For those who do not follow a plant-based diet, understanding the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian can be tricky. Can vegans eat eggs? Do vegetarians drink milk? Do vegans eat honey? What about fish?

Due to an increased awareness of the health, animal welfare and environmental implications of the meat industry, there is an increasing shift towards eating without meat. And the plant-based food market is certainly booming. The industry is expected to be worth $ 74.2 billion by 2027, according to a 2020 report from AI Tastewise-driven consumer knowledge platform.

Increasingly, it seems that people are eliminating meat from their diets. A 2020 study by market research firm Ipsos Retail Performance found that interest in the US is growing. It was found that the number of Americans eating plant-based foods increased by 9.4 million over the past 15 years to a total of more than 9.7 million.

According to the Veganuary, a move that challenges meat eaters to go plant-based for a month, interest in veganism has grown significantly over the years.

Since 2014, the initiative has helped more than one million people in 192 countries try plant-based foods during January. In 2020, the campaign signed 400,000 people to become vegan. A year ago, 250,000 were registered. And in 2018, 170,000 people participated in the campaign. January 2021 saw a record number of registrations, with 500,000 people deciding to go plant-based.

Are you thinking of giving up animal products? Just curious about plant-based food? Here you have everything you need to know about the dietary differences between vegans and vegetarians.

Vegan or Vegetarian: What's the difference?
The three main types of vegetarian diets are lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian and ovo-lacto vegetarian. | iStock

What is a vegetarian diet?

In general, vegetarians do not consume any meat products. This includes red meat, poultry, seafood or meat taken from any other animal. The diet includes the consumption of animal products that do not require slaughter, such as eggs, dairy products and honey.

But there are many variations on a vegetarian diet. The three main types of vegetarian diets are lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian and ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Vegetarian Ovo-lacto is the most common form of diet. Ovo-lacto vegetarians (or lacto-ovo vegetarians) usually do not consume red meat, poultry, seafood, but consume eggs and dairy products.

A lacto-vegetarian diet differs in that it excludes the consumption of eggs and products containing them. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products. And vegetarians do not consume red meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products; however, they do eat eggs.

Additional meat-free diets include pescatarian and flexible diets. The latter (also known as semi-vegetarians) consumes a predominantly plant-based diet. However, flexitarians consume animal products in moderation. Fishermen, or pesco-vegetarians, consume dairy products, eggs and fish and avoid red meat, poultry and other forms of animal meat.

So what about veganism?

Vegan or Vegetarian: What's the difference?
Vegans avoid meat, fish, milk, eggs and animal by-products. | iStock

What is a vegan diet?

Similar to vegetarianism, there are changes in a vegan diet.

For the most part, they can be divided into two categories: ethical vegans and dietary vegans, or plant-based eaters. Both types of vegans avoid meat, fish, milk and eggs. They also avoid consuming products that contain animal by-products. Examples of these include gelatin, collagen, shellac, carmine and keratin.

Made from the nectar that bees collect from flowering plants, many vegans also choose to avoid consuming honey (because it is made from bees) and products that contain it.

However, as the name suggests, ethical veganism is based more on principle. It includes a belief system that animals should not be exploited for human gain. Ethical vegans completely reject animals that are comfortable for any reason – including food, fashion, cosmetics, skin care, household products and entertainment.

Ethical vegans choose not to wear clothing that contains materials derived from animals. These include fur, angora, cashmere, wool and leather. They also do not support animal testing and opt for skin care, cosmetics and household products that are cruel.

Vegan or Vegetarian: What's the difference?
What are the health effects of vegan and vegetarian diets? | Remove the spray

The health impact of being vegan or vegetarian

So how do veganism and vegetarianism come together in terms of their impact on overall health?

Research shows that both diets can offer a number of health benefits. A 2016 Harvard study found that vegetarians and vegans lost significantly more weight compared to non-vegetarians.

But vegans can have a leg up in terms of health benefits. According to research published in American Journal of Clinical NutritionWith This can result in lowering blood pressure.

And according to a 2019 EPIC-Oxford study, vegetarians (including vegans) have a lower risk of heart disease. It was found that vegans and vegetarians were 22 percent less likely to develop coronary artery disease compared to those who ate meat.

“Vegetarians had on average lower BMI, and lower rates of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes compared to meat eaters, which may explain the lower risk of heart disease as in “Fish eaters as well as vegetarians as these are all established risk factors for heart disease.” Tammy Tong, a nutritional epidemiologist at Oxford and one of the study’s researchers, told Reuterswith

However, the study found that people consuming these diets were 20 percent more likely to suffer a stroke. Tong added that the reason for this higher risk is not conclusive. “Some recent evidence has suggested that while low cholesterol levels (are) protective against heart disease and ischemic stroke, very low cholesterol levels may be associated with a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, the subtype that was found to be higher in vegetarians, “ Tong explained.

When you eat a healthy and balanced diet, vegans and vegetarians can consume sufficient amounts of vitamins and nutrients. However, depending on what they eat, diets may be missing in certain areas. According to the UK National Health Service, a vegetarian diet may be deficient in sufficient amounts of iron and vitamin B12. A vegan diet may also be deficient in these nutrients as well as calcium.

In terms of protein, studies have shown that — on average — vegans and vegetarians may have lower protein intakes than their meat-eating counterparts. However, most vegans and vegetarians who consume a well-balanced diet still meet the recommended dietary allowance for protein.

Following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle does not guarantee good health. Self-described “junk food vegans” and vegetarians or those who consume large amounts of processed foods may not enjoy the same health benefits of a predominantly plant-based diet.

Vegan or Vegetarian: What's the difference?
What are the environmental impacts of vegan and vegetarian diets. | Pexels

Environmental Impacts of Being Vegan or Vegetarian

Whether it comes from animals or plants, food production greatly affects the environment. However, the level of impact varies drastically depending on the diet. So which diet has the least environmental footprint? Well, it all depends.

A 2019 study from the University of Copenhagen found that a 100 percent plant-based diet had the lowest environmental impact. According to the study, livestock occupies 70 percent of all agricultural land and almost 34 percent of arable land.

Due to the fact that animal farming is very resource intensive, research shows that vegetarian and ubiquitous diets require more water use during production. In general, vegan diets have significantly lower carbon footprints and require less soil and water compared to vegetarian and omnivorous diets.

“Nothing compares to beef, lamb, pork and milk. These products are in a league of their own at the level of damage they usually do to the environment, in almost every environmental issue we pursue,” he said. Joseph Poore, an Oxford researcher who specialized in the environmental impact of food told BBCwith

However, not all plant-based foods have a lower environmental impact. Some fruits and vegetables have greater impacts on the environment compared to other plant-based foods. Depending on farming practices, these may include blueberries, strawberries, avocados, asparagus and mushrooms, to name a few.

Poore added: “But it is essential to be careful about everything we consume: air-transported fruits and vegetables can produce more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than poultry, for example.”

The production and transportation of foods like plant-based cheeses and meats can also have a negative impact on the planet. But, in general, plant-based foods have a smaller impact compared to animal-derived products because the latter are more resource-intensive and rely on food crops.

For those looking to reduce the effect their foods have on the planet, consuming seasonally grown, locally grown fruits and vegetables can help minimize one’s environmental footprint.