There’s no doubt that plant-based diets are on the rise between 2000 and 2017, while dairy consumption fell drastically. There are many reasons for that shift toward plant-based eating. Whole-food, plant-based diets are associated with lower body weight and a reduced risk of several chronic conditions, including heart disease, as well as cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cognitive decline. Some people also have concerns about the treatment of animals for food production and the impact on the environment which now leads a recent call for a primarily plant-based diet.
There is no one definition of a plant-based diet but most experts agree that it means primarily eating plants, although small or occasional amounts of any type of animal protein may be included. However, two specific versions of a plant-based diet are well defined: vegetarianism and veganism. So what’s the difference between them?
WHAT’S A VEGETARIAN?
Vegetarianism generally means that no meat, poultry or seafood is consumed. Eggs or dairy are typically included in a vegetarian diet. People who eat eggs as their only animal protein are called ovo-vegetarians. Those who allow dairy in their diet are lacto-vegetarians while people who eat both eggs and dairy are deemed lacto-ovo-vegetarians.
Pescatarian is a title for people who do eat fish and seafood but no meat or poultry, although they are generally not considered to be part of the core vegetarian community.
WHAT’S A VEGAN?
Veganism excludes all animal foods, meaning no meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy or any ingredients derived from animal sources, including honey and gelatin. Veganism generally extends to a lifestyle that involves not using any materials derived from animals, including leather, fur, wool and silk. Household products, such as cosmetics and soaps are also excluded if they are made with or tested on animals.
Nutritionally speaking, omitting more animal foods can make it challenging to meet the needs for certain nutrients, such as vitamins D and B12, iron, zinc and calcium. However, it is possible to obtain all of the necessary nutrients on a vegan diet if you are knowledgeable about which plant foods contain key nutrients and how to supplement properly if needed. If you are vegan or are thinking of going vegan, consult with recommended dietitian (RD) who specializes in vegan diets.
ANY BENEFITS OF PLANT-BASED DIETS?
When it comes to health protection, the quality of any plant-based diet is king. Researchers found that vegans had higher levels of healthy fats, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in their bodies than non-vegetarians, likely because they consume more produce and other whole, plant-based foods.