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Vegan vs. Vegetarian: The Pros and Cons of Each

12 Jul 2021

A bowl of kale salad with cranberries next to half of an avocado and a jar of pecans

There are many reasons why people might opt to cut meat out of their diet. Some may do it for religious or spiritual reasons. Some may do it for environmental reasons. Some may have a moral objection to consuming animal flesh. And some may simply be looking for a healthier way of eating.

What's the Difference Between Vegans and Vegetarians?

A vegetarian is someone who does not eat the flesh of any animal, including red meat, poultry, and seafood. The vegetarian spectrum is pretty wide, with a lot of variation. Some vegetarians (pescatarians) will eat seafood but avoid red meat and poultry. Some (lacto vegetarians) will consume dairy but not eggs, while others (ovo vegetarians) are okay with eggs but abstain from dairy.
And then, there are the vegans. Veganism is defined by the Vegan Society as "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude--as far as is possible and practical--all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose."

In terms of diet, this means excluding not only meat, but dairy, eggs, and any other ingredients derived from animals--honey, gelatin, whey, carmine, pepsin, shellac, casein, albumin, and some forms of vitamin D3.

The Benefits of Vegetarian/Vegan Diets

According to the American Dietetic Association, a properly-planned vegetarian (or vegan) diet consisting of nutrient-dense foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy products) offers the following benefits:

  • Lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower rates of hypertension
  • Lower rates of type 2 diabetes
  • Lower body mass index
  • Lower overall cancer rates


Vegetarian or Vegan: Which Is Healthier?

A vegetarian or vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of life, as long as it is properly planned.

The main danger of a meat-free diet is that some nutrients--protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins D and B-12--are usually derived from the consumption of meat. With adequate planning, a vegetarian/vegan diet will be able to meet the recommendations for all of these, with the added bonus of being lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Vegan diets are slightly more effective than vegetarian diets in terms of controlling weight and reducing the risk of some diseases. However, a poorly-planned vegan diet is much more likely to cause nutritional deficiencies.

So in the end, it comes down to personal choice. A vegan diet offers more health benefits than other vegetarian diets, but it's stricter and carries a higher risk of malnutrition. Whichever diet you choose, the most important thing is to plan it well to get the maximum benefit and avoid health problems over the long term.



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