Vegan, vegetarian and plant-based diets have been increasing in popularity over the years for many reasons, including but not limited to their health benefits and because of an increase in ethical clarity. Many are choosing a lifestyle in which they practice harmony with nature and animals, and these diets can support this much better. But what is the difference between them, and why are they great for us?
All three of these diets share very similar benefits, with the only differences being occasional meat consumption and animal bi-product consumption. The benefits of these diets are based on whether a healthy diet is consumed alongside the values of the diet. If meat and dairy products are cut out, but a high amount of processed and unhealthy foods are eaten in replacement then you will not get the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy diet.
A diet fully centered on plant and whole foods and mindfully minimal processed foods will benefit overall health- these whole foods usually contain heart-healthy fats instead of saturated fats and are a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals to help us fight illnesses. A diet that excludes meat encourages this consumption of more fruits, veg, whole grains, legumes, and other plant foods, which tend to be much higher in dietary fibre. Fibre feeds the good bacteria in the gut, meaning that your gut will be much more healthy. Therefore, consuming a diet that excludes fatty cuts of meat and high-fat content meat such as sausages and bacon, as well as dairy can mean you are consuming much fewer saturated fats and your cholesterol will be lower and far better regulated. A higher intake of fruit and veg with a reduced intake of fatty meats lowers the risk of heart disease, chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, and early death.
Limiting meat intake has been said to help reduce the risk of some types of cancers- red meat and processed foods have been linked with a higher risk of some cancers, whereas plant foods have been seen to have a protective effect against some cancers. Eating more plants and less meat can be great for the environment as meat production requires a lot more resources, more emissions, and contributes more to deforestation. By not supporting animal testing, you are sending the message to the market that you care about animals and want to stop cruelty to them- especially when it is not necessary at all. Plus, cruelty-free skincare products are often healthier and less toxic for the skin!
As a general rule, vegetarians do not consume meat from any animal- including red meat, poultry, and seafood, but may consume animal bi-products, such as egg and milk. They usually would also not consume rennet, gelatine, stock, or fats from animal slaughter.
There are a number of reasons why someone may want to live a vegetarian lifestyle- they may be hoping to supplement a healthy diet, may have religious restrictions, have moral and ethical concerns over the consumption of meat, or be actively involved in environmentalism.
There are a number of different types of vegetarianism in addition to the standard idea mentioned above. These include:
Lacto-Ovo: Someone practicing a Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian diet would not eat any meat, poultry or seafood, but would eat dairy products and eggs
Lacto: Someone practicing a Lacto Vegetarian diet would not eat any eggs, meat, poultry, or seafood, but would eat dairy products.
Ovo: Someone practicing an Ovo Vegetarian diet would not eat any dairy products, meat, poultry or seafood, but would eat eggs.
Pescatarian: Someone practicing a Pescatarian diet would not eat any meat or poultry, but would eat seafood, dairy products, and eggs.
Flexitarian: Someone practicing a Flexitarian diet would roughly follow a vegetarian diet but consume animal products occasionally.
Just because the vegetarian diet excludes meat, it doesn’t mean that it is an automatically healthy one. Processed and other unhealthy foods can often still be eaten by vegetarians, and so healthy meals should be planned and eaten to keep the diet healthy and full of necessary vitamins and minerals.
As a general rule, vegans do not consume any animal meat, including seafood and poultry, or animal bi-products. This means that alongside not eating dairy and eggs, they will also often not eat:
- Honey/ bee products
- Omega-3 from fish
- Some natural flavourings
- Isinglass- often found in beer and wine
- Whey, casein and lactose
A vegan lifestyle is one that expresses harmony with nature and animals, and they believe that animals have a right to be free from human use. Therefore reasons for veganism are usually ethical and environmental, with the added bonus of being healthy when done well. Alongside eating habits, vegans often extend these rules to their lifestyle choices, and would not use or entertain:
- Animal-derived materials, such as silk, wool, leather, and suede
- Soaps and candles containing animal fats
- Brands and products that’s test on animals
- Animal entertainment, such as circuses, zoos, and horse racing
- Animal testing for science purposes
While there are many alternatives to the foods that vegans cannot eat, these can sometimes be lacking in the necessary vitamins and minerals that people require for a healthy lifestyle. While vegans also have access to processed and unhealthy vegan-friendly foods, a diet full of leafy greens, fruit, veg, nuts, grains, and pulses is essential for keeping healthy. Alongside this, supplements may be taken to give vegans the vitamins and minerals that they may still be lacking due to the loss of meat and animal bi-products.
You would think that due to wine being the product of grapes and yeast that it would always be suitable for vegans, but this isn’t actually always the case. Many wine producers around the world use animal-derived products to work as a filter to remove small particles of sediment that cannot otherwise be moved by standard filtration. Sometimes fish bladders (isinglass), gelatine, bone marrow, milk protein (casein), fish oil or egg whites may be used for this process, and such processes are regarded as the traditional way to filter wine without removing flavour. However, thankfully, companies are finding much better, vegan alternatives to this process, such as using Bentonite which is a form of clay protein, plant proteins, or simply leaving the sediment in the wine to sink to the bottom of the bottle. While before it hasn’t been hugely straightforward to tell which wines were vegan-friendly, many more wine retailers and supermarkets have become much better at labelling and marketing their vegan wines. There has also been a dramatic increase in vegan wines available to buy easily, which is fantastic news for those aiming to avoid animal bi-products in their tipple.
Plant-based diets refer to the consumption of foods deriving from plants, and often either completely cut out or limit consumption of animal meat, seafood, and poultry. In this sense, plant-based diets are a lot less of a ‘one size fits all’ approach and more of a flexible diet that centers on eating healthy and plant-heavy.
Unlike vegans, people following plant-based diets may still utilise inedible animal products, such as leather or animal-tested items. This is because the plant-based diet is often less focused on ethics and morality and more on weight loss and environmental concerns.
A plant-based diet often avoids processed foods, but may still include plant-based meat alternatives in order to access additional protein. They might also avoid refined grain, snack foods, and sugary drinks, making it a fantastic diet to help with weight loss.
Because each of these diets is cutting out major foods groups, there are some alterations that may be necessary to remain healthy and receive vitamins and nutrients the body needs:
- Protein: No longer being received from meat, vegan, vegetarian and plant-based protein alternatives include tofu, tempeh, seitan, lentils, beans, nutritional yeast, spelt, quinoa, oats, nuts and seeds, chia seeds, and soy milk.
- Vitamin B12: This vitamin works to support the nervous system and keeps cardiovascular health in check, as well as helping to prevent anemia. It is usually found in meat, seafood, dairy and eggs, so can easily start to lack in these diets. Alternative plant-foods foods containing B12 include nutritional yeast, marmite, fortified plant milks, fortified cereals, plant-based meats and tempeh.
- Calcium: Found in dairy and tinned fish, calcium is essential for building and sustaining strong bones. Alternative sources include leavy greens, fortified plant milks, pulses, sesame seeds, calcium-set tofu and dried fruits.
- Zinc: Found in red meat and poultry, zinc helps your immune system and metabolism function well. Alternative sources include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, some nuts and seeds, and quinoa.
- Iron: Iron is largely found in red meat and poultry, and assists the body in growth and development. Alternative sources can be found in lentils, tofu, cannellini beans, fortified cereals, spinach and dark chocolate.
There’s no denying the benefits that practicing a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet can offer- as long as we follow healthy diets and don’t rely on processed foods. A reduction in risk of diseases and increased overall health are among the many benefits. Even just reducing meat intake and increasing plant intake can be beneficial to the environment and your overall health, so its definitely worth a try!
Here at The Pure Package, we offer vegetarian and vegan packages to suit your eating choices and support you through your speciality diets. For those not wishing to cut out meat and perhaps instead wanting to ensure their food is healthy and plant-based, all of our meals at The Pure Package are designed to be plant-based first before the addition of any meat- meaning that you are sure to receive all of your important vitamins and nutrients that plant foods offer, as well as any meat protein you may also wish to receive in your day-to-day diet.