Vegan, plant-based, reducetarian, flexitarian, vegetarian, pescatarian ― there are so many labels out there that differentiating between them has become waaay too confusing don’t you think? I gotchu though, here is the breakdown.
Since recently becoming someone who identifies as eating a (mostly) plant-based diet, I’ve had friends call me out on my fish-inclusive meals whilst others have been left perplexed by my occasional mozzarella-dipper-eating ways. Very often I hear them ask “but I thought you were a vegan?” and to be honest, I can see where the confusion lies. At a first glance, the distinction between being a vegan and eating plant-based may seem like a subtle one but actually, a plant-based diet can look very different to a vegan one.
So, what’s the difference?
Firstly, there is an important distinction to be drawn between the motivations held by those who practice a vegan lifestyle to those who eat a plant-based diet. Generally, the motivation behind veganism has to do with animal rights issues and the ethical treatment of animals meaning that vegans will eliminate all animal products from their life including food, clothing, cosmetics, and sometimes even medicines. By contrast, people who eat a plant-based diet tend to do it for health reasons and the appeal is largely to do with the health benefits associated with integrating more whole, plant foods into their diet. So for example, someone who is vegan will not wear leather products or use make-up that has been tested on animals whereas a plant-based eating person might. Now, this is not to say that plant-based eaters are evil creatures who hate animals of course, rather it just means that that they will tend to prioritise eating certain foods specifically for health reasons as opposed to ethical ones.
A plant-based diet emphasises eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and avoiding (or at least reducing) the intake of animal products and processed foods. Whereas a vegan diet focuses solely on eating meat-less foods and could very well just include processed vegan-friendly foods like oreos, sweets, chips and other vegan “junk foods”. In other words, someone who is concerned with the protection of animal rights may consume a diet like the one outlined here and thus identify as vegan, but they would not be considered as eating a plant-based diet.
A key difference between these two diets then has to do with the nutritional content of the food.
Someone who is a plant-based eater usually builds up their meals with a focus on fresh, whole plant foods and will aim to avoid (or largely restrict) processed and animal-based products from their diet. So, by increasing their intake of vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds they in turn reduce the quantity of animal-based foods in their diet. Put simply: more plants, less meat.
A plant-based diet isn’t a plant-only diet
Essentially, there is no exact rule-book for what actually constitutes a plant-based diet. Rather, it is just a way of eating that focuses on eating mostly fresh, minimally processed foods and more plant-based protein. It is flexible in the sense that a plant-based diet for someone may mean occasionally adding a piece of organic chicken or a free-range egg into their meal (usually for health reasons, i.e. if they are low on iron) whilst for another person it may mean entirely abandoning all animal products from their life.
A plant-based diet then could include vegetarians, pescatarians and I guess even flexitarians. Vegetarians tend to avoid all meat, fish, seafood and poultry but are generally fine with eggs and dairy. Similarly, pescatarians will eat no meat but limit themselves to a source of animal protein such as fish. Flexitarians on the other hand do not limit themselves to a single source of animal protein and will eat all sources such as poultry, eggs and dairy, but only occasionally.
But ultimately, the key differences between a vegan and a plant-based diet are the reasons behind the way of eating and the quality and content of the food that is eaten.
I hope that all made sense!?
Final thoughts: Contrary to popular belief, plant-based eating doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. In my opinion, understanding the reasons why people choose to eat one way over another is an incredibly complex thing to grasp as often, diet is something that is deeply personal to people.
Diets can be tied to a number of different factors like:
· What’s available to us, right now
· What we can afford
· How we want our bodies to feel
· Our values, traditions, culture, and religion
· Our taste and food preferences
· Our health and nutritional concerns
So, for example if you’re currently a student you may perhaps care more about buying cheap foods as opposed to organic, higher-quality foods. If you’re an athlete who is trying to build muscle, or simply someone who is trying to improve your relationship with food, the way that you eat may completely shift in the future as over time, your priorities will change and that’s okay.
Looking for the “ideal” diet or being too strict about how we eat, I personally think, sets us up for failure. So, be kinder to yourself, stop comparing yourself to all the food and fitness influencers out there and try to enjoy finding out what works for you. Because at the end of the day, it’s your body and your life, ya know!?
All the love,