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Difference Between Plant-Based and Vegan: Here’s What you Should Know to Sound Smart

Last Updated on November 25, 2021

You may have noticed that the number of people who are reducing their animal product intake is on the rise. Online, in media, and in grocery stores, we are seeing a noticeable increase in natural foods, vegan, and plant-based options. When it comes to labels for this lifestyle, some individuals call themselves "vegan," while others may say they follow a "plant-based" diet.

Yes, there is a difference. Let's examine the definitions and differences of both terms so that you can sound like you know your stuff.

What Is A Vegan Diet?

Being vegan is more than a diet. It's a way of life that involves not using or consuming animal products or animal byproducts like gelatin or honey. The intention of veganism is to minimize the harm done to animals. People who identify as vegan also avoid purchasing items tested on animals such as:

  • home goods
  • accessories
  • shoes
  • personal products
  • clothes (such as leather goods, wool, silk, and fur)

The person credited with developing the term in 1944 is Donald Watson. According to him, "Veganism gives us all the opportunity to say what we stand for in life: the ideal of healthy, human living." Vegan people avoid foods such as dairy products, poultry, fish, meat, and eggs.

Watson's vision of a vegan diet focused on animal rights. Now, people may become vegan for various reasons, such as to reduce their environmental impact or for health purposes.

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What Is a Plant-Based Diet?

In the 1980s, the term plant-based appeared in the nutrition science realm. This term refers to a mostly vegetable diet with high fiber and low-fat food. The focus of a plant-based diet is on the health benefits, and not so much about animal treatment or ethical reasons.

People who say they follow a plant-based diet usually mean they only eat food from plant sources. With plant-based diets, you can choose if you want to consume animal products. However, a plant-based diet is mostly:

  • nuts, seeds, and whole grains
  • oils such as canola, olive, and avocado
  • fruits
  • vegetables

You may also hear people say that they follow a whole-food, plant-based diet. This diet encourages minimal animal products in favor of fruit, tubers, grains, and legumes that are not processed. A person on a whole foods diet will avoid processed grains, refined sugar, bleached flour, and oil.

Can You Be Both Plant-Based and Vegan?

Absolutely. Hundreds of people around the world identify with both. It is also common for a person to start out as one and gradually adopt the other. For instance, someone may start being vegan due to concerns for animal welfare and gradually incorporate whole foods for their health.

Or, someone on a whole plant foods diet may decide to avoid animal products altogether and become vegan. These concepts can go hand in hand, even though the two are not the same.

What Are The Health Benefits?

The idea for a plant-based diet came from Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who wanted a term to describe a vegetable-based diet without the animal cruelty connotation. The term "plant-based" can vary based on the person using it. Interpretations of the diet range from following a raw vegan diet to a more flexitarian food diet.

Eating more whole plant foods can have the following health effects: (2)

  • reduced blood pressure
  • lower risk of heart disease
  • lower risk of diabetes and cancer
  • meet your weight loss goals

A plant-based approach to eating is not about trying to get a certain number of nutrients every day but simply eating more plant foods.


Is a plant-based diet vegan or vegetarian?

Both vegans and vegetarians can be plant-based by definition. With a plant-based, whole food diet, people attempt to reduce their intake of processed foods and animal products. Instead, they fill the majority of their plate with things that come from plants.

You can make your plant-based diet work for you, and it can be vegan, ovo vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, or anything. As long as you eat your fruits and veggies, you could occasionally throw in meats such as chicken. Even pescatarian dieters can be plant-based.

Does plant-based mean no dairy?

On a plant-based diet, you can still consume meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese on occasion. Going on a plant-based path means that your priority lies in the consumption of plant foods. You should also add healthy fats such as almonds and avocados. However, the diet only has to be as strict as you want, and you can follow any version.

For example, a sample meal plan might include the following recipes:

  • Tomato-basil soup with quinoa
  • Curried lentils
  • Rice and beans

Being plant-based means you ease up on the potato chips and box mac and cheese meals. Sorry!

Choosing An Appropriate Diet

The difference between plant-based and vegan lies in ethics as well as consumption. People's motivation for adopting one over the other may differ, but the main concern, either way, is limiting animal products. No matter their food preferences, everyone still has to make healthy choices.

Regardless of whether you follow a plant-based or vegan diet, it is important to make sure you get all the nutrients you need from your food. Anyone can adopt plant-based eating habits by eating mostly veggies and grains and plant protein. If you do want meat, look for lean options.


  1. Watson, Donald (15 December 2002). "Interview with Donald Watson" (PDF) (Transcript). Interviewed by George D. Rodger. The Vegan Society. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 March 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  2. Melina V, Craig W, Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;116(12):1970-1980. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025. PMID: 27886704.


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