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Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-Based Diets – What’s the Difference?

The popularity of cooking reality shows in recent years has brought about more discussions than ever before about the topic of food. Food as nourishment, fuel and sustenance. Food simply for eating and taste enjoyment. Even food as art!  

But, included in these discussions are various thoughts and ideas about what food people should and should not be consuming – and numerous reasons as to why.  

And it’s not just about what food people enjoy eating, but which foods are healthy and unhealthy, and which foods are considered by some to be acceptable and unacceptable to eat. 

These days, there seems to be so many factors involved in deciding what people should eat. Some people base their decisions on health reasons, while some factor in religion, ethics (such as animal rights), and even politics into their decisions.  

This has resulted in numerous types of diets and lifestyles being developed, and the varied terminology being used can certainly be confusing. Some of the information clouding our minds are the differences between Vegetarian, Vegan, and Plant-based diets.

So what are the differences between these diets?

Well, let’s jump right in and get the FAQs on these 3 similar, yet different eating lifestyles!

VEGETARIAN

Vegetarians consume plant-based foods but generally eliminate meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish from their meals. However, many vegetarians also consume eggs, dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, butter, yogurt), and honey.  

There are several different types of Vegetarian diets including:

  • Fruitarian – yep, just fruit!
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian
  • Lacto-vegetarian
  • Ovo-vegetarian
  • Pesco-vegetarian
  • Vegan

VEGAN

Veganism is the strictest of the vegetarian diets. Vegans only consume food from plant sources, such as vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, seeds, and nuts. They do not eat food that is animal-derived, which means no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey.  

In addition, vegans generally don’t use or own products that contain anything made from an animal (e.g. leather, silk, wool, gelatin, beeswax) – this includes clothing, shoes, personal care products (e.g. shampoo, make-up), furniture, and even cars that have leather interiors.

PLANT-BASED

People living a plant-based diet or lifestyle focus on fresh produce – as in, they only consume whole plant foods. This includes unprocessed or minimally processed vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds.  

There are generally no restrictions in regards to buying leather and other goods made from animal products. 

Still a little confused?  

Here is an example: French fries are vegetarian/vegan but are not considered to be plant-based because french fries don’t resemble the original plant form of the potato. 

All of these forms of eating tend to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. However, many believe that these diets lack protein, calcium, and other nutrients necessary for a truly healthy and balanced lifestyle.  

Therefore, if you are following any of these diets, you might want to consider taking high quality food-based supplements to compensate for the nutrients you may be missing in your diet. 

If you’re thinking about adopting any of these lifestyles, or any type of diet that involves eliminating entire food groups, perhaps consider your reasons for switching – and ask yourself a these questions:  

Is this change realistic and doable for me on a long-term basis? Is it a good fit for me health-wise? Do I have the support of key people in my life? 

Because this would be such a major lifestyle change, consider starting off slowly and consulting a nutrition professional before deciding if such a change in diet is right for you.

Here is a quick, simple, and tasty vegan recipe for you to enjoy while you’re pondering switching up your diet! 

RECIPE 

Vegan ‘Shroomzas

Ingredients: 

4 portobello mushroom caps

1 small can crushed tomatoes (no salt added)

Vegan mozzarella “cheez” shreds (or use goat mozzarella if you are lacto-vegetarian)

Your choice of toppings: kalamata olives, red onion, pineapple, peppers, chili flakes, spinach – note the high water content in some vegetable toppings that may make your pizza more “juicy”)

1 tsp Italian seasoning (mixed herbs)

½ tsp garlic powder

Extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil

Optional: 1-2 Tbs nutritional yeast 

Preparation: 

Set oven to broil. 

Remove the stems from the mushrooms, then clean and lightly pat dry. It’s important to remove the excess moisture! 

Brush a small amount of oil on the mushroom cap, and place cap-down on a non-stick baking sheet. You can place a piece of parchment paper down on the baking sheet first as well. 

Spoon some of the crushed tomatoes on each mushroom, then sprinkle Italian seasoning and garlic powder evenly on each. 

Place your desired toppings over the layer of crushed tomato sauce. 

Sprinkle cheese (or “cheez”) evenly on each, followed by nutritional yeast, if using – this gives an extra cheese-like flavor as well as a healthy dose of vitamin B12! 

Place the baking sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly golden brown. Be sure to keep an eye on your Shroomzas to prevent burning. 

Take out of oven and let sit 5 minutes before cutting and enjoying! (you may also need to soak up some residual liquid from baking with a paper towel before putting on a serving plate)