Vegan v Vegetarian explained


Vegan and Vegetarian diets have become increasingly popular as we all move towards adopting healthier eating habits. 

October was vegetarian month and right now we are in the middle of vegan month.

While many may think the two diets are similar, the experts say there are very clear differences between the two lifestyles. 

Like vegetarians, vegans don’t eat any meat or fish, but in addition to this, vegans also don’t eat any dairy products or any animal by products. 

Durban-based nutritionist consultant, Dr Paul Palmer says the primary difference between the two diets is the degree of implementation when ethically excluding foods.

“Vegetarians do not eat meat or fish, but they usually eat eggs and dairy products like milk and cheese,” explains Palmer.

“Vegans do not eat any animal products at all, so they are 100% plant-based. Vegetarians still eat foods that can be labelled non-ethical while vegans will abstain from them completely.” 

Rainbow Rice and Beans 

Dr Palmer says while a vegetarian diet has been said to be healthier than a meat-based diet, most vegetarian health benefits are lost due to dairy and egg consumption. 

“Vegetarians eat loads of cheese and eggs to ‘make up’ for the lack of meat and this has detrimental effects on health,” he says.  “A well planned and balanced vegan diet is the nutritional equivalent of quitting smoking. A vegan diet is the only diet clinically proven to reverse the effects of diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

“However, it is possible to eat unhealthily as a vegan, so it is crucial to adopt a predominantly whole foods diet and supplement with B12, iodine, Vitamin D and omega 3 to get the maximum benefit from it.”

Registered dietitian Jessica Kotlowitz says vegan diets are on the increase in South Africa for both health and ethical reasons.

“Many people choose a (vegan) diet for the health benefits but ethical considerations are becoming more and more prominent since people have become more aware of the harsh treatment of animals on factory farms. 

“Environmental concerns have also led many people to adopt a more plant-centred diet, this push has been especially strong since a 2010 UN report on climate change urged the public to shift away from meat-centred diets in order to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Kotlowitz. 

While the vegetarian diet may include animal by-product, some vegetarian diets includes more plant-based foods. 

“Many vegetarians and omnivores also eat plant-based diets as the majority (80% or more) of their calories come from plant foods. The terms flexitarian or semi-vegetarian can also be used to describe a plant-based diet.”



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