Today, millions of people around the world are looking to try a healthier diet. For many, this means eating more plants and forgoing meat.
But how far SHOULD you go towards cutting out animal products?
Are any forms of meat, eggs or dairy okay to consume, or is it better to cut them out completely?
This question cuts directly to the heart of the biggest arguments between going vegan vs vegetarian.
Are purely plant-based vegans truly healthier than the lowly vegetarians that still enjoy their quiche and yogurt?
The evidence can be hard to sort through, which is why we’ve done our research to make it easier for you to understand what’s the healthiest option for you.
While any reduction in meat consumption is likely to make a major difference for your health, we understand how important it is to get the facts about health, which is why we’re addressing them for you here.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VEGANS AND VEGETARIANS
Before we dive into the various health benefits for vegan and vegetarian diets, let’s make a clear distinction between the two.
In many cases, people become vegan or vegetarian for similar reasons. One major motivation tends to be health concerns, especially in regards to heavily processed animal products that are loaded with saturated fat.
In the same way, many people are motivated to go plant-based out of concern for the welfare of animals in the food industry and the negative environmental impacts of factory farming.
Sometimes, there is a religious component for making the transition, especially for Hindus, Jains, and Catholics during Lent.
However, there are some major differences between veganism and vegetarianism.
In essence, vegetarianism is a diet strategy that cuts out meat.
Some vegetarians eat fish, and a few even consume chicken.
However, most vegetarians avoid animal-based products like beef bouillon and gelatin that is made through the processing of animal bones and hooves, though most are fine with eating eggs and dairy products.
Some examples of a vegetarian diet include the following:
- Lacto Ovo Vegetarian: These vegetarians are the most common kind, and they strive to avoid eating all kinds of meat, though they still eat dairy and eggs.
- Lacto Vegetarian: Sometimes known as lactarians, lacto vegans still consume dairy products.
- Ovo Vegetarian: As the reverse of lacto vegetarians, ovo vegetarians still eat eggs.
- Demi Vegetarian: Also called a pescetarian, demi vegetarians allow themselves to eat fish.
- Semi Vegetarian: Sometimes called the “flexitarian” diet, semi vegetarians try to cut back on their meat consumption but don’t follow the rules strictly and still allow themselves to have meat on occasion.
- Pollo Vegetarian: Though they avoid fish and red meat, pollo vegetarians keep dairy, eggs and poultry in their diet.
To supplement their diet with the protein they miss from meat, vegetarians and vegans can fill up on soy-based protein sources like tofu and tempeh, and other forms of beans, vegetables and plant-based sources are utilized.
In contrast, vegans are a category of vegetarian with a stricter stance of the use of animal products by humans. Most vegans believe that using animals to advance human goals is wrong, meaning that they object for the use of animals for any purpose. While cutting out meat from their diets, vegans also cut out animal products altogether, including dairy, eggs, honey and more.
For this reason, vegans avoid any products that caused animal suffering and instead seek out cruelty-free alternatives like plant or plastic-based vegan leathers.
Vegans are also more likely than vegetarians to rely on simulation dairy products like soy cheese and nut milks.
It’s also common for vegans to boycott any form of perceived animal abuse, including zoos, aquariums, circuses and even petting zoos.
What vegans and vegetarians have in common is that they find it important to restrict the amount of animal products they consume in their daily lives.
Whether their concern comes from animal cruelty, the ecological devastation caused by factory farms, or the harm effects of animal products for their health, vegans and vegetarians alike believe strongly enough in their convictions to make a stand through their diet.
While vegans and vegetarians find it preferable to avoid eating animals, they differ on whether it’s ethical to use animal byproducts like dairy and eggs.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF GOING VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN
The research is in, and it reveals that going vegan or vegetarian can do incredible things for your overall health. The evidence shows that veganism is a healthy choice throughout any stage in life, and that vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be low in saturated fat and cholesterol, while containing considerable amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Because cutting out meat and other animal products limits the kinds of foods you consume, many vegans and vegetarians naturally fill their diets with nutrient dense foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts instead.
Plant-based diets are also naturally beneficial for getting rid of food allergens to shellfish and dairy, and studies have shown that non-meat eaters are about 20% less likely to die from heart disease.
Likewise, vegans and vegetarians tend to live longer than meat eaters, and studies have tracked up to 12% fewer deaths over the course of their study when compared to control groups, regardless of the calorie intake of the participants.
While correlation doesn’t necessary imply causation, the evidence shows that the people who eat less meat tend to eat a healthier diet than the rest of the population.
THE DIFFICULTIES OF FOLLOWING AN ALTERNATIVE DIET
While cutting meat from your diet can be a smart choice, it’s certainly not without difficulties. According to the most recent scientific research, following either vegan or vegetarian diets can be healthy, so long as you balance out your diet with healthy, whole foods. However, there’s a lot to consider before adopting one of these diets besides health benefits.
For one thing, you need to gauge your level of commitment to following a new diet. Vegetarians often struggle to find much that they can eat at dinner parties and restaurants, and the problem is significantly worse for vegans.
This means that following a healthy, wholesome vegan diet requires lots of planning and preparation time to ensure you always have food available that fits your nutritional needs.
This can make it harder to be spontaneous with your food choices, which can become frustrating for many followers.
According to a study published in the Humane Research Council 80 percent of vegans and vegetarians eventually go back to their previous eating habits. This is often caused by the inconvenience of following a different eating strategy and the social isolation that comes from avoiding food in public spaces.
To make going vegan or vegetarian an easier transition for you, it’s better to pull out animal products from your diet gradually so that the transition period becomes less extreme.
RISKS OF GOING WITHOUT ANIMAL PRODUCTS
Cutting out animal products from your diet completely is not without risk. Vegans are especially prone to facing potentially dangerous nutrient deficiencies like iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin D. It can also be hard for vegans and vegetarians alike to keep their vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acid levels high.
For this reason, vegans and vegetarians alike should consider supplementing their diet with daily vitamins and supplements to keep their levels of these critical nutrients high.
VEGAN VS. VEGETARIAN: WHICH DIET IS HEALTHIER?
Choosing what’s healthier between a vegan and vegetarian diet can be tricky, as they both provide different health benefits. When it comes to general health, a vegan diet seems to have the advantage. Compared to a lacto-ovo (dairy and eggs) vegetarian diet, vegans tend to have a lower BMI score and lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
Vegans also have a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease, compared to an 18 percent lower risk for vegetarians. Likewise, decades long studies have shown that vegans have a 26 percent lower risk of death from any cause over the course of the study compared to the general population, which is slightly better than the 23 percent risk of vegetarians.
However, vegan diets are more restrictive, meaning that they are likely to be low on nutrients if not well balanced, especially protein, omega-3 acids, vitamin B12 and calcium, which can put them at risk for disorders like inferior bone development, increased fractures, fatigue, neurological problems, hair loss and even an increased risk of breast cancer.
In contrast, lacto-ovo vegetarians still experience the health benefits attributed with going meatless, but they run less risk of being deficient in the nutrients primarily found in animal products.
Another concern for vegetarians is that cutting meat out of food makes it surprisingly easy to supplement your diet with excessive amounts of cheese and egg.
Not only can this ramp up the calorie content in many foods, it also adds lots of saturated fats and cholesterol to your diet.
Because vegans forgo these foods completely, they tend to have much lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
So which diet is healthier in the long run? That depends less on the foods that you cut from your diet, and more on what you fill it with. Both vegan and vegetarian diets have been shown to be extremely healthy, but only when they are filled with a wide variety of healthy, whole foods.
Knowing whether to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet can be tricky. Both eating patterns promise to make a difference for your health by cutting out animal-based sources of cholesterol, saturated fats and other ingredients that are unhealthy in large amounts.
While vegans tend to experience the best overall benefits from their diet, they also need to be the most creative with tracking their daily nutrients to ensure that they get sufficient amounts in and avoid suffering the health problems that come with deficiencies.
In contrast, vegetarians are usually healthier than the general population, though they tend to have a greater risk of chronic disease than vegans do.
However, a vegetarian diet is typically easier to follow, making it easier for consumers to stick with in the long run.
If you are devoted to doing what’s best for your body and are ready to pay attention to your daily nutritional needs, a vegan diet might be the right choice for you.
However, if you want to cut out meat from your diet but don’t want to commit to cutting out animal products completely, a vegetarian diet might make more sense.
For many plant-eating enthusiasts, turning towards a vegan diet is a progression.
Most start by going vegetarian, and then gradually cut out eggs and dairy as their bodies adjust to the change. This makes it easier to manage nutrient needs without having to focus on every meal, as the transition will feel more natural.
Our best recommendation is as follows.
Cutting out meat from your diet is almost guaranteed to do incredible things for your health, so even just reducing what you eat on a weekly basis is a great idea. Studies consistently show that vegetarians tend to be healthier than the general population, and vegans are even healthier than vegetarians.
However, it’s easier to be nutrient deficient on a vegan diet than a vegetarian one, so committing to an entirely plant-based diet means taking ownership of your nutritional needs to stay healthy. So long as you plan ahead of time and know what you are committing to, committing to a vegan or vegetarian diet is a smart solution for your health.
Now, let’s hear from you. Have you tried committing to a plant-based diet before? Did it make a positive difference for your health? Let us know your experience!