Diana Kelly Levey

The Main Differences Between Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

Three plant-based vegetarian toasts for breakfast.

December 5, 2019 | Categories: ,

You may have a co-worker who says they’re a “hard-core vegan,” while your last date claimed to be a “plant-based eater,” or your “classic vegetarian” friend might tell you she’s also now eating fish these days.

It can be tough to know the true definitions of what each of these terms mean without making your head spin, not to mention how other people are interpreting them (Can your friend even eat fish if she’s a vegetarian? That has to be cheating, right?). And when someone says they’re vegan it can be polarizing to the rest of the dinner table — who assume that the vegan eater is judging them for ordering the steak. It’s complicated and fraught. So let’s take the guesswork out of it for you.

Here, plant-based nutrition expert Julieanna Hever, MS, RD author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Nutrition and the upcoming book, The Healthspan Solution (December 2019) defines the terms and what they include, so you can actually understand what your friends are spouting off when they talk about their eating habits. (BTW, there are plenty of health benefits of a vegetarian diet.)

And instead of having them all over for dinner together, may we suggest that you all head out together to your favorite veg-friendly restaurant so everybody can order exactly what they like?

What’s the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian Diets?


Includes: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grain products

Does not include: Eggs, dairy, honey, meat, fish, poultry

“Vegan is an exclusive definition,” says Hever. It basically says what you do not eat, which are animal products.” To be a vegan means you’re also not consuming products like honey since you are avoiding all animal product use, which includes the product made by bees. But as with anything, there can be some exceptions to this lifestyle. “I’ve heard people use the term, ‘bee-gan’ meaning they include honey in their diet as a vegan,” Hever says.

Many vegans choose to follow this diet for health, ethical, environmental reasons or a combination of all of those factors. Some vegans also avoid wearing animal products like leather, suede, fur, shearling, silk or wool. Others skip using cosmetics that are tested on animals, and make sure to support companies that avoid all animal testing. Additionally they skip any home products or cleaning products that are derived from animal products. In general, The Vegetarian Society states that “vegans and vegetarians don’t eat products or buy products of slaughter.”


Includes: Some animal products but is a mostly plant-based diet

Does not include: Meat, fish, poultry

A vegetarian usually refers to a lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning eggs and dairy are consumed, but no animal flesh, says Hever. Then there’s the lacto-vegetarian, which means someone who eats dairy but not eggs. An ovo-vegetarian eats eggs but no dairy. If someone says they’re a pescatarian, that means they are a vegetarian eating fish as well as eggs and dairy. As you can see, this diet has a little more of a choose-your-own-eating-adventure vibe than being a vegan does, which may make it easier to stick to long-term. In short, vegetarians tend to eat a diet that mostly consists of plant-based foods, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. As for what they buy and wear, they may or may not choose to wear and use products made from animal products. (Try these proteins if you’re a plant-based eater.)

Read the full article on The Beet.

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