It is commonly known that a well-balanced diet is important, and that including more plant-based food choices into your diet is the key to improving your health.
You might wonder, however, how a flexitarian plant-based diet compares to vegan and vegetarian diets, as well as what the specific differences are between these two diets. You may also wonder what exactly is involved in maintaining a vegan diet, compared to a vegetarian diet.
What Is a Plant-Based Diet?
A plant-based diet encourages a focus on eating plant foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds, while discouraging processed foods. With the aim being eating more plant based foods, rather than focusing on what not to eat, small amounts of meat and dairy products may still be consumed. This is why this is also sometimes called a flexitarian diet.
Benefits of Plant Based Diets in General
Plant based diets have clear health benefits. Eating whole foods and choosing more plant foods lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Because these diets tend to be low in saturated fat, and are rich in healthy fats and fibre, they can improve overall health.
Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
Vegetarian and vegan diets are varieties of plant based diets that are a little more strict; both don't allow eating meat.
What’s the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan diet?
While both diets exclude eating animal flesh, vegans and vegetarians vary on how much they consider any animal products acceptable. Usually, a vegetarian diet excludes meat consumption, but allows other animal products, while vegan diets exclude any animal product.
Vegetarians do not eat animal flesh, poultry, fish or other seafood, but may have dairy products and eggs. This is often called a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, to be more specific, as there are variations of vegetarianism. For example, ovo vegetarians consume eggs, but no dairy, meat or seafood, while lacto vegetarians will have dairy products but not eggs, meat, or seafood. A pescetarian will eat fish, dairy and eggs, but no meat.
Vegans, on the other hand, do not consume any animal products at all; they do not consume dairy products, fish, seafood, eggs, or less obvious animal products like honey.
Veganism is usually more of a lifestyle choice, going beyond diet. As part of a vegan lifestyle, no animal derived products can be used, including leather shoes or clothing, as part of animal welfare concerns. Veganism does not allow for benefitting from any animal slaughter or animal exploitation, so leather, honey, or collagen, and other such products cannot be used. Any beauty product, supplement, or any other product for that matter, that has used animal testing is also off-limits.
Health Benefits of Veganism and Vegetarianism
Vegan and vegetarian eating is associated with lower risks of heart disease. Vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure and lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) than carnivores. Both diets are also associated with weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced inflammation in the body.
There is evidence indicating that carefully-planned vegan and vegetarian diets help control blood sugar and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Despite this, the various benefits are only achievable if you fully embrace eating plant foods that are also whole foods, and avoid processed ones. There are heavily-processed vegan junk foods, with poor nutritional value; eating these kinds of foods, while strictly vegan by definition, are not healthy and will not lead to the health benefits associated with the lifestyle. Avoiding vegan junk food is critical, as all food choices need to be nutrient-dense.
Necessary Nutrition for a Vegan and Vegetarian Diet
The key to a healthy diet, whether you choose a vegan or vegetarian diet, is to plan carefully to ensure you get all of the necessary essential nutrients. If you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you will need to eat alternative sources of protein, such as tofu, legumes, nuts, and tempeh.
You will need to consider dietary supplements and will probably need to consume fortified foods. Vitamin B12 is recommended when excluding all animal products, but iron, zinc, calcium and omega-3 supplements may also be required. Vegan-friendly options are available for all of these.
Easier Vegan Eating
La Dee Da Sauces has delicious, healthy vegan soups and sauces, to make it easier to eat healthily. Whether you are on a vegan or vegetarian diet or not, our vegan soups and sauces are delicious and nutritious. They are cost-effective, and convenient, but healthy.
Skip the processed convenience foods with no nutritional value. Instead, enjoy the health benefits of adding more healthy plant foods, while enjoying all the flavour.