Vegetarianism and Veganism: How They Can Improve Your Health

everything about vegan vegetarian diet

Whether you’re an animal lover or simply want to improve your health by focusing on making better choices within your diet, vegan and vegetarian diets are two excellent options. While the two are often lumped together due to their similarities, there are some key differences between the two that can help you decide which one is best for you. In this article, we take a look at both the vegan diet and the vegetarian diet to decipher the major differences and benefits you can expect from each.

What is a Vegetarian Diet?

In the simplest terms, people following a vegetarian diet do not consume any animal products or byproducts that result in an animal being slaughtered. This includes the elimination of beef, pork and game, poultry, fish, seafood, insects, stock or fats that come from animal slaughter and types of animal protein such as gelatin and rennet.  Some people following a vegetarian diet do choose to consume fish and shellfish, and this is sometimes referred to as a semi-vegetarian diet. However, emphasis is often placed on the ethical fishing process.

Now, vegetarians can consume animal byproducts that don’t involve the killing of animals. This includes honey, milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. All of these foods can be obtained without harm to animals.

Other than that, a vegetarian diet largely consists of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils. Some may even add in meat substitutes that are made from these types of food.

There are also several variations of the vegetarian diet, with the most well-known ones being:

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Not eating any meat, fish or eggs but can consume dairy products.
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Not eating any types of meat and fish but can consume eggs and dairy products.
  • Ovo-vegetarian: Not consuming any meat, fish or dairy products but can eat eggs.
  • Pescatarian: Avoiding all meats, except for fish and seafood.

What is a Vegan Diet?

Although similar to a vegetarian diet, there is a major difference that entirely separates the two. A vegan diet consists of avoiding the consumption and use of all animal products and byproducts, including meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, honey, insects, animal protein such as rennet and gelatin, and the stock or fats from animals.

As such, it largely consists of plants, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans and lentils. Some vegans will also use meat substitutes that are derived from these food sources.

Now, a vegan diet is often much more of a lifestyle choice for people and one that excludes all forms of the exploitation and cruelty of animals, whether for food, clothing or another purpose. As such, some vegans choose to also eliminate the use of leather goods, wool, silk, and beeswax, products that contain animal fats such as soaps and candles, latex products that contain casein which is derived from milk proteins, and all products that are tested on animals.

The Differences Between a Vegetarian and Vegan Diet?

The vegetarian diet and vegan diet are similar in the sense that those following them choose not to eat meat. However, the vegetarian diet is generally less strict than vegans and offers different variations of the diet as mentioned above.

But the easiest way to sum up the differences is this: both diets eliminate meat but the vegan diet also prohibits any products that come from animals or insects, including dairy, eggs, honey, and so on and so forth.

Health Benefits of Eating Vegan or Vegetarian

Although the vegetarian diet and vegan diet are unique in their own right, they both offer several health benefits that are similar to one another. For example, they are both plant-based and provide the health advantages associated with this type of diet.

However, there are also some downsides to eating vegetarian vs. vegan or vice versa. For example, lacto-vegetarians can consume dairy products and receive calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus from these foods. Vegans don’t receive these healthy components, but typically have an easier time keeping their cholesterol down. Vegans may also be at risk of deficiencies, such as omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, even if they consume plant foods that have these nutrients.

Most importantly, both diets are plant-based and offer a plethora of health benefits. For example, these diets largely encourage eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods from plant sources, which contain essential nutrients and minerals, including phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Eating a plant-based diet can provide the following benefits:

Tips for Going Vegan or Vegetarian

Switching from a conventional diet filled with animal products and byproducts to a vegetarian or vegan diet will take some adjustments. While some can jump right from one into the other, especially when their moral code is conflicted, this is often easier said than done. The sudden change can also produce some uncomfortable (temporary) solutions. Fortunately, there are plenty of tips to help you go vegan or vegetarian.

  • Planning is important: Whether it’s to ensure you’re getting the proper nutrient you need or to help prevent choosing unhealthy, processed foods, such as French fries, chips and frozen meals, planning is key. It will also help you find new ways to get all of your protein, vitamin B12, essential fatty acids, iron and vitamin D that you primarily got from animal food sources previously.
  • Start gradually: A slow transition may not be how you want to get started but it can mean the difference between an enjoyable and successful transition, or a miserable, failed one. Aim to make one or two adjustments to your diet each week to avoid any obstacles.
  • Try foods in different ways: Whether it’s raw or boiled, sautéed or salted, don’t be shy to get creative with your ingredients to find new ways to enjoy them.
  • Take up gardening: Since your diet will largely consist of plants, now is the perfect time to take up gardening. Join a class at your local community center, create a container garden or start digging up your backyard for fresh, home-grown produce right at your fingertips.
  • Be mindful of vitamin shortfalls: Make a conscious effort to ensure you get enough iron, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 in your diet or take supplements as needed.
  • Start with red meat: If you’re using the gradual approach, start reducing animal products from your diet one-at-a-time. Red meat is often the best choice, as it is typically considered the least healthy. Over the next couple of weeks, cut out poultry, then fish and shellfish, and so on and so forth.
  • Prep your pantry: Getting your pantry all stocked up with your vegetarian and vegan options will be a life-saver as you transition your diet. It’ll also help you choose healthy options when you’re in need of a quick snack or dinner. So, stock up on your canned chickpeas, tomato products, dried herbs and spices, and other essentials.
  • Stock up on healthy snacks: Similar to the prior, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of vegan/vegetarian-friendly snacks on hand as you make this transition. Nuts and seeds are excellent options.
  • Make substitutions to your current favourites: If you have a recipe you are a fan of but it contains animal products or byproducts, make some slight adjustments to make it vegan/vegetarian-friendly. You don’t have to necessarily start from scratch!
  • Try a new recipe each week: Make things exciting with a new recipe every week. This is an excellent way to add some new flavours and meals into your repertoire without feeling overwhelmed by the changes.
  • Remind yourself why you started: It’s not unusual to be tempted by non-vegetarian or vegan options. You may even be tempted to give up entirely. So, set aside some time to remind yourself why you made this change in the first place. You can try journaling or placing sticky notes in your kitchen reminding you of your “why”. Writing out some motivational quotes can also be an excellent way to stay on track.

Simply following a vegan or vegetarian diet doesn’t necessarily mean that you are free of unhealthy elements. It is still possible for vegetarians and vegans to eat unhealthy processed foods or live an unhealthy lifestyle. As such, it’s important to ensure you’re making positive choices in your diet and food choices at all times to receive maximum benefits for your efforts.

Leave a Comment