Why Going Vegan Is Not the Same as Eating a Plant-Based Diet

Updated 01/28/18
Plant-based vs vegan
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If we were to ask you what the difference is between a plant-based and vegan diet, you'd be forgiven for scratching your head thinking, Hang on, aren't they the same? Well, we're here to tell you that they're not. Despite the fact that over the past few years, many an A-lister has said they're following a "vegan" diet, in actual fact, they're really eating a plant-based diet. So what's the deal? Before we reveal the ins and outs of vegan and plant-based eating, we first spoke to Elisa Allen, director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who cleared up the confusion.

"Being vegan isn't just about what we put on our plates," says Allen. "It's a lifestyle that seeks to reduce the amount of animal suffering in the world." This means that while those who eat a plant-based diet might wear leather or fur, vegans do not. The confusion cleared up, she also revealed that one in five 18- to 24-year-olds in Britain now avoids eating meat altogether, according to research by Mintel. In addition, last year more than 70,000 people downloaded or ordered PETA's free vegan starter kit. Allen reckons that number will only increase in 2017.

Evidently, following either diet is big news right now. But how do you go about finding out which one is right for you? We spoke to Jo Travers, author of The Low-Fad Diet and a professional nutritionist, who broke down the differences between the two and how to do each one. Keep scrolling for your guide to the plant-based versus vegan diet debate, plus how to follow each one.

Vegan

"The vegan diet started from an ethical perspective," Travers explains. Essentially, anything that exploits animals, including honey and eggs, isn't allowed. Being a vegan is embedded in "the moral and ethical point of view." The challenges, however, that being vegan can have on your diet are many. That's not to say that all vegans are unhealthy—far from it. Many are incredible at being able to get all the nutrients they need for their diets.

In terms of protein, says Travers, when you're vegan, lots of plant proteins don't have the amino acids you need. While beans, pulses, chickpeas, and grains are great and can help, they still lack some of the vital amino acids. To get everything you need, you should combine them all, although you don't have to do this at every meal. Things like beans on toast, rice and peas, and lentils and naan bread provide you with all your amino acids.

Another area that's important, which can be overlooked with the vegan diet, is the number of minerals and vitamins lost. Travers mentions the four key vitamins that are necessary for everyone's diet (iron, B12, zinc and calcium) are easily missed with a vegan diet. "You can't get B12 with a vegan diet, as it's only found in animal products, so you therefore need a supplement," advises Travers. Try Amazon best-seller Nu U Nutrition Vitamin B12 Tablets (£13).

As for everything else, you'll find calcium in beans, chickpeas, lentils and dark greens; zinc in nuts; and iron in chickpeas. However, one interesting note is that the phytic acid present in wholemeal bread can actually prevent the absorption of iron, so white bread is actually better for vegans.

Plant-Based

As for plant-based diets, Travers explained that it's less focused on the idea of animal exploitation than the vegan diet is, and you'll find that those who follow this diet will eat small amounts of animal products.

To understand more about a plant-based diet, I also spoke to food blogger and nutritionist Pixie Turner, who runs Plant-Based Pixie. "It's important to make a distinction between 'plant-based' and 'plant-only'," says Turner. "You can be a plant-based vegan, a plant-based vegetarian, or just plain-old plant-based."

Essentially, there are overlaps between a vegan diet and a plant-based diet, but vegan is completely free of animal products, and plant-based just discourages the consumption of meat products. In terms of which diet is better, however, "it very much depends on the person," she notes.

From what I gathered from Turner, plant-based is a little easier, as it's flexible and lets you play with a few animal products if you want, such as eggs and dairy, and minimal meat. Plant-based also entails focusing on nutrient-dense foods rather than processed foods.

As most plant-based diets are healthy (thanks to the emphasis on less processed and more whole foods), Turner said that she doesn't calculate calories or macros. "I just make sure there's a variety of colour and vegetables and some form of protein, which usually comes in the form of beans and pulses," she explains.

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Next up! 13 must-try vegan makeup brands.

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