Vegan food is often considered healthy. But nowadays there is an abundance of processed vegan junk food. All the big food manufacturers are making vegan products and jumping on the growing vegan popularity. Most are high in unhealthy fats, additives and heavily refined nutrient void ingredients.
Plant Based Diet
A plant-based diet is short for a whole food plant based diet. It’s focused on whole foods and excludes foods that aren’t healthy or not from plant sources. The kind of foods excluded is refined sugar, flour, additives and deep fried as well as animal products. A plant-based diet is focused on eating whole ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and avoiding anything heavily refined. Everything that is plant-based a vegan can eat, but not everything vegan is suitable for a plant-based diet.
Plant-based and Veganism Are Not Interchangeable
I understand the desire to have an alternative word to vegan due to the bad connotations. I did grow up vegan in the 80s and back then people looked at even vegetarians as if they came from space. But these two words do have different meanings and it’s beneficial to retain them.
Some of the most harmful foods for health can be considered from plants – like hydrogenated fats full of transfats and refined sugars. These certainly aren’t health foods so wouldn’t be part of a plant-based whole-foods diet.
On the cover of my book Healthy and Easy I deliberately wrote plant-based to show that it was healthy vegan food.
It’s very possible to be both plant-based and vegan but at the same time, and many are, but this doesn’t mean they are the same.
Plant-based diets are far more restrictive – they avoid any refined ingredients that aren’t beneficial for health such as sugars and oils. Plant-based is just about having pure unrefined food. There are many vegan cheeses out there but they often contain a plethora of unhealthy oils so aren’t suitable for a plant-based diet. My cashew cheese and all of my hard vegan cheese recipes are suitable for a plant based diet.
There are many health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet. The same can not be said for vegan junk food. People often talk about “vegan food” as if it’s something very special. However, no one eats deep-fried chips and ketchup saying “this vegan food is good”.
Many junk foods are naturally vegan just because it’s cheaper to use low-quality ingredients that are free of animal products and certainly aren’t healthy. A prime example of something “vegan” due to low-quality ingredients is Oreos. More information about palm oil products like Oreos later.
Veganism is a Lifestyle
It’s important not to class veganism as a diet when it’s a lifestyle. It’s currently very popular and fashionable and this could all change in the future. Veganism isn’t just a fad diet.
The definition of veganism according to the Vegan Society is “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Plant-based is a Diet
Someone plant-based maybe just interested in the health benefits so could avoid eating all animal products but still buy a fur coat.
There are many different splinters of veganism – raw vegan, fruitarian, high carb low fat, low carb high fat and so on.
It’s important to keep the distinction between plant-based and vegan as they are two different things and it’s a useful to have different names.
Palm oil – Vegan or Plant-based?
Palm oil is very controversial as huge amounts of the rainforest are chopped down each day in order to make way for palm oil. The rainforests are home to some of the most biodiverse nature and the long-term effects for the planet could be catastrophic. As it’s very high yielding it can be lucrative to grow. Many common products from soaps to biscuits contain palm oil.
Palm oil could be argued as not being vegan due to the damage of deforestation. Some believe sustainable palm oil is beneficial as it’s so high yielding and if grown correctly reduces the amount of land needed, this was the stance of an exhibition in the Eden Project Rainforest biodome.
Some products are “accidentally vegan” meaning that they weren’t designed to be vegan but just be coincidence are. These products are usually very low quality and almost always use the cheap unsustainable refined palm oil that is neither healthy nor minimising cruelty to animals. Making it not vegan either.
Veganism is a journey and many non vegans are always trying to find fault as to why a vegan isn’t perfect. This isn’t helpful at all – we are all learning and try to do the best we can.
No Such Thing As An Ethical Vegan
Ethics are engrained into veganism, you can’t call yourself vegan unless you have an ethical lifestyle that minimises cruelty.
However more are needing to say they are an ethical vegan becauase of how widespread it’s become to think of veganism as a diet.
Vegan Not perfect
One thing many vegans will find is someone questioning their veganism. “What about x or y?” this probably comes from a place of defensiveness and take you not eating a food as an attack on their lifestyle. Veganism is about minimising cruelty to animals, not being perfect.
It’s virtually impossible to avoid everything that might contain a tiny amount of animal products (roads and tyres for instance) but what matters is people are doing their best.
Small changes made by millions of people add up to a big change.
- Veganism and plant-based are two different things.
- Veganism is a lifestyle concerned with excluding all forms of cruelty where possible.
- Plant based is a diet concerned with not eating animal products or anything refined or otherwise not beneficial for health.
- It’s not helpful to use them interchangeably as it dilutes the terms.
What do you think of my thoughts? Have I missed something? Please comment down below as would love to hear what you think, I’m apprehensive about posting this but do want to share my view on the issue of plant based and veganism being two different things.
33 thoughts on “The Difference Between Plant-based and Vegan”
Hi Bastian, Thankyou for your thoughts….I am glad you did post this as I found it really interesting and educational. I have been a Vegetarian since a baby myself, I could not drink any milk, when old enough to eat solid would vomit when fed meat, egg etc. I never realised until old enough I was a Vego. Until the last few year, I tried to eat cheese and yoghurt to please my mum who worries I will get weak bone but now find myself making or trying to make Vegan Cheese. I love all things Vegetable and Fruit, but find they are not that filling unfortunately. Once again, thankyou for your Wonderful Recipes and Information, Have a lovely week.
Thanks Kathryn, glad you found it interesting. If you find plant based food not filling enough I would try to up your amounts of fats and carbs. I find salads and meals based on watery vegetables not that filling – but add in some nuts or quinoa and they become very filling. Leafy greens and sesame seeds are high in calcium but do get your levels checked if you are woried. Hope that helps 🙂
Dear Kathryn, I am the same as you, I just wanted to say I have never known anyone with this before. I find people tend not to believe me, I vomited too when transferred as a baby to solids and have never eaten animal products in my life. You are the first in 65 years. so a big high five to you. Jean X
Very interesting read, thanks for posting. I had been vegetarian for about 25 year’s but after I had a very bad digestive system for a while I learnt that certain foods helped more and cutting out others so becoming vegan.. But I was wondering about plant based as fruit, veg, and salad have always been my favorite even as a meat eater. I will try and do this plant based and let you know how I get on…
I LOVE this post! I get so tired of people claiming to be healthy eaters just because they are vegan. There’s so many vegan products on that market that are stuffed full of additives and unhealthy ingredients. Eating a plant based diet is totally different. Thank you!
Thanls Mel, that’s exactly why I wrote this – so much confusion over plant based and vegan. They are so very different and it useful having two different words.
Hi, Nest & Glow!
I would suggest or make clear that veganism concerns all use of animals by or for the benefit of human animals. Cruelty or its classification shall not play a role. Using (anyone) is abusing.
Thank you for everything!
Hi Susana, I’m quoting the vegan society definition of veganism “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” Do you think that could do with being expanded more? Thanks for reading and your feedback!
Only thing I would change in the definition is “animal” to “sentient being” this covers us humans as well… it saddens me when people are all for the animals wellbeing but fail to look after themselves as well… I believe a true vegan needs to also look after their own health and not “abuse” their own bodies as well which is where eating plant based whole foods play a crucial role (just my 2 cents ????)
Great article, very interesting, thank you. I do eat meat, however I don’t eat anything processed. Now I need to look for how to buy your recipe book ????
Thanks glad you liked the article. It’s at nestandglow.com/book or on amazon if you search for Bastian Durward. Thanks for your interest in my book!
Thank you for your post Bastion. I have struggled to understand the difference. I have done a health boot camp with a cardiologist who uses the term plant based. He is very strict, not even allowing nuts and oils. He can absolute reverse heart disease with this diet. I am also protective of animal crutelty but I don’t think I do anhthing perfectly! Progress not perfection and try not to beet myself up when I get off track.
Glad that helped you. I just love “Progress not perfection and try not to beet myself up when I get off track.” it’s so true – we do the best we can and don’t dwell if we fall short. Gosh I’m not sure if I could go nut free, I guess it’s a journey and we never stop learning and opening up to new ideas.
Hi, interesting article. I endeavour to be a vegan as best I can, I would probably be better on a plant based diet as i have IBS and this causes it’s own problems. However I cannot tolerate onions, garlic, cashew nuts, beans , stoned fruit,etc and I also need to avoid gluten. I work full time and sometimes quick processed products such as beyond burgers or violife cheese are what I go to. I will try harder this year 🙂
I made your Pistachio cheese for a wine tasting and it was a huge huge hit people really did not realize it was WFPB!!
Great! That is so nice to hear! Often with things like this it’s best to not even say its healthy / plant based – many won’t notice!
Great article, very clear and to the point. Many people do not realise that there is a difference between a healthy plant diet and a vegan one.
Also it’s interesting to note that non vegans can be quite aggressive towards vegans. One can only follow one’s conscience, do one’s best, and try to make the world a better place, now and for the future.
“One can only follow one’s conscience, do one’s best, and try to make the world a better place, now and for the future.” that is so true, thanks for sharing. Glad that you liked the article.
I ordered the E version of your cookbook, but unfortunately have not received the link to download it. How long does that take? I ordered it 11/12/18. It is now 11/14/18.
Thanks so much for buying! Just checked and it was sent out a few minutes after you bought, but have just sent it again. So sorry about that and not sure what went wrong. Please do let me know you’ve got it ok. Thanks again!
This is great. I agree with the reason and necessary need for it, but I disagree with one little thing. Let me explain. I call myself plant based but unfortunately, because of the lack of understanding by people, many times I have to end up calling myself vegan, i do further explain myself as a “selfish” vegan, not an ethical one. While i have learned a lot about cruelty and the environment and of course care about it, that is not why i went plant based. I did it for health reasons. I don’t necessarily always give these details, but when needed or asked, I do explain and also explain the difference between being vegan and plant based and why I dont like calling myself vegan at all (pretty much what you write here).
However, I don’t believe being plant based is a diet. I firmly believe it is a lifestyle. I hate diets in general and dont believe they work. I have never in my life done any of them. In plant based there is no numbers or calories to count, there is no restrictions. Just the simple mentality of eating, unprocessed, earth grown whole foods. This is, to me, a way of living.
Thanks for this article, it is a very straight forward explanation of the 2 and will be using it to educate people when appropriate.
I loved your article because I started as plant based diet user before wanting to become vegan, I want to do both so I don’t use animals as much as possible for anything including clothes, nonetheless is hard to convince vegans that starting with the diet is ok. Most only want people to care about animals not their health. I love the idea of keeping the words separated to avoid confusion
Good post! Cleared things up for me, I now see I like being “vegan” as a lifestyle. Good to get a perspective and explanation of various sides.
Thanks for the post!
The picture on the left isn’t vegan… It’s just junk – sweets and Mars bar and jelly (contains milk, e numbers which could contain animal sources and gelatin).
Sorry yes, the junk food photo is a stock one so probably not vegan. But there are vegan type twinkies and sweets so it could potentially be vegan. I’ll look for a better one though
Whether you are a plant based diet or vegan, neither eat animal products so I simply can’t understand why this point was included.
The pictures on the left as has been pointed out clearly isn’t vegan, it’s just a junk food pictures so you really should have done better in that respect.
Are plant based and vegans diets healthy?, well that depends. Both can be and both most certainly don’t have to be. Whilst you may be eating a much better quality of food over someone who has a more typical western diet at the end of the day if you eat more calories than you consume no matter what diet you follow you will put on weight, end of story.
So for example whilst you may be following a vegan diet, if you eat lots of pasta and store bought sauces, white bread and oreo’s, whilst technically it may be vegan it won’t be very healthy for sure and even if you are on a plant based diet and eats lots of fruit and don’t do much exercise you may well end up getting a bit on the “porky’ side despite having a “healthy diet”.
I do though think most people who follow either eating regime are considerably more aware of what they are consuming over anyone who eats a typical western type of diet.
On a personal note, I do my very best to avoid palm oil as no matter where it comes from, accredited or not they still would have had to destroy rain forest to grow it in the first place.
I follow a vegan diet but don’t get overly fussed in the minute detail of things, so if I want a plate of chips with a splash of ketchup I will, do I have biscuits yes I do and I have plain or dark chocolate but these aren’t the everyday things as I now eat much more fruit and veg, both fresh and frozen (as lots of veggies are better frozen as they don’t loose so many nutrients) and make much better food choices that I used to do.
I do feel at the end of the day, if you are happy with whatever eating regime you’re following don’t let anyone bully you or criticise you for your choices. Even now after 3 years of being a vegan I do somewhat get tired of people questioning my decision and saying “oh, you’ll eat meat again, mark my words, you’ll get bored and give up”. Frustrating to say the least!
Thank you for this great information. I have been concerned about all the additives in Vegan food. The plant based diet is appealing to me as I really love veggies. How would one get the necessary protein from a veggie lifestyle?
Bastian, I really liked your article. The paragraph on “Vgen not Perfect” was especially well put – it articulates something I previously hadn’t been able to put into words.
Great post, precious information! I´m not vegan or plant based, I am an unrestricted vegetarian as I consume eggs from my own chickens but I consider myself a person concerned about these issues and I try my best to live without exploring other sentient beings. Thank you!
Thankyou for this post. It is great you have explained the differences. I was a long term vegetarian who became WFPB and now a vegan. So I’m a WFPB vegan. ?. It has changed my life in a fantastic way.
Thankyou for your delicious recipes.
Ah thank you, glad it’s working out well for you. Although think the plant based term has now been lost 🙁
What exactly do you mean by “Crewelty”? Is it when you join a crew? Great article.
Ha, fixed! It’s more difficult than you think being dyslexic and checking your own work, not sure why my tool didn’t pick up on this error though!