Most people know what a vegetarian is. In fact, with more than seven million vegetarians in the United States, according to a study done by the Vegetarian Times, you probably know someone who follows a version of this diet. Maybe that someone is you.
Further, around one million Americans follow a vegan diet. Many people may use the term 'vegetarian' and 'vegan' interchangeably, there are a lot of differences between the two diets. Veganism is actually a subtype of vegetarian.
What is a vegetarian?
A vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat. More specifically, according to Merriam-Webster, a vegetarian is "someone whose diet consists wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products." However, there are subtypes of vegetarians, including: lacto-ovo vegetarians, lacto vegetarians, ovo vegetarians, and vegans.
A lacto-ovo vegetarian is one who includes dairy products and eggs in his diet. A lacto vegetarian includes dairy products but not eggs. Ovo vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy products. Vegans do not consume meat, eggs or dairy products. Further, some mistakenly classify pescatarians as vegetarians. The pescatarian diet includes no meat with the exception of fish.
What is a vegan?
As stated above, vegans are a subtype of vegetarian. A vegan is a person who does not eat meat, eggs or dairy products. More specifically, according to Dictionary.com, a vegan is "a vegetarian who omits all animal products from the diet."
Some strict vegans also abstain from purchasing or using any products made from leather, fur or other materials that come from animals. Most also do not consume products like honey, gelatin, whey, and shellac.
You may choose a vegetarian or vegan diet if you wish to lose weight, lower your cholesterol or reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer.
According to Free From Harm, science backs up the belief that " eating plant foods instead of animal-based foods can confer significant health benefits, including a reduction in the incidence of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, and some types of cancer."
Consumption of red meat and processed meats, in particular, has been linked to cancer. According to Down To Earth, a vegetarian or vegan diet can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease. In an article citing reasons to become a vegetarian, Down To Earth states that "vegetarians have been shown to have a 24% lower risk of dying of heart disease than non-vegetarians."
Vegetarians and vegans do get enough protein
A favorite argument in favor of eating meat is to claim that vegetarians and vegans cannot possibly get enough protein in their diets.
However, contrary to popular belief among meat eaters, it's very easy to get enough protein in your diet without consuming animal flesh or animal products. Further, you do not need to consume excessive amounts of soy, eat prepackaged protein bars or use protein powder to get enough.
Whole and raw foods are the healthiest way to get protein. Whole grains, pulses, beans, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables contain high amounts of protein. If you do eat dairy products and eggs, you have even more opportunities to get enough protein.
In an article from Reader's Digest, author Perri O. Blumberg says you will "get enough protein from plants." Further, the article cites a study that indicated "too much protein, namely animal protein, is harmful to your health."
Choosing between the two
For some people, a vegetarian or vegan diet is a health-related choice. Others may have religious reasons. However, many people refuse to eat meat and animal products for ethical reasons. If your reason for choosing either the vegetarian or vegan diet is ethical, you probably have strong feelings about the vegan vs vegetarian debate.
Both vegetarian and vegan diets are known to have less impact on the environment. For this reason, many choose these diets as a way to focus on decreasing their carbon footprint.
Another ethical reason to choose these diets is the belief that animals are equal to people and have as much right to life as we do. Vegans in particular, actively choose to avoid animal products in an effort to ensure animals do not suffer.
While there are many similarities in the diets, a vegan diet is a subtype of a vegetarian diet. If you do not eat meat, but you do eat any kind of animal product or byproduct, you are a vegetarian. If you do not consume meat or any animal products or byproducts, you are a vegan.