I'm the member of several food-related groups on Facebook and almost every day there's questions like:
- What's the difference between being vegan and plant-based?
- Why is there honey in your plant-based recipe you shared?
- Why would vegans be trying to avoid oil?
- Are plant-based and vegan diets the same?
- Vegan vs. Plant-based diet - what gives?
- How is the Mediterranean diet different?
- What's a flexitarian?
- What does it mean to be veganish?
Here's the low-down, so hopefully it will answer any lingering questions you have.
What do vegans eat?
A strictly vegan diet contains no animal products at all. It excludes all meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs and honey. A vegan diet does not restrict processed foods, refined sugars or oils. So, as long as it does not contain animal products of any kind, a diet could be considered vegan. You could eat Oreos all day long and you're on a vegan diet (yes, Oreos are vegan). It's easy to be a "junk food vegan", eating lots of processed food and meat & cheese substitutes.
What's an ethical vegan?
Someone who considers or labels himself a "vegan" may consider himself an ethical vegan, which is a philosphy that extends beyond his or her diet. An ethical vegan disagrees with and opposes the use of animals for any reason.
Here's the definition of veganism from Wikipedia:
Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of either the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan. Distinctions are sometimes made between several categories of veganism. Dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) refrain from consuming animal products, not only meat but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances. The term ethical vegan is often applied to those who not only follow a vegan diet but extend the philosophy into other areas of their lives, and oppose the use of animals for any purpose. Another term is environmental veganism, which refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the harvesting or industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.
So, as you can see, for some people, it extends far beyond what they eat. They ARE vegan. They don't just eat a vegan diet.
What do you eat on a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is a diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods. It can also be called a whole foods plant-based diet. Or, whole foods plant-based no oil diet. That's a mouth-full, so you can see why most people shorten it to "plant-based". Like a vegan diet, a plant-based diet also excludes meat, dairy and eggs. In addition, it excludes processed foods (like oil, junk food, highly processed meat and cheese substitutes, etc.).
The doctors that have championed a plant-based diet all have slightly different views on the little things, but agree that a diet consisting mostly of whole foods that come from plants is the healthiest diet on the planet.
Foods you can eat on a plant-based diet
- Whole grains (oats, brown rice, whole wheat, corn, other whole grains)
- Starchy vegetables - ALL of them
- Vegetables - ALL of them
- Fruits - ALL of them
- Legumes - ALL of them
- Nuts and Seeds - ALL of them
Foods you eliminate on a plant-based diet
- All added oils
- Processed foods
- Meat, Fish, Seafood
- Dairy and Cheese
Foods that are sometimes limited on a plant-based diet
These things are limited sometimes, based on your health, allergies and/or the doctor giving the advice. As you can imagine, this can be varied.
- Refined Sugar and Brown Sugar
- White flour
- White rice
- Refined grains
Very few well-informed and educated people would argue against a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. I don't know a legit doctor that would tell his patient to eat LESS vegetables.
How is the Mediterranean diet different?
The Mediterranean diet does include a lot of plant-based foods, with a few major additions. The Mediterranean diet consists of mostly plants (vegetables, grains, starches, legumes and fruit). But, it does allow some occasional meat (like once a month), fish and poultry weekly, dairy and eggs. A trademark is also their copious use of olive oil. Take a look at this article about whether a Mediterranean diet is designed to keep you trim and healthy.
What is a flexitarian?
A flexitarian is someone who may follow a vegetarian, vegan or plant-based diet (or even Mediterranean diet) some of the time, but is not 100% strict.
No labels necessary. Why it's okay to be veganish!
Each of us has this awesome gift called free will. We get to choose what we want to eat. And, you don't have to adhere to a label if you don't want to.
We tell people we are vegetarian, vegan, veganish, flexitarian or plant-based, based on how well it will be received by the other person or how much they are aware of the difference. We also do not argue with others about food or try to advocate that our way of eating is the best and only way.
Our friends and family are more important than food.
We are not ethical vegans. We chose to follow a mostly plant-based diet years ago mainly for health reasons. When we eat a plant-based diet, our health problems improve or go away altogether, we feel better, have more energy, lose weight and have less pain. That's why we've kept with it so long. It works.
We're not perfect. Far from it, in fact. But, we do the best we can. In our situation, we feel that it's okay to eat healthy most of the time.
If, every once in a while, I want a croissant, I eat it. It's called balance. #veganISH
By eating a mostly plant-based diet, our family has been able to eliminate hypoglycemia, reduce inflammation, decrease pain from severe back injuries, reduce cholesterol to optimum range, keep blood pressures low, reduce acne, almost eliminate gastro-intestinal pain and upset and more. Our diet is also a major contributor in protecting us against major diseases like heart disease and diabetes. And, this from eating plant-based 90-95% of the time. We're not perfect and you don't have to be either to get health benefits from eating plant-based.
Please, keep in mind that our health problems are not life-threatening. If you are following a plant-based diet to control or reverse a life-threatening illness, like heart disease or cancer, or because your doctor prescribed it, you should follow it as strictly as possible. It could mean your life.
For more information on the medical reasons behind a plant-based diet, I recommend you read The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall and watch the documentary Forks over Knives (available on Netflix).
Vegan vs. Plant-based Summary
Both diets exclude meat, fish, seafood, dairy and eggs. Vegan diets aren't inherently healthy and the term "vegan" can sometimes encompass ethical philosophies that extend beyond the food. Plant-based diets are generally incredibly healthy and it's all about the food and your health.
It's totally okay to eat whatever you want. Eating healthy some or most of the time is better than none of the time. Do what you can. No labels necessary.