The Difference Between Vegan And Vegetarian Diets, Explained

Medically Reviewed by Madeline Hubbard, RN, BSN

Photo Courtesy: Jessie Casson/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Those unfamiliar with the terms "vegan" and "vegetarian" have probably pondered the difference between the two. They both indicate that someone doesn't eat meat, right? So, aren't they synonymous? Not exactly. 

What these terms do have in common is that they both refer to dietary choices that limit one's intake of animal products. Vegetarianism, however, encompasses quite a few sub-categories — and one of those happens to be veganism. In non-vegan vegetarian diets, an individual won't eat meat, like poultry or beef, but they may consume other animal byproducts, such as milk, cheese and eggs. Vegans, on the other hand, follow the most restrictive form of vegetarianism and, as such, won't eat any animal byproducts. In most cases, vegans will also avoid using other, non-edible animal byproducts, such as wool or leather. 

Some folks choose to follow vegetarian or vegan diets due to health concerns, while others' choices stem from the fight for animals rights or to lessen one's impact on the environment. (After all, raising livestock consumes a lot of land and water, among other resources.) As of 2018, 5% of adults in the United States said they follow a vegetarian diet, while 3% reported following a vegan diet. 

So, whether you're interested in trying one of these diets for yourself or if you're going to be cooking for someone who is vegetarian or vegan, it's important to understand the fundamental differences between the terms.