Plant-Based, Vegetarian, or Vegan?

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Sometimes the terms plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan are used interchangeably even though they are very different things. You can be plant-based without being vegetarian or vegan. You can even be vegetarian or vegan without being plant-based. 

These labels are certainly not black and white!

In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan ways of life. Let’s start off with a very basic explanation of each lifestyle!

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Being “plant-based” simply means that an individual eats a diet that primarily consists of plants and real, whole foods. 

Some individuals who are plant-based are vegetarian or vegan. However, some still eat meat and dairy occasionally. 


Vegetarians do not eat any meat (eg: chicken, beef, pork, etc). 

Vegetarians do still consume dairy products and some may also choose to eat eggs or fish. 


A person who is vegan does not eat any meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or anything that comes from an animal source. 

Strict vegans also frequently avoid foods that may have been cross-contaminated by animal products – such as a vegan burger being cooked on the same surface as a regular hamburger.

It’s also important to note that some vegans choose their lifestyle for animal rights reasons and not necessarily for the health benefits. Some even go so far as to avoid beauty or household products that contain animal sources. For purposes of this article however, we’ll focus on those who go vegan for the health benefits. 

Now that you have a basic understanding of what each diet entails, let’s dive a little deeper into where these lifestyles may or may not overlap. 

As mentioned above, it’s possible to be plant-based without being vegetarian or vegan. For example, I’m plant-based and try to follow a 90/10 approach. This is where 90% of your daily calories come from plant-based and whole foods and 10% may come from non-plant sources (such as dairy or meat).

Many individuals who are plant-based try to limit their consumption of animal products to special occasions or when dining out and no other options are available. 

That’s easy enough to understand, right? But this next part is where a lot of people get confused. 

Most people would assume that anyone who is vegetarian or vegan are plant-based and that’s just not true.

A lot of people would also assume that the “healthiest” of these three options would be veganism, followed by vegetarianism, followed by the simpler plant-based lifestyle.

That’s also not necessarily true. 

There are so many processed vegetarian and vegan options on the market today that it’s entirely possible to be vegetarian or vegan without actually eating any plants or whole foods at all! 

Case in point… Oreo’s are vegan but definitely not healthy. 

Basically, you can be a “healthy” vegetarian or vegan or an “unhealthy” one. 

People who consider themselves “primarily” vegetarians or vegans for health reasons may also not be 100% strict with their diets. I know some individuals who identify as vegetarian or vegan that occasionally eat something at a party or at a restaurant that may contain some dairy or a bit of meat. 

So which lifestyle is healthiest?

It really just depends on so many factors. A strict plant-based vegan diet might be considered the “healthiest.” But a vegan diet full of processed vegan “junk food” would certainly not be healthier than a primarily plant-based diet with the occasional consumption of meat or dairy. Again, it’s not black and white!

Personally, I think the healthiest lifestyle is the one you can stick with! 

I have actually spent several months as a vegetarian and also several months as a strict vegan. For me, even as a holistic nutritionist, neither of these lifestyles were sustainable. While obviously the more animal products you can eliminate from your diet, the better… trying to maintain a lifestyle that leaves you feeling deprived of things you enjoy is just not conducive to a happy life.

I believe in balance and all things in moderation. That’s why a plant-based diet (and the 90/10 approach) is the best option for me. 

If you are considering a plant-based diet I encourage you to check out my FREE guide to plant-based living plus 7 plant-based recipes! It contains all of the “whys” and the “hows” for going plant-based!