Vegetarian vs Vegan vs Plant-Based Diet: Understanding the Differences

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to plant-based diets. You cannot be blamed if you’re struggling to put a label on your way of eating. In this article, we’ll review the differences between the vegetarian vs vegan vs plant-based diet.

We’ll also include carnivore, omnivore, pescatarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, Whole-Foods, Plant-Based (aka WFPB), raw vegan, and fruitarian to clarify, once and for all, what these diets mean and how they differ from one another.

Index

Carnivore Diet

🐮Meat: ✔︎ 🐟Fish and Seafood: ✔︎ 🥚Eggs: ✔︎ 🧀Dairy: ✔︎

🥦Vegetables: 🚫 🍎Fruit: 🚫 🍯Honey: 🚫

The carnivore diet (also termed the meat diet or the lion diet by some) is a diet that became popular in 2018. You can think of it as a more extreme form of the ketogenic diet.

In fact, it’s high in saturated fat but includes an even larger amount of animal protein. The main difference is that adherents of the carnivore diet will only eat animal products, skipping vegetables and fruits entirely. As a result, it’s also a zero-carb diet (though technically, it doesn’t have zero carbohydrates since both eggs and organ meat have a few carbohydrates in them).

Some will include low-lactose forms of diary (e.g., butter and heavy cream) and cheese since they are technically animal products. Others (including some vocal proponents) have restricted the diet further by limiting themselves to red meat or even just beef.

Needless to say, we discourage you from pursuing this nutritionally incomplete diet.

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Omnivore Diets

🐮Meat: ✔︎ 🐟Fish and Seafood: ✔︎ 🥚Eggs: ✔︎ 🧀Dairy: ✔︎

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ✔︎

The omnivore diet is not a specific diet but rather an umbrella classification for the majority of diets in existence.

For example, people eating an omnivore diet might choose to consume the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is full of processed foods or opt for alternatives that focus on whole foods (e.g., the paleo diet).

The common denominator, however, is the fact that omnivores will eat animal products as well as fruits and vegetables.

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Pescatarian Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: ✔︎ 🥚Eggs: ✔︎ 🧀Dairy: ✔︎

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ✔︎

The pescatarian diet (or pescetarian diet) is a diet that excludes animal products, exception made for fish/seafood and animal by-products. You can think of it as a vegetarian diet that adds fish and other seafood.

It would be a mistake to consider the pescatarian diet as a vegetarian diet, though. Eating fish is still eating animal flesh, even if some religions do not consider fish as meat.

It is sometimes classified as a semi-vegetarian diet.

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Vegetarian Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: ✔︎ 🧀Dairy: ✔︎

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ✔︎

The vegetarian diet is a diet that excludes all animal meat, including fish and seafood. It includes, however, animal by-products such as eggs, milk, and cheese (as well as honey).

As you’ll see in a moment, there are some variations of the vegetarian diet that exclude either dairy products or eggs. The version that includes both dairy and eggs is also known as the ovo-lacto vegetarian diet.

Vegan vs Plant-Based Diet
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Lacto-Vegetarian Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: 🚫 🧀Dairy: ✔︎

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ✔︎

The lacto-vegetarian diet is a vegetarian diet that includes dairy products such as cheese, butter, and milk, but excludes eggs.

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Ovo-Vegetarian Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: ✔︎ 🧀Dairy: 🚫

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ✔︎

The ovo-vegetarian diet is a vegetarian diet that includes eggs but excludes dairy products. A large percentage of the world population is lactose intolerant, so it’s not uncommon for vegetarians to opt for ovo-vegetarianism for health reasons.

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Plant-Based Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: 🚫 🧀Dairy: 🚫

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ⚖️

A Plant-Based Diet is a diet that excludes all animal products and by-products. (Honey is a special case and will be included by some and excluded by others.)

This means that a plant-based diet will typically include vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, mushrooms, oils, and even some processed foods such as meat substitutes that don’t include animal products.

Many plant-based eaters aim to keep the amount of processed food somewhat to a minimum, but the only real requirement to be able to claim that you’re plant-based is skipping all forms of animal products.

Here on Plant-Based.org, we are (obviously) proponents of the plant-based diet and its benefits.

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Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: 🚫 🧀Dairy: 🚫

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ⚖️

The Whole-Foods, Plant-Based (WFPB) diet is a plant-based diet that eliminates processed foods.

Fake meats and cheeses are obviously excluded. In addition, so are white rice and white bread, since they are also highly processed and stripped of the naturally occurring fiber in whole grains. Refined flours, grains, and sugars are all out, and so are processed oils.

As usual, honey is a contentious issue. Many will exclude it, while others might opt to include it.

We like this diet quite a bit here at Plant-Based.org, but we do acknowledge that an imperfect plant-based diet sustained over a long period of time is far better than a WFPB diet that you struggle to adhere to. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough!

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Vegan

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: 🚫 🧀Dairy: 🚫

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: 🚫

Being Vegan is not about the diet. Veganism is a philosophy and an ethical stance. The Vegan Society defines it as such:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

The Vegan Society

In practice, to understand the vegan vs plant-based issue, remember that vegans eat a plant-based diet but do so for ethical reasons and out of their concern for the welfare of animals. Being vegan also means avoiding leather, wool, supporting zoos, practicing fishing or hunting, etc.

We’ll discuss the vegan vs plant-based question more in the conclusion below.

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Raw Vegan Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: 🚫 🧀Dairy: 🚫

🥦Vegetables: ✔︎ 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: 🚫

A raw vegan diet is a whole-food, plant-based diet that further restricts the scope of what you can eat to foods that are not cooked.

It is not a common diet by any means, but it’s quickly becoming a diet that’s popular among celebrities.

While it is true that some foods are best absorbed in their raw form, other nutrients are better acquired in their cooked form. It’s also worth mentioning bacterial, viral or parasitic contamination concerns.

The British Dietetic Association classified it as one of the top 5 worst diets endorsed by celebrities. The US FDA, on the other hand, came up with a fact sheet including a list of not commonly eaten raw foods (PDF).

Cooking produce before it is consumed, whether commercially or by the consumer, can reduce the risk of serious adverse health consequences or death, which could occur if these commodities are consumed raw.

U.S. Food & Drug Administration

While there are certainly worse diets, here at Plant-Based.org, we do not recommend this diet.

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Fruitarian Diet

🐮Meat: 🚫 🐟Fish and Seafood: 🚫 🥚Eggs: 🚫 🧀Dairy: 🚫

🥦Vegetables: 🚫 🍎Fruit: ✔︎ 🍯Honey: ⚖️

Remember in the section above when we said that there are worse diets? Enter the fruitarian diet. A diet that further restricts the variety of foods you can eat to fruits only (though some adherents will include nuts and seeds).

This is a nutritionally incomplete diet that is dangerous for adults, and woefully inadequate for children.

Whenever you hear tragic stories in the news of children dying of malnutrition in the western world, you’ll notice a common pattern among them. In many cases, the parents subjected their infant or young child to a fruitarian (or raw vegan) diet.

Plant-based/vegan diets can be extremely healthy and well-balanced, so it’s also a shame that they get a bad reputation in the media due to people who opt for incredibly restrictive diets that end up hurting them or, worse, their children.

Another interesting observation is that the majority of people coming out as ex-vegans on YouTube share a past of experimenting with raw veganism, fruitarianism, or similar orthorexic diets. This is not by accident. You can deprive your body of the nutrients it needs only for so long before serious health problems emerge.

Our recommendation is to steer clear of this diet.

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Final Thoughts on Vegan vs Plant-Based

At this point, you should have a much clearer picture of what all these diets are and how vegan vs plant-based differ from each other.

Nevertheless, it warrants stressing the difference between vegan vs plant-based since as far as the diet is concerned, there isn’t really a distinction.

All vegans eat a plant-based diet, but not all plant-based dieters are vegan. In other words, if you eat a plant-based diet that excludes all animal products and by-products but you do so for health reasons or environmental reasons only, you’re plant-based and not vegan.

If you eat a plant-based diet but buy leather, wool, or silk. You’re plant-based, not vegan.

If you eat a plant-based diet but love taking your boat out for some bass fishing during the weekend, you are plant-based, not vegan.

If you eat plant-based most of the time but occasionally indulge in animal products, you’re plant-based and not vegan (since vegans do not turn on and off their interest for the welfare of animals).

It doesn’t mean that you can’t become vegan at some point, but you’re likely better classified as plant-based at this time. In fact, many go plant-based for their health and then end up discovering vegan documentaries that reorient their ethical compass.

(And if you’re plant-based on and off, you might be better categorized as a flexitarian.)

To preserve the distinction between vegan vs plant-based, when talking about the diet, consider saying, “I eat a plant-based diet because I’m vegan” if you are vegan, and “I’m plant-based” if you do so for health, environmental, taste, or other reasons unrelated to animals.

Though we are vegans here at Plant-Based.org, our site is called Plant-Based.org because we focus on the diet and nutritional aspect.

Keep in mind that all the distinctions outlined above tend to be broadly defined. There are some people who eat honey but still consider themselves vegan, fruitarians who include nuts, carnivores who drink milk, Whole-Foods, Plant-Based eaters who include oil, and so on.

There is no need to obsess over labels, as long as you understand the general distinction between vegetarian vs vegan vs plant-based.

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