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What’s the Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian?

Last Updated on February 22, 2021

With plant-based diets on the rise, it's becoming harder to keep everything straight. There are several types of vegetarian diets, and these are all different from a vegan diet. The good news is, if you're trying to change your diet, you have a lot of options in front of you.

The not-so-good news is that these days, if you're hosting a dinner party, it won't be enough to just have some meatless options. We'll get into the difference between the two diets as well as the health effects so that you can know what you're getting into.

Vegetarianism vs. Veganism

Vegetarians do not consume products that came from the slaughter of animals. They eat a variety of grains, seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and meat substitutes. Vegetarians avoid:

  • fish and shellfish
  • duck, turkey, chicken, and any other poultry
  • any other meat products

Vegetarians may eat animal by-products, however, such as dairy products, eggs, and honey. There are three main types of vegetarian diets, which differ based on whether the individual eats eggs or dairy products (like yogurt and cream).

The vegan diet is stricter than the vegetarian diet. Vegan people do not consume any animal products at all. They follow a plant-based diet, and they do not eat eggs, meat, fish, dairy, or animal protein such as rennet or gelatin. According to The Vegan Society, "Vegans avoid exploiting animals for any purpose, with compassion being a key reason many choose a vegan lifestyle." (1)

Popular vegetarian meal delivery services or meal delivery programs for vegans can help you take some of the guesswork out of grocery shopping.

That being said, strict vegans employ these principles beyond just diet. They also try to avoid using products made from or tested on animals or that contain animal fats. Some of these items include:

  • cosmetics that rely on animal exploitation
  • latex
  • soaps and candles made from animal fat
  • beeswax
  • silk, wool, and leather goods

What are the Health Benefits of Both?

Vegan and vegetarian diets both have positive health effects. A number of scientific studies have determined that a diet that focuses on plant-based foods and reduced meat intake can lead to: (2)

  • lowered inflammation and oxidative stress
  • increased blood sugar control
  • deceased cholesterol levels
  • better blood flow and blood pressure
  • lower risk of heart disease

If you're trying to lose weight, you'll be happy to know that vegans and vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-vegetarians. However, vegetarian and vegan diets are not automatically healthy. It is still possible to live an unhealthful life and fill up on processed foods.

With any diet, it is important to keep a balanced plate of whole food that comes from plants. You also want to make an effort to exercise, get sunlight, and drink plenty of water.

Are Nutrient Deficiencies a Thing?

When planned appropriately, both vegetarian and vegan diets can provide you with all the nutrients you need. However, you do want to be mindful of some wellness advice from a nutritionist. One example is that plant foods do not naturally have vitamin B-12.

For vegans and vegetarians who don't eat dairy products, it is possible to become deficient in calcium, vitamin D, and iron. Additionally, meat-eaters and pescatarians often get omega-3 fatty acids from fish and seafood. Individuals who do not consume animal foods may want to invest in vitamin supplements.


Is it better to be a vegetarian or vegan?

Neither diet is inherently better. The best choice between a vegan and vegetarian diet depends on your goals and lifestyle. If you are interested in reducing your meat consumption, it may be easier to start with vegetarianism. Vegetarians and semi-vegetarians have fewer restrictions than vegans.

These two lifestyles also have a positive effect on the environment. However, you do not have to cut out animal flesh completely to have an impact. Address your concerns with a health expert before drastically changing your habits.

Is a vegetarian and a vegan the same thing?

No. While they don’t eat meat, the difference lies in the consumption of animal by-products. Many vegetarian lifestyles, such as Lacto-vegetarian, can consume dairy products. Vegan individuals avoid any materials and ingredients that resulted from animal cruelty, including meat, poultry, milk and cheese.

What are the 4 types of vegetarians?

The four variations of vegetarian are:

  • Lacto-vegetarians - a person who consumes dairy, but no other forms of meat
  • Ovo-vegetarians - someone who eats eggs but no dairy product or meats
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians - someone who consumes both eggs and dairy
  • Pescatarian - someone who eats fish, fruit, and veggies but not poultry, beef, pork or other meats

Are vegans healthier?

There are several health benefits to removing meat, poultry, and other animal products from your diet. Research shows that getting rid of red meat can improve your heart health and lower your risk of cancer. However, being vegan is not necessarily healthier than being vegetarian.

The question of health lies in meeting your nutrition needs with whatever you eat. For example, a vegan diet that is full of junk food like french fries and candy is not nutritious. Make sure you eat a range of whole foods and make good choices to get the amounts of B12, zinc, and calcium you need.

Plant-Based Eating

Men and women can benefit from paying attention to their diet. Although there are similarities between vegans and vegetarians, there is a big difference. The vegan diet is more strict, and the practice tends to hinge more on ethics and beliefs about animal slaughter for human use.

By definition, both options will have you eating for beans, fruits, grains, and veggies. Researchers have also shown the positive effects on health when you follow diverse meatless recipes.


  1. Wrenn, C. (2019). From seed to fruition: A political history of The Vegan Society, 1944-2017. Food and foodways, 27(3).

  2. Clarys, P., Deliens, T., Huybrechts, I., Deriemaeker, P., Vanaelst, B., De Keyzer, W., ... & Mullie, P. (2014). Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients, 6(3), 1318-1332.


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