Expert Health Articles

Vegan vs. Vegetarian

Martha GonzalezMartha Gonzalez, RD, LD, CLC

Clinical Nutrition Manager, Blanchard Valley Health System

Both vegetarians and vegans have a plant-based diet. However, vegetarians tend to consume dairy products and eggs while vegans typically avoid all animal products. Some vegans may also avoid inedible animal-based products such as wool, leather and silk due to their love for animals. Another difference between vegetarians and vegans is that some vegetarians may choose to eat seafood.

There are two different categories of vegetarians. The first kind is a lacto-vegetarian meaning the individual eats dairy products but not eggs. The second type of vegetarian is a lacto-ovo vegetarian who eats eggs and dairy products.

The health benefits of switching to a vegetarian diet include decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and renal disease. While there are benefits, there is some concern regarding how vegetarians and vegans obtain certain nutrients. The nutrients primarily to be concerned about are protein, iron, vitamin B12, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. In order to avoid a diet lacking these nutrients, you must carefully plan your plant-based diet.

Vegans and vegetarians may choose a plant-based diet due to a variety of issues. Reasons behind these dietary choices include an individual’s beliefs, morals, dietary needs or just a personal preference. Another common reason for choosing a plant-based diet involves around humanitarian issues.