Vegans and vegetarians are often lumped together, especially when being compared to those who follow a pescatarian diet (eating fish) or a more carnivorous diet. But when it comes to dietary habits, the vegan and vegetarian lifestyles can't be referred to interchangeably. Veganism is a subset of vegetarianism, so while all vegans are also vegetarians, not all vegetarians are vegans. While they do have some similarities like incorporating a ton of fruits and vegetables (vegan and vegetarian health benefits are well-documented), each comes with its own practices and guidelines, with differences in everything from food consumption and clothing to product-use and politics.

vegetables on black background, including avocado, beans, carrots, and greens

Main Differences Between Vegans And Vegetarians

Although both vegans and vegetarians both avoid eating meat, there are a few major differences between the two diets. Here are the biggest distinguishing factors in a vegan vs. vegetarian diet:

Both Avoid Meat, But Only Vegans Avoid All Animal Products In Their Diet

Whereas vegans tend to live on a strictly plant-based diet, vegetarians can still eat animal products that don't require the slaughter of the animal, such as eggs, honey, and milk. Vegans avoid animal products completely because they believe that even though an animal was not killed for the food, they find the factory farms that produce eggs and the dairy industry objectionable or refuse to use a product created by an unwilling creature.

Vegans Avoid All Animal Products, Not Just Food

One of the most notable differences between vegans and vegetarians is that vegetarianism is mainly restricted to food products, whereas veganism extends to all animal-based products. Making the decision to go vegan is not simply about your diet, but how you live your life overall. Vegans avoid products such as leather, silk, furs, and products that have been tested on animals.

makeup on blue wooden background
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Is It Healthier To Be Vegan? Or Vegetarian?

Both veganism and vegetarianism have health benefits that make these diets appealing. They share many of the same benefits and drawbacks, but there are some distinct differences to keep in mind when considering switching to one or the other.

Health Benefits

The vegan diet is ranked as the nineteenth best diet overall by U.S. News and World Report, which cites veganism as a heart-healthy way to lose weight and prevent diabetes. The vegetarian diet, on the other hand, is ranked eleventh best diet overall, also due to its promotion of heart health, weight loss, and diabetes prevention.

Both of these plant-centric diets have been linked to a lower risk of death by heart disease and stroke. Foregoing meat has also been linked to a decreased risk of certain cancers and lower cholesterol levels.

Additionally, dietary cholesterol is found only in animal products, meaning vegetarians often end up consuming more of it than vegans. While there are debates over just how impactful dietary cholesterol is on health, the FDA describes it as "a nutrient to get less of."

happy woman eating salad

Potential Health Risks

When it comes to health concerns with becoming a vegan or vegetarian, most of the concerns involve not receiving enough of certain nutrients. For example, meat such as pork, beef, and chicken are many people's main source of protein.

However, as long as a vegan or vegetarian considers their nutritional needs and makes a plan for their diet, getting enough protein is easy. There are many sources of protein that are vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, including chickpeas, tofu, and vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, and corn.

The National Institutes of Health list strict vegetarians and vegans as one of the main groups at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since animal products are the only natural source of B12. Fortunately, B12 can be found in fortified breakfast cereals and non-dairy milks. If you're still concerned about your nutrient intake, an easy way to make sure you stay healthy on a vegan or vegetarian diet is by taking supplements such as B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

strawberries, blueberries, and other fruits with a bottle of supplements on a wood table
Supitcha McAdam/Shutterstock

What Is Veganism?

Veganism takes vegetarianism a step further -- along with omitting all meat, vegans also forego all animal-based products including dairy, eggs, and honey. Because vegans often choose this lifestyle in the name of animal rights, they often don't use products that have been tested on animals -- whether makeup, cleaning products, or otherwise -- and do not purchase items that are made from animals such as leather jackets, fur coats, and reptile-skin boots. Alongside objecting to the treatment of animals, some people choose veganism for environmental reasons as well, citing animal-based diets' impact on land use and emissions.

Protein Sources?

While they don't have as many options as vegetarians, vegans still have a wide variety of protein sources available. Meat alternatives such as tofu and tempeh make up for any lost protein content in previously meat-based dishes, and beans and lentils are easy sources for high protein content. Seeds and nuts make for easy snacks or additions to dishes that can help vegans make sure they meet their daily protein needs.

Even common vegetables such as corn, broccoli, and kale contain a fair amount of protein, alongside a variety of other key nutrients.

It's also important to consider the risks of having too much protein in your diet-- regardless of whether or not you choose to go vegan or vegetarian, it's important to keep track of your consumption of certain nutrients.

vegan burger made from beets and chickpeas

What Is Vegetarianism?

Vegetarianism is the practice of eliminating meat entirely from your diet. This can be done for any number of ethical or dietary reasons. There are three types of vegetarians:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat dairy products and eggs
  • Lacto-vegetarians, who eat dairy products but not eggs
  • Ovo-vegetarians, who eat eggs but not dairy products

While some vegetarians limit their use of non-food animal products, it isn't a requirement. The only key part of vegetarianism is avoiding meat consumption.

Protein Sources?

While vegetarians are able to consume any of the protein sources we listed in the vegan section, they're also able to take advantage of the high protein content of several animal-based products. Dairy products such as greek yogurt and cottage cheese make excellent sources of protein. Milk and eggs are classic protein sources, and whey protein powder can transform a smoothie into a protein powerhouse.

Are There Any Similarities?

The most apparent similarity between vegans and vegetarians is that neither group consumes any meat, including seafood and poultry. Because meat is cut from their diet, both groups turn to other foods to replenish the nutrients usually provided by meat, such as eating soy products and legumes for protein sources.

Both vegans and vegetarians often pursue these dietary lifestyles for similar reasons -- for animal rights, the environment, religious or political reasons, or a combination of all of them. While some may find the idea of a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle inconvenient or uncomfortable, the important thing is that vegans and vegetarians are pursuing a diet and lifestyle that helps make them happy and healthy.

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