What Is The Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian Diets?

It seems the large majority of people nowadays have at least a vague idea of what a vegetarian is, they’d know it’s someone who doesn’t eat meat. Although veganism is gaining popularity over the years, it is still a relatively new thing and quite a few people still don’t know what it is, or how it differs from a vegetarian diet.

So what is the difference between vegan and vegetarian diets?

A vegan diet is a diet that excludes any animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs. A vegan diet include any fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), and nuts and seeds.

But with vegetarian there are a few different kinds such as pescatarian, ovo, lacto, and even flexitarian. Below I’ll go over what these things all mean.

Vegan vs Vegetarian vs Pescatarian


About 4% of the US population chooses to consume no meat, only about 0.5% are vegans. A lot of people choosing to consume no meat do so at varying degrees, some only eat certain kinds of meat but not others, and some eat no meat whatsoever but chooses to include other animal foods such as eggs and dairy products in their diet. Here I will highlight some of the common levels of being a non-meat eater:

Vegan Diet

This is the level that excludes the most animal foods… all of them actually. A vegan doesn’t eat anything that comes from an animal or as a result of animal exploitation. No meat, fish, chicken, dairy or eggs. They also don’t eat anything containing honey, gelatin, or other animal by-products. Many people go vegan for the reason of compassion to animals, and so they also don’t wear fur or buy any products that’s derived from the exploitation of animals.

Vegetarian Diet

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: This type of vegetarian does not consume any meat, fish, or chicken. They do eat other animal products such as eggs and dairy. This is the most common type of vegetarian, let’s look at some of the other types of vegetarians below.
  • Lacto vegetarian: This is just like the lacto-ovo vegetarians, the only difference is they eat dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt.
  • Ovo vegetarian: Just like the lacto-ovo vegetarians except they eat eggs.

Pescatarian Diet

A pescatarian isn’t a real vegetarian, they can eat seafood but not any other kind of meat. They can also eat eggs and dairy, but some don’t. Some pescatarians consider themselves semi-vegetarians, but most vegans and vegetarians don’t consider them real vegetarians because fish is technically still meat.

Pollotarian Diet

A pollotarian is also not a vegetarian. Similar to pescatarians, they only eat one kind of meat, but instead of seafood it’s fowl such as chicken, turkey and duck. They can also eat other animal products like eggs and dairy.

Flexitarian Diet

A flexitarian is someone who tends to eat mostly a vegetarian or vegan diet, but sometimes eat meat or other animal products if they feel like it. They limit eating animal products as much as they can, they basically eat a 99% vegan diet most of the time with the occasional slip up.

Why Vegan Is The Best Option?


I had a post written a while ago highlighting some of the main reasons why people decide to go vegan. I want to expand on them in a bit more detail. The 3 main reasons are for health, for environment, and for animals.

Going vegan yields the most benefits to our overall health and doing positive things for the animals. I have come across many people who claim to be vegetarians out of compassion for the animals, yet they are still eating eggs and dairy, and this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Although animals are not killed for eggs and dairy, a great deal of animal suffering still takes place for these products to be made.

1. Going Vegan for The Animals

Cows

Female cows are artificially inseminated (aka raped) so they can lactate and produce milk, this cycle repeats until their milk runs out at around 4-5 years of age, at which time they’re sent to be slaughtered, cows have a natural lifespan of about 20 years. In factory farms they live in less than humane conditions, forced to stand on dirty feces covered concrete floors their whole lives, or packed into crowded lots with little room to move around.

Chickens

Every year there are about 300 million hens used for the egg industry. Males and females are separated after being born in an incubator. Males are sent to be killed immediately, either being tossed in trash bags and suffocated or being ground up alive. Females have the end of their beaks burned off, this is to prevent them from killing each other while inside battery cages.

They go crazy from being crammed in with many other hens, having no room to move around or even fully spread their wings their entire 2 years of miserable life. Many cages are stacked on top of one another, causing urine and feces to drip down to the cages below.

The hens often die in the cages from these terrible living conditions, if they survive after 2 years they’re sent to be slaughtered. 

Pigs

Only in the movies or commercials do you see pigs relaxing in the sun outside on a pasture, the meat industry obviously would not want you to see how they’re really treated inside factory farms. About 115 million pigs are killed every year, and there’s about 68 million pigs imprisoned in factory farms on any given day just in the USA alone.

The mother pigs are put in crates about 7 feet wide and 2 feet long, this is too small to allow the pig to even turn around. After giving birth to piglets they’re transferred to slightly wider crates… not for the sake of compassion, they do this so the mother pig can lay down in a position to feed the piglets.

Make no mistake that the only thing which matters to the meat industry is what they can do to extract the most for their bottom line. For more eye-opening info on the lives of pigs in factory farms, watch this video:

What You Can Do

Going vegetarian doesn’t stop animals from being exploited and abused, nor does buying your meat and dairy from organic free range farms. A lot of the animals raised on free range farms suffer much in the same way as the animals in regular farms, such as body mutilation and living in crammed and dirty conditions. Even though free range animals are allowed time in outdoor areas, there’s no rules on how long they get to stay out and how much space they’re given in these outdoor areas.

As a vegan I try to limit the suffering of animals in every way I can, and in my view being a vegetarian “for the animals” is just pure ignorance. The best way you can stop supporting the abuses in factory farming by going vegan today, the only foods that are truly cruelty free are foods that grow out of the soil.

2. Going Vegan for Better Health

going vegan for better health
The number of vegans and vegetarians are growing in recent years due to the increasing medical evidence pointing to the superiority of meat-free diets over the Standard American Diet. Also with the internet available now, This Information is able to spread easily and quickly to many people. It’s harder to stay ignorant nowadays when anything you want to know can be found with a click of a button.

There is a strong relationship between dietary choices, obesity, and the common western diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (source)

Some of the risk factors for heart disease include having high cholesterol levels of 200 and above, high blood pressure, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.

Heart disease is the leading cause of the death in the USA, followed by cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, over 3/4 of cancers are caused by lifestyle related choices such as smoking, the foods you eat, obesity, and the amount of exercise you get. Some cancers are affected more by diet than other things. 70% of colon and prostate cancer, for example, are influenced by diet related choices.


Natural whole vegan foods tend to be low in fat, free of cholesterol, high in fiber and high in disease fighting nutrients. It’s no coincidence that vegans are the only group with the lowest BMI (body mass index) and also with the lowest risk of having these diseases. The group at the highest risk are of course the non-vegetarians eating the Standard American Diet of high meat and dairy consumption. Vegetarians tend to do better, but still not as well as the vegans.

It has been said that the best way to prevent diabetes and heart disease is to cut out the foods not designed to be eaten by humans, such as the meat and dairy, and replacing them with natural whole vegan foods.

Here are some books I recommend reading. It’s about preventing and even reversing diabetes and heart disease with this dietary approach.

Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes – Dr. Neal D. Barnard, MD Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease – Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD

3. Going Vegan for The Environment

The animal agriculture industry is responsible for over 51% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. According to the United Nations, going vegan would be the best way to fight against the worst effects of climate change.

Water

vegans use up much less water
Go vegan and save 1/4 million gallons of water yearly


Growing crops to feed animals takes up a lot of water, then you also gotta feed water to the animals as well. A dairy cow can drink up to 50 gallons of water a day, and it takes almost 700 gallons of water to produce just a gallon of milk. One pound of beef will require the use of almost 2,000 gallons of water, one pound of chicken will use over 500 gallons of water, and pork at just over 700 gallons per pound. 

In comparison with tofu, which only requires 300 gallons of water per pound, and even less with soybeans at 250 gallons per pound. By going vegan you will save almost 250,000 gallons of water a year!

Pollution

Growing vegan foods creates less toxic waste
pollution affects the air, ground and water


The animals create about 500 million tons of poop every single year, and there’s no processing plants designed to deal with all this poop. The only thing they can do is either keep it in a big pile in waste lagoons, spray it over fields, or making it a liquid and then spraying it into the air. None of these options are good, especially for the people living close to these farms.

All that waste in the air and on the ground causes the air quality to become toxic, and inhaling it can cause inflammatory and health problems for the nervous system. The big piles of waste can also create contamination problems for the water when it leaks into the ground.

Deforestation of Land

cutting down trees for growing livestock
removing forests to make way for livestock


Rain forests around the world are being destroyed at an accelerated pace. One and a half acres of rain forest are lost every second around the world, and 90% of the land cleared is used for raising cattle, and also using that land to grow crops to feed those cattles as well. This is a very inefficient use of the land as it takes 20 times less land to grow crops for human consumption. Instead of wasting the land for cattle ranching, it can be used to grow crops feeding humans instead.

It’s estimated that about 50,000 species of plants and animals are lost every year due to deforestation, one of those species could potentially be a cure for a disease, but we’ll never know if they get destroyed before scientists get to study them. 

Final Thoughts

I think being a vegetarian of any kind is a great start into a better and healthier lifestyle, but it’s a start and it shouldn’t be where it ends. Whether you’re doing it for your own health, for the lives of the animals, or for the health of the planet, only by going vegan can you really say you are doing the best you could.

If you’ve been a heavy meat and dairy consumer your whole life, it can be difficult to remove these foods all at once. It may be easier to go vegetarian during a transition period of time, but then progressively eliminate more of these animal foods and eventually do vegan completely.

Also know that just because you go vegan, it doesn’t mean you’re giving up anything. I’ve been a vegan for almost 5 years now and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything at all, because I can still eat anything I want to.

I have vegan ice cream, vegan pizza, vegan cheesecake, vegan chicken burgers, vegan fish & chips… and even vegan cheese.  It’s not a restrictive way of eating at all, and anyone should at least give it a try before they come to any conclusions.

Are you vegan or thinking of doing vegan? Leave your thoughts below in the comment box and let me know what you think.

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