivorous diet of mainly whole foods. When in doubt, whole foods trump processed foods.
Any time you cut a food group from your diet, you present to yourself the risk of nutrient deficiencies. In the case of vegan and vegetarian diets, those potential deficiencies include iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, iodine, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Some vegans and vegetarians also don’t eat enough protein to support their bodies, especially if they are very active.
Plant foods just tend to be lower in these nutrients and void of some (like B12), but this is not to say that you can’t get adequate nutrition from a vegan or vegetarian diet. In fact, studies show that even athletes can consume enough protein and nutrients on a vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s all about choosing a wide variety of foods, supplementing smartly to fill in any gaps, and choosing fortified foods when possible.
Vegans may have a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies than vegetarians because of the higher level of restriction that the diet requires. Research has shown that this is especially true for calcium, which is primarily found in dairy products, but vegans can get enough calcium by eating plenty of dark leafy greens, certain seeds and fruits, and pulses. Studies also show that vegetarians are likely to get more vitamin B12 than vegans because B12 is primarily an animal-derived vitamin which vegetarians can get from eggs and dairy products.
While the risks are there, it’s also worth noting that some of these deficiencies aren’t unique to vegan and vegetarian diets. For instance, most diets—plant-based or not—don’t contain much vitamin D since most of your daily vitamin D intake comes from sun exposure. It’s also easy to be protein-deficient on omnivorous diets, so this is not a risk that applies only to vegan and vegetarian diets.
Which Is Better for Weight Loss?
Vegan diets, in particular, might aid in weight loss more than vegetarian diets. However, it’s difficult to tell whether the diet is solely responsible for weight loss. Many people who follow vegan diets also have other habits, such as daily exercise, a commitment to getting quality sleep, and stress-reduction practices, that may also aid in weight loss.
In the end, weight loss comes down to calorie intake and caloric expenditure. You must burn more calories than you eat in order to lose weight—either the vegan or vegetarian diet can help you with that.
Again, food choices are incredibly important for weight loss, regardless of how many animal products you eat or don’t eat—it’s possible to be a vegetarian while drinking soda, eating fried foods, and indulging in desserts every day. LIkewise, it’s possible to rely on high-calorie processed foods as a vegan.
Should I Eat A Vegan or Vegetarian Diet?
The short answer: It’s up to you! Choosing a diet is a complex decision that has many, many factors at play. Whether you should go vegan or vegetarian depends on your health concerns, food preferences, values, beliefs, and the lifestyle you want. To help yourself decide, ask these questions and let your answers do the choosing:
- How important to you is animal welfare?
- What foods are you actually willing to give up?
- Are there any foods that, if you don’t allow yourself to eat them, will make you feel overly restricted and unhappy?
- Do you have any medical conditions that may preclude you from complete veganism?
- Which one seems to align with your values and beliefs the most?
- Is this more about yourself or helping animals? Both?
A Word From Verywell
As you shift to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, remember to utilize the vast selection of resources available to you. The FDA, USDA, CDC, and many other health organizations post helpful, accurate content about vegan and vegetarian diets to help guide consumers.
When making the decision about which diet to start, consider how each will fit your current lifestyle and what things you’ll need to change. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for falling into old eating habits every now and again—change is hard and takes time, self-trust, and commitment. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying all the benefits that come with eating more plants.
Some people eating a plant-based diet may choose not to eat meat and animal products for various reasons. A vegan diet excludes all meat and animal products (meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs), whereas a vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, ﬁsh and seafood.Is there a big difference between vegan and vegetarian? ›
A vegetarian does not eat any animal flesh such as meat, poultry, or fish. A vegan is a stricter vegetarian who also avoids consuming dairy, eggs, and any other ingredients derived from animals. Vegetarian diets have reportedly been around since as early as 700 B.C.Is it healthier to be vegan or vegetarian? ›
Vegan diets have a possible advantage when it comes to sustainability and animal welfare, but vegetarian diets might be superior when it comes to nutrition and health benefits. Of course all of this depends on how well vegans and vegetarians plan and execute their nutrition.Can a vegetarian eat eggs? ›
Well, the short answer is yes! Unless they are vegan (meaning they don't eat dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals), some vegetarians do eat eggs and belong to a group known as lacto-ovo-vegetarians which according to the Vegetarian Society is the most common type of meatless diet.What are the 4 types of vegans? ›
The four main types of vegans are ethical vegans, environmental vegans, health vegans, and religious vegans.Is vegan and vegetarian the same yes or no? ›
Vegetarians don't eat any animals, including pigs, chickens, cows, fish, and all others. In addition to not consuming any animal flesh, a vegan also doesn't consume dairy milk, dairy cheese, eggs, or any other product derived from an animal.Does vegan mean no dairy? ›
By the most traditional definition, vegan food includes no dairy. That's because vegan foods have no substances derived from animals in them, and since the dawn of time (or at least since the dawn of cows, sheep, and goats) dairy has always been derived from animals.Can vegetarians drink milk? ›
Vegetarians may eat dairy products, eggs, honey, and other byproducts that do not involve the slaughter of animals. However, there are several variations of the vegetarian diet. For example, some vegetarians choose to eat eggs but not dairy products.Can vegans have bread? ›
At its core, a bread recipe contains four simple ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast — a type of microscopic fungus used to help bread rise. Therefore, the simplest form of bread is vegan. However, some types include additional ingredients like sweeteners or fats — both of which can be of animal origin.Which is the healthiest diet in the world? ›
Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet, and Flexitarian Diets Remain the Best Diets of 2023. All three diets are highly recommended by doctors because of their known health benefits. “The Mediterranean eating plan doesn't have a set calorie range or portion guidelines, which is why it can fit almost anyone's needs.
Vegan dieters actually saw the most weight loss, losing five pounds more than non-vegetarians, while vegetarians lost three pounds more. Another 2009 study out of Loma Linda University found that vegans on average had healthier BMIs than both lacto-ovo vegetarians—who eat eggs and dairy—and non-vegetarians.Do vegans eat eggs and cheese? ›
Vegetarians do not eat fish, meat or poultry, but do eat eggs and dairy. Vegans also follow the no-meat rule, but also exclude animal products or by-products such as eggs, dairy and honey.Can vegetarians eat ice cream? ›
Even ice cream isn't safe for vegetarians. Castoreum, a musky brown liquid that beavers use to mark their territory, has a rich vanilla-like scent that some companies use to flavor vanilla ice cream without using artificial flavoring.Can vegetarians have cheese? ›
Given that dairy — including cheese — does not require the slaughtering of an animal, it's usually permitted by lacto- and lacto-ovo-vegetarians, as well as some pescatarians. On the other hand, vegans avoid all animal products or animal byproducts, including dairy and milk.Can vegetarians eat mayonnaise? ›
Due to the presence of egg yolk, mayo typically isn't vegan friendly. This means that a lot of commonly-found mayo is not suitable for those on a plant-based diet. However, as more people are experimenting with plant-based diets, several brands have launched a vegan mayo to reflect the growing market.Do vegans eat mcdonalds? ›
Vegan Lunch & Dinner Ideas:
Ask for the flour tortilla(s) on the side and assemble your own veggie wrap by filling the tortilla with salad and topping with a dressing. Veggie Artisan Roll Sandwich—ask for any of the burgers or sandwiches without the meat, cheese, and mayo. Ask for extra lettuce, tomato, and pickles.
Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allow eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish and poultry, but allow dairy products and eggs. Pescatarian diets exclude meat and poultry, dairy, and eggs, but allow fish.What do you call a vegan who eats fish? ›
Veganism. People who are vegan but eat fish are pescatarians. A vegan that eats fish might think of themselves as vegan, but any vegan diet with fish is best classified as pescatarian.Does vegan mean no fish? ›
Vegans don't eat fish
As one of the main types of vegetarian diets, a vegan diet involves abstaining from eating any meat or animal products. This includes meat and poultry, as well as fish and shellfish. Vegans also avoid other foods derived from animals, including honey, dairy products, and gelatin.
Almond and soy milk are both vegan, naturally lactose-free, and low cholesterol, but there are differences in their health benefits, nutrient content, and environmental impact.
Breast milk is OK for ethical vegans
As we've already stated, breastfeeding is a choice that doesn't involve animal exploitation, even when including humans as part of the animal kingdom. Perhaps the most well-known authority on veganism, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), agrees.
Vegans avoid eating honey to take a stand against bee exploitation and farming practices that are thought to harm bee health.Is dark chocolate vegan? ›
Dark Chocolate: Possessing a high percentage of cocoa, dark chocolate is a deep, sophisticated experience. It is also the healthiest and most vegan-friendly option out there, thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants, low sugar, and lack of dairy.Is McDonald's fries vegetarian? ›
' The short answer is: no, McDonald's Fries are not vegetarian or vegan! Read on to learn more about this popular snack food, key ingredients, and vegetarian alternatives to McDonald's fries!Can vegetarians have chocolate? ›
Chocolate itself comes from a plant and is therefore suitable for vegetarians and vegans. However, during the production process some additives or ingredients that are not suitable for these types of diets can be added to chocolate-based products.Do vegans eat ice cream? ›
Can vegans eat ice cream? Absolutely! There are tons of delicious dairy-free ice creams on the market, and you can also make your own excellent versions at home.Why are bananas not vegan? ›
Scientists have discovered that chitosan, a spray-on pesticide made from shrimp and crab shells, keeps the potassium-packed fruit from ripening too quickly and turning mushy. What's a vegan to do? To skip the exoskeleton, opt for organic bananas.Can vegans eat spaghetti? ›
Most packaged pasta—including spaghetti, rotini, and any other type—is 100 percent vegan. To know for sure, simply check the ingredients on your package! Sometimes, you might see “egg” listed as an ingredient in “fresh” pastas, so avoid those—but generally, pasta contains no animal-derived ingredients.Can vegans eat peanut butter? ›
But of course! Most peanut butter is a simple mixture of ground peanuts and salt. Others might also contain oil or added sugar. Once in a blue moon, you may find a kind that contains honey, but nearly all peanut butter is 100 percent vegan.What is the best diet to eat everyday? ›
Health experts including the American Heart Association (AHA) recognize the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat. Diets that emphasize vegetables, such as plant-based diets and the Mediterranean diet, can help lower the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Under the diet, each meal should consist of four handfuls of food — one handful of protein, one of carbohydrates, and two of vegetables — plus a spoonful of fat. This means no calorie counting or weighing food portions, which can be difficult if you're on the go or don't own kitchen scales.Why vegetarian is better than vegan? ›
Both diets can provide a lot of nutrition in a day, but vegetarian diets have an advantage because they can provide more protein-dense options, as well as calcium and vitamin D from dairy and eggs.Are vegans happier than meat eaters? ›
Our large-scale study of 11,537 respondents has proof: Vegans report higher happiness levels than meat-eaters (+7%). Happier people are more likely to turn 100% vegan in the future.How many times a day should a vegetarian eat? ›
A vegetarian diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and includes eggs and dairy in some variations. Most people eat the standard three meals a day with snacks as desired.Can vegans eat french fries? ›
Can a Vegan eat French fries? Vegans can eat most fries. Sometimes, they are cooked in beef fat, making them not Vegan friendly.Can vegans drink alcohol? ›
Fortunately, virtually every brand of hard liquor—bourbon, whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum—is vegan. Nearly all distilled spirits are vegan except for cream-based liqueurs and products that mention honey on the label.Can vegans drink milk? ›
Milk is a product of cows or in some cases Goats. No matter how the milk is produced, even if it is organically farmed, it is not a product that a Vegan will consume. There are a few reasons for this. Like a Vegetarian, Vegans express animal rights concerns with all elements of farming.