Those unfamiliar with the terms "vegan" and "vegetarian" have probably pondered the difference between the two. Aren't they both synonymous, with a shared meaning of a person who does not eat any type of meat? Not exactly.
The term "vegan" is actually one of the sub-categories that falls under vegetarian. While both vegans and vegetarians refrain from eating any type of meat, poultry, fish or any other kind of seafood, vegans follow an even stricter diet and lifestyle than their vegetarian counterparts. In a vegetarian diet, one is allowed to eat animal bi-products like milk, cheese and eggs.
Vegans, on the other hand, do not eat any animal bi-products, nor do they use any products produced by animals in general. For example, vegans do not wear any clothing that comes from animals like wool or leather. In some cases, vegans will go as far as refraining from honey and yeast in their strict diet.
If you are thinking about trying one of these diets, you need to consider which one appeals to you and any possible health risks. In most cases, vegetarians, including the sub-class of vegans, are just as healthy as non-vegetarians. However, a diet lacking the nutrients provided by meat, fish and poultry would need a sufficient amount of dietary supplements if those nutrients cannot be obtained directly from a vegetarian diet.
Vegetarian is a broad term, used to describe a person who refrains from eating any form of meat, poultry or seafood. Here is a list of the various types of vegetarians:
- Semi-vegetarian: The term "semi-vegetarian" has been used to describe a person who is mainly vegetarian, but occasionally consumes meat, fish or poultry. In some cases, a semi-vegetarian will only refrain from eating a specific type of animal rather than all animals. An example would be a person who chooses to eat fish and poultry, but refrains from eating any type of meat like pork or beef. Because the inclusion of meat in their diet negates the whole concept of a vegetarian lifestyle, semi-vegetarians are sometimes referred to as "flexitarians."
- Ovo-lacto-vegetarian: An ovo-lacto-vegetarian is a person who does not eat the flesh of animals, but does eat animal bi-products like eggs and milk. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians are considered to be the largest group of vegetarians. The inclusion of eggs and milk allows these types of vegetarians to gain most of the vital nutrients they would typically be missing by not eating any meat, poultry or seafood.
- Ovo-vegetarian: Vegetarians who consume eggs, but no other animal bi-product like dairy products are considered ovo-vegetarians. In fact, the only thing that keeps an ovo-vegetarian from being classified as a vegan is the eggs that are allowed in their diet.
- Lacto-vegetarian: A lacto-vegetarian is someone who follows a vegetarian diet and consumes dairy products like milk and cheese, but no eggs. Similar to ovo-vegetarians, the addition of one, specific animal bi-product in their diet prevents them from being classified as a vegan.
Although vegans are still considered a type of vegetarian, many people prefer classifying them in their own specific category. There are many reasons a person may choose the strict diet and lifestyle of a vegan, free of any form of animal products in his/her life. Some people choose to be vegans for health reasons, some for environmental reason, while others for purely ethical reasons like the proper treatment and preservation of animals. Whatever the reason may be, it is important to look for the necessary foods and supplements to obtain the nutrients that may be lost with such a strict diet. Foods that contain the same nutrients as the ones found in animal products include:
- Whole wheat grains
- Soy and soy milk
- Dark green vegetables
There are numerous health concerns associated with vegetarians, and a diet that lack the nutrients found in many different types of animals. However, studies have shown that there is not a large margin of difference between the health of vegetarians and non-vegetarians. In fact, certain studies have shown that vegetarians tend to be healthier than non-vegetarians, with lower levels of obesity, lower cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease. These findings are attributed to the consumption of larger amounts of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fruits, which substitute animal meat.
Health concerns surrounding a vegetarian diet, especially an extreme one's like a vegan diet, bring up a lack of nutrients typically derived from animal meat. These nutrients include:
A poorly planned vegetarian diet that doesn't include the daily recommended amount of these nutrients from other food sources or dietary supplements can lead to various health complications.
Technically speaking, vegans fall under the classification of vegetarians, but they are not the same. The main difference between vegans and any other types of vegetarians are their choice not to eat, nor use anything that comes from an animal. Think of what diet and lifestyle is right for you, and remember to properly plan your meals to ensure an adequate supply of the necessary nutrients for a healthy body.