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Diving into plant-based lifestyles: Differences between vegan and vegetarian

Whether you’re considering adding a plant-based spin to your dietary habits or are just confounded by the set of labels you see in culinary circles, you’re bound to be confronted by the classic question – what’s the difference between ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’? We’re setting the record straight with this quick guide.

The scores of mock-meats and milk alternatives flooding the aisles of grocery stores and menus of most eateries have brought with them different, often confusing tags. Of these, the most popular are the ones that spell ‘vegan,’ and ‘vegetarian.’ And while they seem interchangeable at the outset, a quick glance at the ingredients list is all it takes to learn exactly how different they are. We’re exploring aspects of both by sticking our nose into the plant-based guidebook.

What is vegetarianism?


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A post shared by The Vegetarian Society (@the_vegetarian_society)

The Vegetarian Society defines vegetarians as people who don’t consume products that stem from animal slaughter. This largely includes red meat, poultry, seafood, insects, and stocks or other products derived from animal protein and fats. However – depending on the consumption of a few other byproducts of animals – vegetarians can further identify as:

  1. Lacto ovo-vegetarian: Refers to people who avoid all types of meat and seafood but consume dairy and eggs.
  2. Lacto-vegetarian: Refers to people who don’t eat meat, seafood, or eggs but consume dairy.
  3. Ovo-vegetarian: Refers to people who don’t eat meat or seafood but consume eggs (and potentially dairy)

In addition to this, certain people identify as pescetarians (semi-vegetarian which involves avoiding meat and most types of seafood other than fish. This may or may not include dairy and eggs. Reportedly, vegetarianism dates as far back as 700 B.C and could be practiced for reasons that include health, ethics, environmentalism, and religion.

What is veganism?

The Vegan Society defines veganism as a way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as practicable – all forms of exploitation or cruelty to animals. This could be for food, clothing, or any other purpose. This translates to a diet that does not include meat, seafood, eggs, insects, dairy, or honey. It also involves avoiding leather, alcohol processed with animal by products, places that hold animals in captivity, and products tested on animals.

Differences between vegans and vegetarians

Both vegans and vegetarians reduce the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions – which are directly linked to meat production. Studies state that a global shift to plant-based diets could reduce gas emissions by up to 70 percent by 2050. That, along with reduced pollution and contamination of streams and rivers – also caused by livestock production – make them an environmentally sound choice. Vegans, in fact, are believed to have the lowest carbon footprint.

Additionally, both diets are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, each with high amounts of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Poorly plan either of them and you’re bound to have vitamin deficiencies – especially B12 and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. That aside,, both diets are considered safe to follow at all stages of life. However, a few notable differences include:

  1. Ideology: Vegetarianism is largely a dietary choice, often taken up due to health, environmental, religious, or ethical reasons. At its heart, however, is the intention to end all cruelty to animals.
  2. Nutrition: Although both vegan and vegetarian diets need good meal–planning to ensure adequate nutrition, vegans are more likely to have lower levels of vitamins B12, D, and iron as opposed to vegetarians. This might be since the latter includes the consumption of dairy and eggs which are high in these nutrients.
  3. Lifestyle: While vegetarians and vegans seem to avoid animal products for similar reasons, the choice is more lifestyle-based for vegans. This is since the latter also avoid silk, wool, leather, and suede and boycott companies that exploit animals in any way. They also avoid any and every animal by-product. This does not hold true for vegetarians.
  4. History: While vegetarianism and diets like it can trace their origins back to 700 B.C, veganism reportedly came about sometime during the 1940s.

Celebrities who follow a plant based lifestyle

What remains common between both the diets, however, is that with climate change being a crisis, they’re triggering a wave of change in the culinary world. Let’s just say that Meatless Mondays are here to stay. Bearing this in mind, several celebrities have switched over to vegan or vegetarian diets. Here are a few you should know of:



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  1. Will. I. Am
  2. Billie Eilish
  3. Jessica Chastain
  4. Natalie Portman
  5. Leonardo Dicaprio
  6. John Abraham
  7. R. Madhavan
  8. Sonam Kapoor Ahuja
  9. Lewis Hamilton
  10. Sadie Sink



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A post shared by Virat Kohli (@virat.kohli)

  1. Shahid Kapoor
  2. Vidya Balan
  3. Sonu Sood
  4. Kartik Aaryan
  5. Paul McCartney
  6. Kristen Bell
  7. Kristen Wiig
  8. Akshay Kumar
  9. Vidyut Jamwal
  10. Virat Kohli

Feature image: Courtesy Tangerine Newt/Unsplash; Hero image: Courtesy Victoria Shes/Unsplash 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: What is the difference between vegetarianism and veganism?

Answer: A vegan diet excludes all meat and animal products (meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy, and eggs), whereas a vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. However, there are a few vegetarian diet variations depending on whether you eat or exclude eggs, dairy, and fish.

Question: What does it mean to be a vegan?

Answer: Vegans all follow a plant-based diet that excludes all animal foods such as meat (including fish, shellfish, and insects), dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as animal-derived materials, products tested on animals, and businesses that use animals for entertainment.

Question: What are the different types of vegetarians?

Answer: There are 5 types of vegetarians: Lacto-vegetarian, Ovo-vegetarian, Lacto-ovo vegetarian, Pescatarian, Vegan.

Diving into plant-based lifestyles: Differences between vegan and vegetarian

Eshita is a food, alcohol, travel, and entertainment writer who spends her days zeroing in on the next big trend to write about. She’s a communication graduate with bylines in Conde Nast Traveller India, GQ India, Deccan Herald, and Girls Buzz. When not at work, you’re likely to find her hunting for a good read or charting out the perfect itinerary for a solo trip across Asia.

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