Veganism and Vegetarianism: The Basic Differences
Veganism and Vegetarianism seem like two sides of the same coin; they even sound the same. What exactly is the difference between them, and which diet should I be sticking to?
Social media has been taken over in the last few years with iconic influencers advocating the vegan lifestyle, claiming that it is a healthier way of living, while also saving the lives of vulnerable animals. Growing up I heard the word vegetarian thrown around a lot and I understood what it meant, but knew very few people who actually followed the diet. Veganism is a little different though, as there seem to be a lot more rules as to what you can and can't eat, as well as basic daily items that you can't use. Despite this, veganism has become increasingly popular, and I know many people who proudly shout "I'm a vegan!" to anyone that will listen and I see how it has improved their general fitness. Intrigued by this apparently ‘revolutionary’ way of life, I did some research in an attempt to find out exactly what it means to be a vegan.
It turns out that it is not as simple as cutting all animal products out of your diet … as for example, honey appears to be a grey area; some vegans say you can eat it and others look at you with disgust for even suggesting such a terrible thing.
After much research and confusion, I now feel confident that I know the basic differences between the two diets and the effects they have on your health. I have put together a list of the main differences that I found between veganism and vegetarianism, to try and help you make an informed decision as to the best diet for you.
Below are the main differences I found between the two diets:
The basic rules
To be able to call yourself a vegetarian you must have a meat-free diet, which includes both land animals and fish. Some people argue that fish can be eaten, but then they tend not to be considered a ‘true' vegetarian by others who follow the diet. Gelatin is included in the list of foods off limits, as it can only be made from animals. The general rule is that if an animal had to die for the food then you cannot eat it, but ingredients that are taken from living animals such as milk are okay. As a vegetarian, you can still eat dairy products and eggs because these are made by an animal rather than from the animal, which has to be killed.
Veganism appears similar at first; you cannot eat meat or fish; however, the list of banned foods is much wider. You cannot eat anything that has come from an animal, meaning that eggs and dairy products are also off limits. Following a strict vegan diet can prove to be quite limiting, with most processed foods containing some form of animal product. Even foods such as French fries, bread, and wine can provide animal products. Following a vegan diet means reading all food labels and cooking most of your meals from scratch.
People choose to become vegan and vegetarian for many reasons, some are, and for others, it's a moral choice. The ethical reasons behind the two lifestyles are slightly different, while both care about the wellbeing of animals and select such a diet to reduce animal suffering they do so to different extents.
A vegetarian believes that the killing of animals for our own gain is wrong and that we should not be enjoying food that required another to die for it. They, however, don't feel that taking products such as milk from a cow or eggs from chickens is immoral and are happy to consume them. This approach carries over to non-food items with vegetarians normally being happy to wear fur, wool, and leather. The reasons behind this moral stance can vary, some people believe that animals need humans to survive and that by still eating dairy and eggs they are supporting the farming industry. Other people believe that animals are not being hurt in the process of taking such products and therefore there is no moral issue.
To be a vegan is to take a stand against the whole animal industry, believing that any form of farming is cruel to animals and that humans should not have control of or use animals for their own gain. As a result, vegans do not participate in any part of the animal industry in the hope that one day it will no longer exist. Vegans tend to pride themselves on saving the planet and ensuring that it can be enjoyed for years to come.
This is not to say that a vegan care about animals more than a vegetarian just that they have a different approach to protecting animals.
Both diets come with health benefits as a result of not eating meat, while a vegan diet can have a more drastic effect on your health. As a result of not eating meat, your diet is going to contain less saturated fats and foods high in cholesterol, reducing your chances of heart disease and diabetes. A meat-free diet also tends to contain fewer calories and so can help you to manage your weight much more easily. Eating less meat means that you should be eating more vegetables and as a result increased levels of fiber that help to improve your digestion.
As a vegan, you can expect all of the above health benefits plus a few extras as a result of cutting out all animal products. It has been argued that dairy is bad for your skin and that switching to a vegan diet can help to improve your complexion. Eating a completely plant-based diet can also help to lower your blood pressure and improve your insulin response.
Regardless of which diet you choose, both will mean having to be more knowledgeable about the food that you are putting into your body. An increased awareness of the food you are eating tends to lead to a much healthier diet, actually having to plan daily meals rather than just grabbing a take away.
A balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet that includes all of the necessary nutrients can be a little trickier as a vegetarian or vegan, as our main sources of protein, calcium and specific vitamins comes from meat. This is not to say you cannot have a perfectly balanced diet but just that you have to be more aware of where such nutrients are coming from.
As a vegetarian you have less to worry about, are still able to consume dairy products, so calcium should not be a problem. Eating eggs means that you can compensate for the protein you would normally get from meat, with the added addition of nuts and pulses to boost your protein levels. As a vegetarian, the main concern is that you are getting enough iron and vitamin B12 in your diet. Iron can be found in nuts, beans, pulses and certain fruits. While B12 is in milk and eggs, it is worth noting that it is in much smaller amounts than those found in poultry and fish.
For vegans, ensuring that you have a balanced diet can be much harder, the lack of dairy and eggs leaves you heavily reliant on nuts, pulses and beans for both protein and iron. As for calcium foods such as soy, broccoli and kale do provide some of the required calcium that we need for a healthy diet, but you are probably going to have to rely on supplements, unless you enjoy spending your days munching on kale, in order to stay healthy.
Being a vegetarian is generally limited to diet and not eating anything that required an animal to be slaughtered. Being a vegan is much more of a lifestyle choice and ensuring that no animals are hurt in any aspect of your life. For this reason, vegans will not wear anything made from wool, leather, fur or any other animal's products. Cosmetics often contain animal products or have been tested on animals, this is the reason for the huge increase in vegan make-up and cosmetics over the last few years, as veganism has become more popular. I was surprised to find that even candles are off limits, as they are normally made from bees wax. Even tattoo ink can contain shellac which comes from beetles. To fully follow a vegan lifestyle you have to treat it like an allergy, checking labels and asking questions for almost everything that you buy. The good news is that there has been a huge increase in the number of vegan alternatives available on the market for almost everything.
Which diet is right for you?
As with everything, there is no one right answer to the question of whether a vegan or vegetarian diet is best. Yes, in an ideal world, animals would not have to suffer just so we can enjoy our favorite meaty meals but it is not that simple. Due to dietary restrictions and lifestyle choices for some of us cutting out all animal products is not even an option without putting our health at risk. A great example of this is YouTuber Raw Alignment, who recently switched back to eating meat after many years of promoting a vegan lifestyle having discovered that her health was suffering so drastically that she claimed to have not been able to perform daily tasks and felt constantly ill. There is no one size fits all answer.
If you are a regular gym goer, someone who prides themselves on their fitness levels and spends hours every week weight lifting and building muscle, then a vegan lifestyle is probably not for you. Protein is critical when working out and bulking up, without it you're going to have a tough time, you can always rely on supplements to get you through, but this is not an excellent long term, healthy solution.
Equally, if you have a food allergy that prevents you from eating nuts, soya or even certain fruits and vegetables, you are going to struggle and find yourself not just taking daily supplements but also having an extremely limited diet.
Trying a vegetarian diet is a good middle ground between veganism and animal eater, you can still reach for foods such as eggs and cheese as a source of protein and calcium without suffering the negative effects that come with eating meat.
All of this being said there are a lot of people who swear by a vegan diet and say that they have never felt healthier. It is all about balance if you are able to work every nutrient and vitamin into a vegan diet then there really are no negative effects; it is just something that might take a lot of hard work.
Additinoally, trying to eat as a vegan can be almost impossible to achieve, as there is secret meat product in almost everything you eat. Whether it be the anchovies in Worchester sauce in your vegetarian burgers, or the animal gelatin in almost everything, or even the feather extract within bagels (seriously, it’s a real thing. Look it up!), it is pretty much impossible to try and remain 100% vegan, 100% of the time.
My feeling is that there is no correct diet for everyone; only we know our bodies and can tell when our current diet does not seem to be agreeing with us. My advice, if you’ve been wanting to try out veganism or vegetarianism give it a go, you have nothing to lose just be willing to adapt along the way.
Let us know in the comments below if you have tried a vegan or vegetarian diet and which you would recommend.
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