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Vegetarian vs Vegan Which is Healthier

Last Updated: July 8, 2024

There are so many different diets out there these days.

It's no longer just a question of an omnivorous diet vs a vegetarian diet.

There are as many diets and diet philosophies as there are religions, and it can seem like new trendy options are popping up every day.

Paleo, keto, Atkins, South Beach, low-carb, Zone, intermittent fasting, flexitarian, and the list goes on.

Many people also confuse the distinction between vegetarian and vegan diets - and for those who don't subscribe to either, the difference can seem negligible.

Neither eats meat, right? Of course, the dedicated vegan knows this is not true - there is a large difference in vegan vs vegetarian diets.

Just when we thought vegetarianism was starting to be the next big thing, planet and animal-loving vegans began to appear.

With the current wave to switch to a healthier lifestyle and diet, millions of people across the globe are adopting not just vegetarianism, but also the vegan way of living.

Vegans are vegetarians but with more diet restrictions, particularly in terms of consuming animal products.

This belief not only affects their diet but a lot of product consumption including fashion and cosmetics.

So let's look at some of the main differences of vegan vs vegetarian living: life without meat.

In this guide we are going to talk about the main differences between the groups, the subsets found within the groups, common pitfalls while shopping or eating out and health considerations for all those who live without animal products.

Main Differences: Vegetarian vs Vegan

Vegetarian vs Vegan

When considering vegan vs vegetarian, you know that a vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat or consume any kind of animal product.

They eschew meat, poultry, and seafood, however, they often consume milk and milk-based products as well as eggs.

Generally speaking, vegetarians don't eat anything that requires an animal to die, but they do consume some animal-produced products including honey.

Both vegetarians and vegans avoid meat, poultry, and seafood.

But when considering vegetarian vs vegan, vegans take things a step further by not consuming milk, eggs, honey or any product/by-product made from animal/animal skin.

Those who identify as vegan generally choose the diet for ethical reasons.

As they tend to be passionate about animal welfare, many avoid wearing leather and suede because they are made from animal skins.

They may also avoid any fabrics that are made from animal byproducts, including wool and silk, because the animals used to produce these materials are often harmed in the process.

Many vegans also look for cruelty-free cosmetics and beauty products.

People typically choose these diets because of health concerns, religious restrictions or moral concerns about harming animals


There are a variety of vegetarians, but the list of common vegetarian diets is pretty simple!

Lacto-ovo (or ovo-lacto), from the Latin words for milk and egg, is the most common type of vegetarian.

As the name suggests, people who follow this diet eat dairy products and eggs but avoid meat, poultry, and seafood.


Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but no eggs, meat, poultry or seafood.

Ovo vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy products, meat, poultry or seafood.

Those who follow a pesco vegetarian diet, or pescatarians, don’t technically meet the common definition of vegetarian, so it doesn't really make sense to call them vegetarians at all.

The term is used to describe people who eat a vegetarian diet including dairy products, but add to it fish and other seafood.



Types of Vegans

Vegans are also categorized into different types:

Ethical vegans:

They are the most common who evidently put their ethics forward instead of their stomach. They love and care for animals and the environment. Ethical vegans do not consume any dairy product including milk, cheese, yogurt, cream or ice cream, and also avoid honey, because it is made by bees. Vegans also avoid the usage of any product made from animal skin or parts. Very strict vegans will even avoid most sugars, because white sugar is processed using animal bone char.

Plant-based eaters:

This is a relatively new term and tends to refer to people who eat a vegan diet, but may do so out of primarily health-based reasons.

These people choose not to eat animal products because they believe it is healthier for their bodies, but may eat honey, which is made by animals, but not from animals.

They also may not have a problem with wearing leather, wool or silk.

People who self-identify as "plant-based" generally do so to avoid the politics that can surround the word "vegan."

Generally speaking, the word "vegan" denotes an activist bent, where "plant-based" does not.

Plant-based came about as a term in 1980, when T. Colin Campbell was researching the health benefits of a low-far, high-fiber diet.

His ground-breaking China Study found that those who eat such a diet enjoy better health than their meat- and processed-food-eating counterparts.

He wanted a term to describe this ideal diet without venturing into the politically charged territory of veganism. "Plant-based" was born.

Raw vegan:

Raw vegans share all the traits of ethical vegans, but they take it a step further for health reasons.

As the name implies, raw vegans do not cook their food.

They do not eat any animal by-product, nor anything that is cooked above the temperature of 115 degrees.

This is because they believe heating food above this temperature will sap it of its nutrients and beneficial enzymes.

Raw vegans eat a lot of salads, but also prepare foods by soaking, sprouting and dehydrating it.

Whole-foods plant-based:

Like regular plant-based, this diet is based more on concerns for health than for animal welfare.

People who subscribe to a whole-foods plant-based diet tend to avoid any processed foods and often abstain from oil and sweeteners as well.

This diet came about as a reaction to vegan diets that were heavy on packaged foods like potato chips and Oreo cookies.

Although vegans have been around for ages, until the mid-1900s, they just classified themselves as vegetarians who avoided dairy and eggs.

The word "vegan" wasn't coined until 1944, when Donald Watson, with input from other British vegans, invented it.

The word was founded to mean someone who abstains from animal products for ethical reasons, which is where its political connotation came from.

Foods to Avoid

Foods to Avoid

Because many people don’t realize how many seemingly animal-free foods actually contain small amounts of animal products, becoming vegetarian or vegan can come with a lot of surprises.

For instance, candies and marshmallows often include gelatin, which is made with animal parts and a no-no for vegetarian or vegan people.

Some orange juice brands are fortified with omega-3 from fish. Vegans tend to get their omega-3 from supplements or foods like chia seeds.

For vegans and vegetarians, it’s important to ask questions about how restaurant food is prepared before ordering it.

Many soups and sauces may appear not to contain meat are actually made with chicken or beef stock, tortillas are sometimes made with lard, and fried foods may be made with animal fat.

Restaurants are also notorious for adding dairy butter to everything, so it's really important to ask questions before ordering if you are a strict vegan, or follow a strict plant-based diet.

In many ways, it's easier for vegetarians.

Processed and packaged foods also depend disproportionately on milk derivatives.

Even vegetarian meat alternatives such as those produced by Morning-star Farms contain eggs and dairy.

And there are some cheese substitutes that actually contain milk - this makes no sense at all, but it's true, and is the reason that, if you are buying processed foods as a vegan or plant-based eater, it's imperative to read labels.

Vegans also avoid honey and have to carefully read the ingredient labels of any new foods.

For instance, dark chocolate can easily be made vegan, but even chocolate sold under the label "dark chocolate" more often than not contains milk derivatives.

Even potato chips and crackers can contain milk powder or casein, which is a milk derivative.

Nutrition Level

Nutrition level varies on three major factors - carbohydrates, fats, and protein.

A diet of a vegetarian and a vegan can be healthy only if it contains these basic nutrients.

Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be low in saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, which means they are a bit healthier than conventional diets, as long as long as other vital minerals and vitamins are replaced.


It's relatively easy for vegetarians and vegans to get enough carbohydrates and fats by eating cereals, beans and pulses. Proteins can be a bit more difficult, but with a little concentrated effort and attention to detail, vegans can easily meet their protein needs by eating soy, lentils, seitan, tempeh and a variety of vegetables.

A little bit of research done by vegetarians as well as those on a vegan diet will help them understand how to form complete proteins by pairing different foods (such as rice and beans) in the absence of meat and dairy products from ones diet.

Some people are concerned that a vegan diet could lead to nutrient deficiencies.

However, many experts claim that there is no need to be worried about this as long as you eat a diet that is high in Whole Foods and low in processed foods.

Advocates of a whole-foods plant-based diet talk about this all the time.

Eating such a vegan diet not only lowers your risk of heart disease significantly, but it also takes care of your dietary needs without counting grams of macros.

In addition, proponents of such diets are starting to claim that people do not actually need as much protein as we think.

This is good news for both vegetarians and vegans, who can do the research to refute claims by well-meaning friends and family who try to convince them to eat meat, fish, poultry or dairy out of concern for their health.

Experts do still agree that it's important for both vegans and vegetarians to ensure they're getting enough iron and vitamin B12 in their diets.

You can bulk up your iron intake by eating more of foods such as lentils, swiss chard, soybeans, and sesame seeds.

Vitamin B12 can be found in nutritional yeast, which is easy to sprinkle on meals from curries to popcorn to salads for a nutrient boost, and crimini mushrooms.

It's also important to understand that there are ways to increase the absorption of the nutrients you eat.

Vegans and vegetarians can do this by increasing their intake of fiber-rich foods.

These foods, like fermented foods and asparagus, help with digestion.

Don't overdo the fiber (which is easy to do on a vegan diet as well as by vegetarians), or you'll find yourself bloating and abnormally flatulent.

Which is Healthiest?

Which is healthiest

This is, of course, a potentially loaded question.

But it's true that a vegetarian who eats mostly whole, unprocessed foods, that are close to their natural state is probably going to enjoy greater health benefits than a staunch ethical vegan who lives on peanut butter, Oreos and French fries.

There are vegan junk foods!

If you want to enjoy the health benefits of going meat-free, it is important to make sure you're getting all of your essential nutrients and not eating junk that will weigh your body down and cause health problems.

It's certainly possible to be unhealthily overweight even if you don't eat meat (or dairy).

We hope this guide has helped you understand not only the difference between vegetarians and vegans, but also the wide variety of eating philosophies subscribed to by people within those subsets.

It's not enough to just call oneself a vegetarian or a vegan these days - the distinctions between different types of vegans or vegetarians can be just as significant as the distinctions between a conventional omnivore and a plant-based eater, or an ovo vegetarian and a raw vegan.

About the author, Cass


Hi! My name is Cassandra, but feel free to call me Cass. I consider myself lucky because I got to marry my best friend, I love cats, journal every day and live a plant-based lifestyle.

I am here to talk about all my favorite niches that I eat, live, and breathe, passionately about between Reiki, Chakras, Meditation, Breathwork, Kundalini Yoga, and Aromatherapy through the lens of being a plant-based groovy bio-hacking energy worker finding the best and most effective ways to keep it natural.

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