Vegan vs. Vegetarian: Differences and Health Benefits

  • Vegetarians only avoid meat, while vegans avoid all animal products, including dairy and eggs.
  • Vegan and vegetarian diets can be healthy, nutritionally adequate, and beneficial to health.
  • Vegans may be more sensitive to nutritional deficiencies in iron, vitamin D, calcium, and protein.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

The difference between becoming vegan and vegetarian primarily focuses on the role of animals in food production.

“While both diets focus on consuming plant-based foods, vegetarians are allowed to include eggs, honey, and dairy products. Vegans omit any animal foods or products. animal origin, including meats, poultry, dairy products, honey and eggs, “says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, CEO of New York Nutrition Group, a private practice in New York.

Both of these diets can be perfectly safe if done correctly, Moskovitz explains. She notes, however, that you don’t need to eat vegan or vegetarian to achieve your health or weight management goals.

And while one diet isn’t necessarily safer than the other, if you’re new to it, it may be easier to try vegetarianism first. “Vegetarianism is a little less restrictive, and therefore easier to consume a more balanced intake of nutrients,” says Moskovitz.

Here’s what the experts know about the difference between being vegan and vegetarian and its health effects.

The difference between vegan and vegetarian nutritional deficiencies

Compared to omnivores, vegans and vegetarians “require more attention and effort to ensure that all nutrients are taken into account. It is easier to become deficient in B vitamins, iron,

Vitamin D
, calcium and protein, ”says Moskovitz.

However, vegans “will have a much higher risk of all of these deficiencies, whereas a vegetarian who properly plans and balances their meals will be at much lower risk of deficiencies in general.”

A study published in Nutrients in 2014, found that vegans had an average of 738 milligrams of calcium per day, which is well below the 1,000 milligrams per day recommended by the National Institutes of Health. In fact, it was the lowest daily calcium intake level of any group in the study.

Semi-vegetarians, on the other hand, consumed the most calcium at around 1,470 milligrams per day. The semi-vegetarians in the study were those who ate meat and fish once a week or less.

In another study, published in 2010 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that 52% of vegans were deficient in B12, compared to only 7% of vegetarians.

That said, vegetarians aren’t always healthier than vegans. It all depends on what you choose to eat, regardless of what diet you are on.

“It’s too hard to say that a specific nutrient would be more abundant in vegetarian diets compared to vegans,” says Moskovitz. “If vegetarians eat a lot of eggs and dairy products, they probably won’t have any deficiencies. However, if they only eat eggs and dairy products once or twice a week, they can have as many deficiencies as vegans, because that’s the main difference between diets. ”

If you’re not getting enough nutrients, you can try supplements to make up the difference. However, Moskovitz says, “it all varies from person to person and depends on other restrictions or preferences in their diet.”

“Most vegans and vegetarians would benefit from seaweed oil – [a] Superior plant form of omega-3 – a staple multivitamin as an insurance regimen. And maybe calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins, ”she says.

The difference between the health benefits of vegans and vegetarians

In a review, published in 2017 in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the researchers analyzed the results of nearly 100 studies. They found that vegans and vegetarians had lower body mass index, lower total cholesterol levels, and lower glucose levels than people who ate meat.

This could explain why the review also concluded that vegetarians have a lower risk of dying from ischemia.

heart disease
and cancer. And vegans, in particular, had an even lower risk of dying from cancer than vegetarians or omnivores.

Another large study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013, found that, compared to people who ate meat and fish several times a week, vegans and vegetarians – including pescetarians – were less likely to develop and die from cardiovascular problems,

-related problems,

, metabolic syndrome and renal failure.

On the other hand: a study, published in 2019 in BMJ, found that stroke rates were 20% higher in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians – mainly, according to the researchers, “due to a higher rate of hemorrhagic stroke.” A Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood vessels become weak and can burst and bleed in the brain.

It is possible that this association is due to lower amounts of protective substances, such as omega 3 fatty acids, in a vegetarian diet. However, with careful planning and perhaps supplementation, vegetarians and vegans can get these nutrients from non-animal sources.

Insider takeaways

Ultimately, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegan and vegetarian diets can be healthy. Their official position is that “Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including vegans, are healthy, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

About Evelyn C. Heim

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