Whether inspired by animal welfare, health reasons, a personal connection, the environment, or something else, making the switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is a big step, and it’s often intimidating for those who try. Many prospective vegans take the plunge into a more plant based lifestyle saying something along the lines of “But I could never give up cheese!” or “What will I do for breakfast without my scrambled eggs?”
Due to this fear of being required to give up some of their favorite foods, many people switching to a more plant based diet will take their first step by ditching meat and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle.
In order to more clearly lay out what the differences are between vegan and vegetarian, we’ve created an easy to understand guide that should help you on your journey into a plant based lifestyle.
What is a vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is a diet consisting of eating mostly plants with the exception of a few animal-derived food products. With the exception of some, vegetarian diets do not incorporate any meat from any animal, but do incorporate products that are made by or come from an animal.
There are a number of sub-groups that fall under the vegetarian umbrella. A lacto-vegetarian is one who eats predominantly plant based foods with the addition of dairy products. Dairy products that are included in this diet normally consist of milk, cheese, yogurt, and other products containing dairy ingredients. A lacto-ovo-vegetarian is one who consumes the above mentioned foods with the addition of eggs. A pesco-vegetarian is one who follows a vegetarian diet but also occasionally adds particular fish products to their diet. A semi-vegetarian is one who normally consumes a vegetarian diet, but will sporadically eat small amounts of poultry, dairy, and/or eggs on top of a mostly plant based regimen.
Although the vegetarian lifestyle and its many forms is a common choice around the world, the vegan diet is being adopted by more and more people at a rapid pace.
What is a vegan diet?
It’s a lifestyle
A vegan diet is a lifestyle choice containing nothing but plant based foods. That means no eggs, no dairy, no poultry, and no seafood. A vegan diet is one that is free from any exploitation of animals, and through a whole foods, plant based diet, anyone can thrive while knowing they’re making positive choices affecting the environment, their health and animals.
A vegan lifestyle consists of eating fruits and vegetables as you would imagine, but it also is home to amazing and delicious choices that satisfy our body’s need for protein and other nutrients. There are a variety of foods like tofu, tempeh, legumes and seeds that satisfy our daily requirements while still looking and tasting delicious.
And it’s easier than ever
Eating vegan has become easier over the years as well. If you would have asked a vegan how they eat a full, well-rounded diet a few decades ago, it would have required a little more creativity and discipline to ensure that all of their daily requirements were being met while simultaneously not feeling like they were sacrificing on variety and flavor. Nowadays, there is a vegan substitute for virtually anything non vegan under the sun.
Instead of needing a high end food processor to make a cashew and spice-based sauce to create an almost incomparable “cheese” product at home, there are now rows and rows of shelf space at many grocery stores dedicated to plant based cheeses that look, taste, and melt almost exactly like the real thing. In place of being solely reliant on tofu and beans or spending hours in the kitchen attempting to craft a tasty seitan loaf as a meat substitute, there are more brands than you can count on your hands producing vegan meat alternatives that range from turkey and salami, to beef tips and sweet and sour chicken. Instead of the only vegan thing that could withstand the tenacity of a grill top being vegetables & pineapple, there are now multiple plant based meat burgers, sausages, hot dogs and even steak.
Being vegan has never been easier and more enjoyable. Name brands that have thrived on non vegan snack options are now turning to formulate more vegan options to satisfy the demand of shoppers interested in a plant based, cruelty free lifestyle. You can find things like non dairy cheese puffs, soft-baked cookies made without eggs or milk, “bacon” flavored treats and even vegan jerky that is so close to the real thing, you’ll catch yourself looking at the bag twice to make sure you bought a vegan product.
What’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
The difference is simple. Any product made without the use of anything derived from or made by an animal is vegan. That can be tricky at times due to hidden ingredients or ingredients that are not clearly marked, though. You may think that as long as you don’t see things like “CONTAINS: MILK” or “CONTAINS: EGG” on the back you’re good to go. You may find a product that looks totally vegan while skimming through the nutrition facts and ingredients list, but the unfortunate reality is that some ingredients can be completely non vegan while being listed under the facade of a harmless looking ingredient name.
One example is confectioner’s glaze. Picture this: you’re walking through your favorite grocery store in the sweets aisle to satisfy that late night chocolate craving you often get. Your eyes come across a gorgeous new product you’ve never seen before that touts dairy free chocolate. You think you’re in the clear after reading the back label and seeing that no milk has been used in the process. You take it home and you enjoy it, never knowing that one little ingredient hiding towards the end, silently shattering your confidence in knowing how to tell what’s vegan when your vegan friend comes over and tells you what you just ate. Confectioner’s glaze does not require any allergen label like milk or eggs, making it harder to shy away from as a vegan. However, it is a resin secreted by an insect that many confection companies use in products to provide a shine or coating on their creations.
This is just one of many examples that make knowing the difference between vegetarian and vegan tougher than you may think.
Does veganism cost a lot of money?
No. Against many common misconceptions about veganism, it is actually one of the more cost effective lifestyles out there if one so chooses. Many meat and dairy products are quite expensive, and although there are plenty of vegan options that are costly as well, those are not required in order to be able to live a vegan lifestyle. Some of the cheapest foods out there are dried legumes and grains like black beans and rice. With correct planning and a little time spent in the kitchen each week, a vegan lifestyle can contribute to more money in your bank account and not in your stomach.
There are a plethora of plant based recipes and meal plans out there that lay out a clear and simple guide to living free from cruelty while staying within a tight budget. We love Toni Okamoto’s, “Plant Based on a Budget”, where she makes living vegan seem as easy and cost friendly as any diet you can find in the world.
Protein for meat eaters vs vegans and vegetarians
One of the most commonly asked questions vegans and vegetarians get from those who follow a diet more associated with omnivores and carnivores is, “Where do you get your protein from?”. There seems to be an enormous misconception that vegans and vegetarians are malnourished in the protein department, and the only way to get that protein requirement is by consuming large amounts of red meat, poultry, seafood, or other animal based food products.
Protein is not derived solely from animals. Yes, there is a large amount of protein in animal products, but that does not mean it is the only place we as humans can get our requirements of it. Vegans and vegetarians have been around for the span of lifetimes multiple times over, and there aren’t steady streams of cause of death reports stating that insufficient protein intake was the culprit.
Vegetarians are able to get a lot of protein from dairy products and eggs, however vegans aren’t missing out by not incorporating those foods into their diet. Protein is found in a number of vegetables, legumes, seeds, and vegan protein staples like tofu, tempeh and seitan. That is not even including all of the newer products on the market that imitate meat products with the same amount of even more protein-rich than the meat it’s imitating.
One of the largest benefits to getting your protein from vegan sources, other than abstaining from harming animals, is that there is no bad cholesterol or “LDL” in vegan protein sources. A Harvard publication recommends lowering intake of sources of animal-derived saturated fat (dairy and meat) in order to lower one’s cholesterol. The CDC states that having high cholesterol increases one’s risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death, and stroke, the fifth leading cause.
Tell me more about these vegan and vegetarian protein sources
Most people have heard of tofu, and perhaps have seen it in a thai dish at a restaurant before. One of the most amazing things about tofu is that it is the perfect host for any flavor your taste buds are in the mood for. With proper preparation, tofu can essential soak up any sauce or marinade you’d like to cook with, and it is delicious in most cuisines and recipes.
What about tempeh, though? Tempeh is a form of fermented soybean that imitates the texture of meat very well. It also is great to marinade and season, plus it is loaded with protein and is great for you. Cut it up into cubes for dinner or roast in the oven with seasoning to create a crunchy protein bite perfect on salads or on its own.
Seitan is one of the most meat-like meat substitutes out there. It is made by using vital wheat gluten, and when prepared and cooked can create a texture extremely similar to real meat. It also soaks up a variety of flavors very effectively.
I’m new here. Where can I discover and try more vegan options?
The market is rapidly moving to be more accepting and innovative with vegan products. Old brands are creating new vegan products, and new brands are popping up every day with the latest and greatest in vegan creativity. A great first foray into what the vegan world has to offer is by signing up for a Snack Box like the Vegancuts Snack Box, which delivers at least 12 plant based treats to your door every month. Our experts search every corner of the cruelty free world to discover new brands and new vegan friendly products to share with our subscribers. Reading labels and knowing what fits your goals can be a tough task, so we strive to bring you products you can trust while enjoying new innovations and flavors that are free from harm.